Category Archives: U.S.

Dirty Tricks: The GC Chapter Election

Image: “BALLOTS!” via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

On why I ran on—and stepped down from—the CUNY Struggle slate (and the real story about the GC election “debate”).

I. The Slate

As a strong critic of liberal democracy—indeed, an opponent of it at this point, because, as I contend in my dissertation, it’s irreducibly a settler, racial-capitalist form—I should’ve known not to get so directly involved in liberal-democratic politics as to run in an election for union office.

And yet I’d been wanting to form an alternative caucus within the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) for years—really, ever since I joined the Adjunct Project in July 2013 and quickly realized how undemocratic, top-down, and reactionary the dominant political party in the union, the 17-year-old “New” Caucus, is—and, more, run a slate of that caucus in a union election.

Last December, that desire started to take shape when a few of us decided to form a caucus out of the extant CUNY Struggle formation and run a slate in this April’s Graduate Center (GC) chapter election.

I’ve long been inspired by insurgent union formations, from MORE (which I touted in 2014) to the fantastic and awe-inspiring AWDU caucuses and the many member unions of CGEU, whose annual conference I attended in 2014 and which so galvanized me. And I floated the idea of forming an alternative to some of my friends in these circles, and to some GC friends as well. At first I wanted to form an AWDU caucus within the PSC, but I back-burnered the idea while I tended to other academic and organizing projects.

Then, with the GC chapter election on the docket, I started pitching the idea again to GC pals and new acquaintances last September. No one bit, and in truth, I wasn’t seriously pursuing the idea, tied up with other obligations and demands.

But in mid-December one of those comrades asked me if I’d be open to running as chair of the New Caucus slate that was forming to run for re-election; apparently, the slate was trying to position itself askew from the New Caucus and was recruiting “independents” to the ticket—and another comrade had already joined the slate as one of those independents.

Of course, I recoiled at the prospect of joining the New Caucus slate, let alone as chair, because the New Caucus, in my view, is the single biggest problem with the PSC: its leadership maintains a vise grip on all decision-making, and they deploy a potent brew of fear-mongering, bullying, divide and rule, disenfranchisement, procedural obstacles, and a twisted form of self-centered bourgeois “solidarity” to tamp down any threat to their hegemony, while their supporters, who are legion, get to pat themselves on the back for being progressive or, dare I say it, radical.

Meanwhile, the rank and file—and the agency-fee payers, who are basically considered dead to the New Caucus leadership and their supplicants, even as they subsidize a hefty portion of the union’s begging and pleading in Albany, not to mention the cushy Wall Street digs and whatever else they spend their income from members and agency-fee payers on—the rank and file are left alone, content to be “apathetic”—even as so many of them are engaged in so many other political initiatives—because the union leadership and their enablers are content to be apathetic about them.

So instead of being a part of the problem, as the saying goes, I didn’t consider joining the New Caucus slate and suggested to my comrade that we run a CUNY Struggle slate, and, pretty soon, that’s what was happening. We quickly pulled together a group of 11 people to run at the Graduate Center, against all the constraints we faced (including the union provision that one had to be a member of a given chapter for a year to be eligible as a candidate, thus slicing off many first- and second-year GC students, in addition to all the ones who don’t have GC fellowship funding and thus can’t affiliate to the GC chapter in the first place) and one person to run at Hunter.

I was persuaded to be chair of the slate, ostensibly because I was the most well-known of our candidates and had a history of publicly calling out the New Caucus and arguing with candidates on the New Caucus slate on listservs. I agreed to take the position, even though any of our candidates would’ve made a fine chair.

We filled out paperwork, got petitions signed, went to a meeting about election rules, and started campaigning, all the while participating in an adjunct organizing coalition with the Adjunct Project and candidates of the New Caucus slate (officially called “New Caucus and Fusion Independents” but a misnomer since it’s officially backed by the New Caucus, and there’s only four independents on it out of 22 total candidates), which produced this agreement on non-negotiable demands for the upcoming round of contract bargaining.

(Never mind that the chair and at least one other candidate of the New Caucus slate then proceeded to reject the merits of one of the demands, proportional representation on the bargaining committee, in various email threads about adjunct organizing.)

