Occupation At New School Ends In Schism And Graffiti, But No Arrests

on 28 November, 2011

The occupation of the New School that began almost two weeks ago came to an unexpected and uncoerced ending this Thanksgiving weekend, when the few remaining occupiers voluntarily vacated the study center at 90 Fifth Ave. and the Kellen Gallery at 2 West 13th St. on Friday morning.

The occupation debuted on November 17th in the university’s study center, when about a hundred protestors veered off from a student rally marching to Foley Square, and took the opportunity to storm the space.

The New School leases this study area from a company reportedly controlled by the real estate tycoon Aby Rosen. Complications unsurprisingly followed when David Van Zandt, president of New School, announced that the landlord had issued a notice of default indicating a breach of terms, according to the New School Free Press

During a tense public forum held at the university on Tuesday, Van Zandt also announced that the fire marshal had issued a citation to the New School for violating fire codes, and “told the university to fix the violations “forthwith,” an inexact time span which Van Zandt interpreted as about 24 hours,” NSFP reported. General indignation towards the occupation marked the forum:

“[M]any stating their anger over how the occupiers have vandalized the Student Study Center. Many were especially displeased that the administration has allowed the occupation in the first place, since they feel that their tuition dollars pay for the space, which is now inaccessible and damaged.”

His initial toleration of the occupation now near depletion, Van Zandt offered the protestors an alternative space in the nearby Kellen Gallery on 2 West 13th St., where the occupation would be at liberty to continue until the end of the semester.

During a general assembly in the study center later that day, protestors put Van Zandt’s proposition to a vote; the majority (90-19, according to a student who was present) opted to take up the offer. But a split in the occupation surfaced as the minority who had voted to stay at the study center made it clear that they were bent on standing their ground.

While some protestors migrated to the Kellen Gallery, others stayed at 90 Fifth Avenue. They set up a separate website, releasing a statement calling the general assembly “parliamentary theater,” and accusing the New School administration of planting “hand-picked” voters to manipulate the outcome:

“For many of us the large attendance [at the GA] was a success, but very soon it became clear that the sole goal of the majority of participants present was not discussion, but a yes vote for the destruction of the occupation. The intention was to disrupt any possibility of dialogue and to frame the voting of the assembly in the manner of representational politics and parliamentary theater. At this assembly the faculty, the bureaucratic manipulators and students hand picked by administration revealed their faces.”

NSFP reported that many of the protestors who voted in favor of the motion portrayed those that stayed as “merely defending the space as a matter of pride.” A student present at the assembly is quoted saying, “Those students have done something really great for us in letting us have this dialogue…[b]ut I wish they would take a step back from the principle of space and start having a dialogue about things that matter. It doesn’t matter if we’re in 90 Fifth Avenue. It doesn’t matter where we are.”

A member of NYU4OWS who also voted for moving out of the study center expressed vexation at those dogmatically defending the original site of occupation. He was particularly worried at their potential to corrode the image of the current student movement at large, and to alienate certain segments of the movement. He told the Local that it would be crucial to re-engage those who have been disenchanted and put-off by the drama that has fragmented the occupation. He exhibited particular dismay at the undesirable timing of the bust-up as the nationwide student movement had just gained momentum.

Indeed, the momentum is hard to ignore: UC Davis, the appalling scenes of a police officer nonchalantly pepper-spraying peaceful and stationary protestors in their faces incited thousands of students to rally last Monday on their campus that has otherwise been known to be dormant. On the same day, 15 students were arrested at Baruch while protesting outside a Board of Trustees meeting on tuition hikes. Today, hundreds of student protestors supporting OWS are expected to rally on four UC campuses, with Davis students attempting a campus-wide shutdown. Today in New York City, Students United for a free CUNY and NYU4OWS are assembling a rally on Madison Square Park to march to Baruch, where another Board of Trustees meeting will be held. Check in on Local tomorrow for continuing coverage.

On Friday 25th, the occupation at the study center released a new statement anticipating an impending NYPD raid to evict them from the premises:

“We have chosen to barricade all entrances to this space and will defend it by all means available to us. Our contempt for private property and the legalisms used to defend it is total… We challenge the NYPD to attempt to gain entry into a space that has proudly denied the pigs, the media and the press access to it during its week-long existence.”

This statement was released just a few hours before they decided to voluntarily vacate the study center, NSFP reported. At 9:30 am the same morning, Van Zandt and other senior administrators visited the Kellen Gallery to find five people sleeping in the midst of a panorama of graffiti and abandoned banners. Since they were unable to provide sufficient identification, they were asked to leave. The new terms of agreement also had determined that sleeping and vandalizing were to be strictly forbidden.

Despite such an anticlimax, nevertheless the movement did not end on the bitter note of the previous New School occupation, which ended with more than 20 students arrested. Both the study center and the Kellen Gallery are currently closed for renovations.

[Image via]