Before moving on to the ill-fated debate between the CUNY Struggle slate and the New Caucus slate, it’s important to note the Adjunct Project’s role in both the restoration of the GC chapter and its subsequent growth. Indeed, over the last several years, the Adjunct Project has been the only entity to make a dent in the status quo of the union vis-à-vis the GC.

There wasn’t even a GC chapter when I became a coordinator of the Adjunct Project almost four years ago—the New Caucus leadership had let it go dormant for several years, which struck my fellow coordinators and I as odd, given the GC is a central hub of CUNY in name and practice. So, at a meeting with a PSC staff organizer in the fall of 2013, we raised the issue and said that we wanted to re-start the chapter.

A New Caucus stalwart also happened to be at the meeting, however, and that person quickly started organizing for the chapter’s return without our knowledge. Several months later, at a meeting of candidates who were running on the New Caucus slate for the April 2014 GC chapter election, and who would thus oversee rebuilding the chapter, it was news to those assembled that the idea of doing so had started with the Adjunct Project.

That fall, working with the then co-chairs of the Doctoral Students’ Council, my fellow coordinators and I were able to secure a significant change to the union’s chapter-affiliation policy that allowed graduate assistants paid through the GC but doing their teaching or other academic labor at separate CUNY campuses to become members of the GC chapter. Formerly they could only be members of the chapter on the campus where they worked, even though they were being paid by the GC, meaning that graduate assistants were disenfranchised from the chapter at the campus—the GC—where policies regarding their labor were determined.

Upon this change, we started signing up the hundreds of graduate assistants who eventually joined the GC chapter, creating a three-fold leap in the number of delegates the GC now has at the union-wide Delegate Assembly. Among other reasons, that increase makes the chapter election this month especially noteworthy.

II. The “Debate”

I put the debate in quotation marks because it’s clear in retrospect that the New Caucus slate never intended to have a debate (despite the “debate” that’s happening this Wednesday, in a room that holds 45 people tops—an exceedingly narrow engagement). Answering questions cedes too much control over the message and invites variables beyond their control.

And that was one of the reasons I wanted to propose the debate: to see if the New Caucus slate would actually agree to it, and to learn about their thinking in the process of negotiating the debate’s guidelines. I think this is what some of my colleagues on the CUNY Struggle slate also thought, but I don’t know for sure—if we discussed it, it was brief, and I don’t recall it.

We reached out to the chair and vice-chair of the New Caucus slate on March 1. (I’ve included all emails about the debate between them and me at the end of this blog post. Neither the New Caucus slate nor the CUNY Struggle slate has been truthful about the debate in their public representations.)

Our proposal was to hold separate forums/Q&As with, as I wrote, “chapter members who are interested in learning more about our slate and why we’re running for election,” as well as a debate “in the interest of furthering awareness of the election and our respective slates’ ideas for the chapter and the union at large. Such an event would also, we think, both contribute to raising awareness about the chapter and union at the GC and to energizing chapter members who are already aware/activated.”

This last part was especially key: from our tabling in the GC lobby and talking to people, we realized how low the chapter’s profile was, let alone the union’s (many people didn’t know the PSC existed). In typical fashion, the New Caucus leadership of the GC chapter had failed to engage many or most people in the building, while portraying the opposite in their chapter emails and campaign representations.

It took the New Caucus slate 11 days to provide a substantive response to our proposal, at which point they asked us to provide more details. So, we drafted a tentative list of guidelines, and it took them a few more days to respond with their proposed changes.

(You can see the initial guidelines we proposed here—they’re also contained in the email correspondence at the end of this post—and their proposed changes here.)

In addition to pushing back against our proposed restriction on attendance to eligible voters in the contested chapter election, they also wanted to cut the length of time for the debate and, crucially, wanted to solicit questions in advance and mutually agree upon the ones we’d be asked at the debate, with a small window devoted to live questions at the event itself.

On Thursday, March 16th, we responded as follows:

i. We would like the maximum amount of time for the Q&A to be at least 90 minutes, rather than the 75 minutes of your proposed change (guideline 7).

ii. We do not agree to solicit questions in advance of the event nor to mutually agree on any questions and we reiterate our proposal to take only live questions at the actual event (guidelines 5, 11).

iii. We do not agree to invite non­members of the chapter, since in our view this event is expressly meant to be an information-gathering opportunity for members of the chapter—that is, people who will be able to vote for either slate (guideline 18).

The following day they responded:

i. Sure

ii. Let’s meet half way and say half and half

iii. We feel strongly about inviting all bargaining unit members at the GC.

Minutes later, we responded:

– ii is a deal-­breaker for us: we will not participate in a debate in which questions are pre­arranged. It’s anti­-democratic and not even the U.S. presidential debates operate in such fashion.

– What is your all’s rationale for inviting people who can’t vote in the election? If you can provide an argument, we’ll consider it.

That weekend—Saturday night, March 18th—they responded:

1. Opening the event to HEOs is non-negotiable, because we sincerely hope that the audience for this is not “invited”, but rather that the event is open to all. Furthermore, HEOs may not have voting power in this particular election, but they are still very much affected by chapter leadership and participate in chapter activity. It doesn’t make sense to us to exclude them if we want to be building cross-title solidarity. And what about the HEOs we have on our slate? Your objection would bar their presence.

2. We have no problem with doing a “blind” debate. We just wanted to raise a problem we have noticed at many debates where people from the floor use their platform not to field a productive question to the debaters, but rather to go on at length about their own position on a certain issue, which in fact undemocratically prevents others on the floor from asking serious questions and unfairly skews the debate in one direction or another. To resolve this problem, we think finding a skilled moderator and putting some mechanism in place for orderly question-asking is key, although this does not necessarily have to be having access to the questions beforehand. For instance, folks from the floor can submit questions to the moderator before the event, and the moderator can decide which questions to ask. We are definitely open to any other suggestions you have might to ensure fairness. It is really unfortunate that [redacted] cannot moderate; we are trying to think of other neutral moderators as well.

We responded:

On the issue of HEOs, we note that cross-­title solidarity, as you put it, is hampered by a particular title being removed from campus chapters and separated into their own chapter. In the case of HEOs, their removal happened under the current leadership of the GC chapter and without any discussion in the chapter, so the concern for cross-­title solidarity rings a little hollow.

Moreover, as we have specified, our vision for the forum­-debate is as an informational opportunity for eligible voters in the contested election. The Welfare Fund candidates on your slate are running unopposed; they’re also the only candidates whom HEOs can vote for. (Indeed, GC HEOs will receive a ballot with only the Welfare Fund candidates listed.)

Nevertheless, we’re open to having HEOs present if questions from eligible voters in the contested election can be prioritized. An election debate in its very purpose is to provide information to voters who must make a choice. You say you’re concerned with people asking questions who go on forever; we’re concerned with people who can’t vote in the contested election taking question time away from people who can vote in the contested election.

To reiterate: We’re fine with having HEOs present, but questions from grad assistants and faculty should be prioritized over questions from HEOs. This can be accomplished through a simple stack system, in which the moderator takes down two lists of questioners, one of grad assistants and faculty, one of HEOs, and then perhaps alternates between two questions from the grad assistants/faculty list and one question from the HEO list. Please let us know how this sounds to you, or if you would like to propose a different system.

On the issue of live questions, that’s non­-negotiable for us. If you all are concerned with people taking too long in their questions, our response is that the moderator can intervene to bring such questions to a close, or we can simply limit questioners to a period of two minutes maximum in which to ask their questions. We’re also not sure what debates you’re referring to that have caused this concern on your part—to our knowledge there hasn’t been a debate at the GC in recent memory.

But we didn’t hear from them again, save for a query about my reference to HEOs being removed from campus chapters into a cross-campus chapter under the current leadership of the GC chapter. Admittedly I was wrong about this: HEOs have been disenfranchised on their own campuses since the 1970s.

One of the incredibly useful outcomes of having participated in this election is all that I learned in the process, and that I wouldn’t have learned without it, such as the disenfranchisement of HEOs. I had always assumed that all the HEOs present at GC chapter meetings were members of the GC chapter; turns out, they’re not, because they’re members of a separate HEOs-only chapter—another divide-and-rule tactic that the New Caucus has used so well to preserve its power.

(And, yes, the separation of HEOs occurred well before the New Caucus came to power, but they could’ve remedied the situation, just like the GC chapter New Caucus leadership could’ve advocated for a change.)

Meanwhile, instead of continuing the negotiation about the debate, the New Caucus slate started trolling the CUNY Struggle Facebook page, upset with a piece we posted about open bargaining, which called out the New Caucus slate for not being committed to it. Never mind that the Facebook page is a campaign platform, on which we had no reason, nor requirement, to entertain the opposing slate’s complaints, and never mind that we didn’t troll their slate’s Facebook page about the significant misrepresentations in their campaign representations.

Indeed, instead of continuing to negotiate with us about the debate, the topic of the email correspondence between the two slates was now about differing ideas about social-media campaign norms—a clear distraction from the issue of the debate.

I was suspicious about the Facebook trolling, and the way they were framing the situation in their email correspondence, and on Sunday night I emailed my colleagues on the CUNY Struggle slate “I feel like they’re going to escalate and we shouldn’t participate in this particular game anymore…”

Sure enough, that’s what happened: on Monday, March 20th, we discovered (1) a flyer in history-program mailboxes that deployed Trumpist rhetoric, and (2) a smear job by a GC HEO, based on leaked, unfinished debate guidelines, alleging that we didn’t “seem to understand the meaning of the word” “solidarity” because HEOs didn’t “have a place in [CUNY Struggle’s] vision of the GC chapter.”

Suddenly, our slate was faced with two explicitly unprincipled attacks. I thought they needed to be responded to strongly, but the principal decision-makers of the CUNY Struggle slate hemmed and hawed, wondering whether we should respond at all. The concern: whether to put forward an exclusively “positive” campaign about the “issues,” and whether exposing the New Caucus slate’s dirty tricks contravened that objective.

In the end, the decision-makers agreed to respond to the history-program flyer (although there was some question about whether to criticize the patriarchal rhetoric and the impugning of our academic integrity) but took a pass on the HEO statement.

Nevertheless, I quickly drafted the following blog post for the CUNY Struggle website, which I hoped would find approval with the slate’s principal decision-makers:

A Graduate Center HEO is circulating leaked, out-of-context information about an in-progress negotiation about the terms of a debate that have yet to be finalized between the CUNY Struggle slate and the New Caucus slate—a debate that we proposed to the New Caucus slate, along with separate candidate forums, in order to engage chapter members and would-be members about the union and the urgent stakes of this chapter election.

One of the main reasons we’re running in this election is to prioritize the needs of adjuncts and graduate assistants in all aspects of the union. Both groups—and there’s some overlap between them—are severely underrepresented on the union’s governing bodies and in the priorities of the union. By contrast, full-time faculty and HEOs are well-represented, aa any GC chapter meeting can attest, at which HEOs are especially in abundant presence and regularly ask questions.

However, HEOs are not eligible to be members of the GC chapter, and thus are not able to vote in the chapter election save for the Welfare Fund positions, bc they have a separate, cross-campus chapter. In effect, bc of longstanding union policy, HEOs are disenfranchised from voting for their own campus representatives. We disagree with this policy and would like to change it.

Nevertheless, when it came to the matter of who could attend the debate, given the underrepresentation of adjuncts and graduate assistants and the fact that electoral debates in their very purpose are meant to help voters make a choice between two or more candidates (in this case, slates of candidates), we advocated to limit attendance to those who can vote in the election, expecting that grad assistants would primarily attend.

To see this position as the “exclusion of HEOs,” as has been claimed, is to miss (1) that HEOs are actually excluded from voting in the election except for the two Welfare Fund candidates (who are running unopposed and so will be elected) by the policy maintained by the New Caucus, (2) that HEOs are well-represented in all other ways, and that (3) adjuncts and grad assistants are routinely excluded from union matters, including in this election through policies such as the use of paper mail-in ballots only, when many grad assistants frequently move, or the four-month delay in being able to vote in an election or run as a candidate from when a member joins the union.

In other words, to focus on the “exclusion of HEOs” here is to misrepresent the ways different titles of workers are actually excluded, and to work against remedying these exclusions. It also serves the with-us-or-against-us, divide-and-rule strategy that the New Caucus has so successfully used over its 17-year reign to keep the focus off their failure to meaningfully create change for the most precariously situated members of the union—a destructive logic that CUNY Struggle was created in part to resist.

And it is a struggle to create such change, which is why were engaged in what we thought was a good-faith discussion with the NC slate to work out an agreement that worked best for all involved: as the HEO noted, we’d already moved past our proposal to limit attendance and agreed to have HEOs present, although we were still working out the arrangement for questions. Indeed, we were hoping the NC slate would move past their position on soliciting and deciding on questions in advance, which we saw as exclusionary.

But that good faith was contradicted when a member of the NC slate provided the HEO with the in-progress, changing, and unofficial debate guidelines, and further when the HEO then referred to them out of context, excluding our rationale for our position on HEO participation in the debate—a violation of fair process that the NC slate has yet to address, making us wonder about their commitment to fairness and the aims of members of their slate and certain supporters: to score cheap political shots or to take seriously the need for genuine solidarity—that is, centering the needs of the most neglected titles of the union.

To my mind, if we didn’t call out the New Caucus slate’s dirty tricks and reframe, we had no chance of winning the election—because the dirty tricks—and the distortions, fear-mongering, and reactionary “solidarity”—are the main tactics of the New Caucus at large, and what have kept it in power for 17 years.

On the other hand, bold struggle—the praxis of CUNY Struggle’s stated principles, of its very name—is what I believed then and still believe is needed to genuinely challenge the New Caucus’s status quo, as I’ve learned in my copious and varied study of underdog political insurgencies throughout history.

Furthermore, any top PSC leader knows that in negotiations you have to give a little to get a little. If the New Caucus slate had come back to us with, “Ok, we’ll agree to take all questions live and unmoderated at the debate, we would’ve said, “Ok, we’ll agree to have no restrictions on who can attend the debate and ask questions.” We were doing our best to fairly balance the multiple constituencies of the GC chapter, but we wanted to have the debate and would’ve conceded the point if it had yielded the debate. (I myself had certainly embraced a modicum of realpolitik in the course of campaigning.)

But the negotiation never got that far, because of the New Caucus slate’s dirty tricks.

And when the New Caucus slate refused to take responsibility for the leaked email and related smear job, I knew they were as empty of principles as they had always indicated they were.

I wrote the following email upon learning of the HEO’s Facebook post:

This is such a severe violation of what we thought was a good-faith negotiation about the form of the forum-debate, an event, not incidentally, that we initiated discussion of in order to engage eligible voters in the election and which you all have dragged your feet on. The guidelines have yet to be formalized and we would never have dreamed of leaking the in-progress/changing draft to people who aren’t on our slate, let alone allow the circulation of those incomplete guidelines in order to smear your slate’s campaign effort. Should we have circulated your request to pre-select questions? Should we do that now?

We hope you all understand the severity of this violation and will take suitable action to address it, including having [redacted] take down the post and replace it with a new post that acknowledges that (1) he violated a good-faith negotiation process and (2) that the guidelines for the debate were incomplete and nothing had been officialized.

We hope also that your slate will acknowledge this violation on your FB page, since it was someone on your slate who leaked the guidelines and context, with or without the full knowledge of the entire slate.

We understand that some of your slate members had problems of interpretation with a public blog post of our slate’s and have circulated rebuttals online and in paper form. We support such rebuttals to public content.

We also support a good-faith discussion process between the two slates in order to engage chapter members and would-be members in this vital opportunity to raise awareness of both the union and the urgent stakes of the moment. Violations such as [redacted]’s, aided and abetted by members of your slate, make it really hard for us to continue such a process with you all.

But there was no response from the New Caucus slate. I followed up the next day—Tuesday, March 21st—and received the following reply on Wednesday:

In regard to our mutual frustrations about public postings, I can only say that this campaign has been a bit messier than I suspect either of us had hoped. Inevitably there will be some tensions for the remainder of the semester, but let’s all do our best to campaign seriously but respectfully for the time in front of us.

As for the debate, regrettably we are at an impasse. We’ve been back and forth now three times about HEO participation. Needless to say, you will have your perspective on how we’ve gotten to this point and we will have ours. But here we are, past the deadline that you proposed. Clearly there are many other formats in which our slates can express our positions in the coming 5-6 weeks. We hope that when all is said and done and the ballots are counted, we can all move forward together to fight for full CUNY funding, adjunct parity and the many other things that we all want to see come in this next round of bargaining.

Needless to say, this correspondent was exactly right in his assertion that “you will have your perspective on how we’ve gotten to this point and we will have ours.”

That same day we posted our platform, contract demands, and proposed union reforms to the CUNY Struggle website. I then wrote the following email to my colleagues on the CUNY Struggle slate, a last-gasp attempt, as it were, to move forward with exposing the New Caucus slate’s dirty tricks.

(And there were numerous other emails going back and forth among candidates on the CUNY Struggle slate at this point; I later realized most of the candidates on the slate weren’t reading any of the emails, a sign of a serious problem in our collective process of organizing and making decisions for the campaign.)

I really really really want to urge us to post a revised version of the statement re the debate that I circulated the other day. We are at such a severe deficit in messaging right now that we need to both (1) call out the debate shenanigans (in a “civil”) way and (2) get above their messaging by pointing out how we were interested in trying to craft a genuine set of debate guidelines that would overcome the constraints placed on the debate by issues such as HEOs not being able to vote in the slate election (they can vote for the Welfare Fund candidates, who are running unopposed), and, further, that we were taking into consideration who’s left out of chapter and union discussions and trying to amplify the voices and questions of grad workers and adjuncts while also incorporating HEOs (as we started to do in the discussion with the opposing slate). This reframes their message about solidarity (which is twisted) and exclusion, since it covers up the fact that their proposed guidelines, including the equal access of HEOs *and* their intention to have pre-screened questions.

This is an important opportunity for us to both challenge the status quo (in keeping with our message) *and* to pivot and reframe their message and put out our own in the process. And it can be done without calling names or stooping to their level.

I emailed on Sunday night that I expected their dirty tricks to escalate, and they did, and now they’re in full force. We rightly prioritized getting the platform out and done, but we now need to fully take on this matter, and then we can put it behind us.

And at the end of the email, we can challenge them to the debate.

This is a fierce political campaign now, and messages need to be countered. Otherwise we’ll lose the whole discursive battle, which is not an insignificant battle no matter how little we think people care about this or not, or how little effect we think our blog posts and FB posts have or not (and they don’t have a small effect, btw).

Finally, we owe a strong response to all the other unions in North America who have insurgent activists either leading them or otherwise agitating for change. Whether we win or lose this election (and now I really wanna win! haha), it’s important to have a track record of what’s going on, for future study and analysis.

The problem is—and this is one of the fundamental contradictions of electoral politics—to win an election one must generally make significant compromises to one’s principles.

III. The Leave-taking

The first major compromise of the principal decision-makers of the CUNY Struggle slate was to not struggle on the issues, issues that include the violations of good-faith bargaining, dirty tricks, and fear-mongering claims of anti-solidarity by the New Caucus slate. These tactics—bullying, plain and simple—continued that week: we learned, for instance, that the New Caucus slate was emailing members of the GC chapter to say that the CUNY Struggle slate was treating HEOs as “second class,” an unfortunately racialized metaphor that (with variations) has a long, regrettable history of usage in academic-labor organizing that is largely non-black-led.

(That the CUNY Struggle slate was primarily white-led was a reservation I had from the outset, but political expediency allowed me to compromise on a core principle of my own: to only participate in organizing led by Indigenous peoples, black people, and people of color.)

Instead of countering these outright lies, however, for which I kept advocating, that approach was deemed “going low” instead of “going high”—the rhetoric Michelle Obama used at last summer’s Democratic National Convention in response to the bullying tactics of the Trump campaign, a phrase then repeated by Clinton on the trail. I was floored to encounter this argument—and, make no mistake, it was the most crystallized version of the argument I kept hitting my head against for days.

Putting aside the moral discourse of “high” and “low,” and the false dichotomy it presents, my interest from the start of the campaign was in demystifying the political dynamics that have kept the New Caucus in power for 17 years with no significant resistance, no matter how hard people have tried to challenge their power. I wanted to expose the New Caucus’s strategies and tactics, to show how undemocratic they are, in service to broadening awareness about how closed the New Caucus is—how it profits from keeping people in the dark about their bullying ways.

At one point the principal decision-makers of the CUNY Struggle slate were on board with this intervention. Then suddenly they weren’t. It seemed to me that winning became paramount, no matter the cost: the exact same force constraining the New Caucus slate.

Because winning the election was an uphill battle and, if it happened, a small, albeit significant, crack in the New Caucus’s power. But that crack, if achieved, would’ve had to expand through rigorous horizontal organizing with members of the bargaining unit at the GC and across CUNY. If we’d won, we wouldn’t de facto have the power to effect broad change.

And this leads to the second major compromise of the principal decision-makers of the CUNY Struggle slate: there was no horizontal organizing or decentralized decision-making in the internal campaign process. Decisions—especially the week the proverbial shit hit the fan—were being determined by how many people voiced assent over email to a given idea quickly enough, what struck me as rapid-fire majority rule: the opposite of collectivity, in which everyone has a chance to participate in decision-making and co-direct a multifarious strategy representative of everyone’s skills and viewpoints.

Moreover, the top-down, no-discussion decision-making style of the principal decision-makers of the CUNY Struggle slate is exactly the decision-making style of both the current New Caucus GC chapter leadership, running for another term in office, and the union-wide New Caucus leadership. When I realized that, I realized that it didn’t make a difference who won the GC chapter election, because the status quo would remain.

So, when our internal deliberations about the debate resumed late in the afternoon of Wednesday, March 22nd, and the decision was reached to publicly call for a debate without mentioning the dirty tricks, I decided to quit the slate. It had simply become way too stressful, and way too laborious, to engage the principal decision-makers in a process that actually mirrored the status quo I wanted to challenge—and a process which, therefore, wouldn’t provide the robust political education about the status quo that was my main objective in running for office in the first place.

Elections are a narrow form of political participation. While they may produce a changing same, they seldom produce transformative change. Political education, however, can at least change people’s perspectives, as I’ve seen powerfully in my own life. It’s why I’m invested in research, analysis, study, and teaching, despite the innumerable problems of the academic-industrial complex.

In fact, I had to leave the slate to post this analysis, because to do so without the approval of the principal decision-makers would’ve been tantamount, in their view, to anti-solidarity—or the same hollow rhetoric the New Caucus slate was using against the CUNY Struggle slate at that very moment. I will likely be accused of such betrayal now, but I take transparency seriously as a foundational element of political education.

There’s enough power in the world—I don’t need to remind anyone of that. What we need more of—a lot more of—are different ways of being in the world and with each other. I’m always trying to think about what that means, and how it can be achieved, across scales—and how to practice it on my own scale.

Nevertheless, I’m quite proud of the platform, contract demands, and proposed union reforms we did collectively (largely) produce as the CUNY Struggle slate—a landmark set of ideas for a moribund PSC dominated by a moribund New Caucus.

In the meantime, please connect with me at the Adjunct Project if you like—not incidentally, the one organizing formation (out of many) I’ve been a part of that’s been a consistent example of genuinely collective decision-making and horizontal organizing, no matter how painstaking and slow it can be (and it is both). I may not be “in it to win it,” to quote another Clinton-campaign chestnut, but I’m in the struggle for genuine change for the long haul.

Following are the emails I exchanged with Luke Elliott-Negri and Anh Tran, chair and vice-chair respectively, about the debate that didn’t happen. I’ve redacted all email addresses, and the names of others who were copied on the emails or who are referenced in the emails. Any irregularities in the images are solely due to the way I screengrabbed them.

(Those edits here.)

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Trap Music, Trap Spaces, and Black Holes: From Harriet Jacobs to Fetty Wap and Beyond

On Friday, September 30th, at Wayne State University in Detroit, I gave the following presentation at the 2016 Union for Democratic Communications conference. It’s an excerpt from the third chapter of my dissertation, currently titled Original Gangsters: Genre, Crime, and Settler Democracy, a project in which I analyze the history and present of the gangster genre as a lens through which to better understand the dynamics of global governance, political economy, and social relations.

After chapters that examine case studies set in India and South Africa, my third chapter is centered on the U.S. In this particular excerpt, I situate Fetty Wap’s blockbuster hit, “Trap Queen,” about a domestic relationship framed by the trap house where the two partners live and work, within genealogies of “trap spaces” stemming from Harriet Jacobs’s “loophole of retreat” in Incidents in the Life of Slave Girl and the “burdened individuality” of post-emancipation black life as theorized by Saidiya Hartman. Further, I link this trapped, burdened individuality to the disciplinary pressures faced by university students of color, particularly black students, who are compelled to become “Breadwinner/Investor subjects of the nation-state,” as Sylvia Wynter explains, or, failing that, remain on the outside of this over-represented genre of humanity.

This is a work in progress, so I welcome any and all feedback.

(NB: I’ve posted images with the slides on top, my remarks at the bottom; you can click each image for a closer view.)


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At this point in the presentation I played the first minute or so of the “Trap Queen” video below (beware that when you click play, an ad will start playing…).

Then I returned to my slides as follows.



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