The Lumumba Zapata Collective Will Keep Our Name

“We need solidarity more than ever, recognizing that all solidarities are imperfect, often fragile, temporary, and always forged in struggle and sustained through hard work. In our state of emergency, political disagreements, slights, misunderstandings, and microaggressions should not prohibit us from fighting for people’s rights, privileges, and lives.”

Robin D.G. Kelley, 2016 [1]

This communiqué shares with you the Lumumba Zapata Collective’s Points of Unity (POU). The POU clarify our commitment to anti-racist, anti-authoritarian, and anti-capitalist organizing at UCSD.

We carry the names of Patrice Lumumba and Emiliano Zapata, two important twentieth century revolutionaries united in their fight against colonialism and racial capitalism. Our name connects our current organizing efforts to the legacies of Black and Brown student radicalism that fought for Lumumba Zapata College, eventually renamed Thurgood Marshall College.[2] From the beginning, the name of the college, chosen by the Black Student Council and the Mexican American Youth Association in the late 1960s, was contentious. The university administration and its financiers ultimately did not honor the names of revolutionaries whose political and ethical principles were diametrically opposed to theirs.

An unrealized project, the original Lumumba Zapata plan sought to decommodify higher-education by putting in place an anti-racist, socialist-based model of education. This plan did not fully come into fruition because it threatened the university’s hierarchical power structure by demanding resource redistribution across racialized, classed lines. It also demanded an acknowledgement and reversal of the university’s complicity in excluding working class communities in Southern California: African-American, Asian-American, Mexican-American, and poor marginalized whites. An important, but often forgotten, lesson of radical social movements that precede us is their capaciousness. Those radical projects of the sixties and seventies envisioned a liberation for all, and they fought for the liberation of all. They were transnational, understanding that U.S. imperialist oppression abroad was linked to subordination at home. We neither glorify nor romanticize these various projects; we recognize they were imperfect, and we learn from their strengths and promise.

We continue to fight for a different way of being in the world alongside others. As stated in the POU, we resist systems of oppression on all fronts, taking an explicit stance against sexism, homophobia, sex and gender-based violence, settler-colonialism, Islamophobia, ableism, racism, and classism. Our anti-fascism is anti-racist, and our anti-racism is anti-capitalist, and our anti-capitalism is anti-authoritarian. We recognize that the current neo-fascist administration as well as our neoliberal university mold identity categories to suit their power structure. We therefore organize towards a new university, one that centers economic equity, racial justice, gender non-conformity, community collaboration, and global emancipation at a structural level, not just in theory and rhetoric. We believe we can achieve this through mobilizing behind a strategy of direct action and mutual aid.

The Lumumba Zapata Collective is aware of an op-ed published in The Triton on February 13, 2017.[3] The statement, written by Black Student Union (BSU) Chair Refilwe Gqajela, finds fault with our use of the Lumumba Zapata name and our alleged lack of interaction with the BSU and other student organizations. We believe the statement misrepresents the work we do as a collective. This communiqué clarifies our history, communication with student organizations, and use of the Lumumba Zapata name.

From our inception we have been a multiracial organization and we have sought to collaborate with fellow student organizations, including the BSU. After our founding meeting in April, precipitated by the anti-Mexican campus chalkings, an LZC member attended a BSU weekly meeting where he presented information about our collective during the beginning announcements. He was told to direct any communication to a Cross Cultural Center administrator sitting in on the meeting, who offered her card to our member. The directions were followed, and we received no response from either students or the administrator. While planning the strike we reached out to the BSU and other Student Affirmative Action Committee (SAAC) orgs. In November, LZC members attended a rally organized by SAAC and announced our plans to strike on January 20, 2017 with specially printed two-page handouts for the event containing all relevant information, including the strike call, our contact info, and our meeting times. We also sent out multiple emails to 200+ student organizations inviting them to participate in our planning meetings and event, and communicated face-to-face with multiple individual members of numerous SAAC orgs.

In objecting to our use of the Lumumba Zapata name, the op-ed brings up a question of who owns history, or indeed, whether history can be owned. Here is our perspective: local histories of resistance, struggle, and perseverance belong to those who continue to fight for the same principles, ideas, and material gains through concrete action. We dispute the notion that our histories of resistance and defiance are something that can be patented or copyrighted by individuals. Past, present, and future revolutionaries will continue to inspire our visions of a new world alongside the everyday people who work towards a different world collectively. The capitalist class manages private property effectively: we want to abolish it, not compete for it. We decline to assign an essentialist understanding of the universal struggle against oppression to the memory of Patrice Lumumba and Emiliano Zapata. We ask to collaborate and cooperate in a principled manner with other students on campus, POC and white, and we also ask to live and let live. What a world it would be if only more people, POC and white, felt an affinity with the principles and ideologies of Patrice Lumumba and Emiliano Zapata! That day cannot come fast enough! Particularly in a time of an executive order that targets Muslim populations, in a time when ICE is roaming around our neighborhoods and threatens our fellow students and families. If we are led to believe that revolutionary and radical history has gatekeepers, we’ve already lost.

The op-ed argues that by invoking and identifying with the history of multiracial coalitions on campus we are erasing them. We empathize with the author’s concerns over appropriation and erasure–and as a multiracial coalition, we are continuing, rather than erasing, the legacy of multiracial organizing. Of course, we do not expect real change to come from the post-racial, multicultural, or alt-right understandings of race and racial oppression we frequently see. The points put forth in print by the BSU Chair, as well as those made by others at our meetings, are guided by one kind of understanding of what it means to be a member of black and brown communities at UCSD. A valid one indeed, but not the totality of who we understand ourselves to be in the world. We are proudly mixed-race, Chicanx, Asian, Native, Black, and allied Whites. Our membership in a collective of POC and allied whites is defined by ethical commitment and shared struggle — solidarity. Neither the state, nor the university, nor fellow POC or white students have the right to police nor authenticate our multiple, intersectional identities. We refuse to perform our intersectional identities according to campus definitions of what is “authentic” black, red, yellow, or brown. Our universes extend well beyond the university, and there are radical POC at UCSD who readily work alongside white allies, as challenging as this necessary work is.

Since our inception, we have never claimed to represent groups of people based on their social positionality or identity. We recognize that such groups already exist and we do not seek to conflict with them. Instead, we stand for a collectively defined commitment to fighting against the corporate, neoliberal university in favor of a new university–again, one that centers economic justice, racial justice, gender non-conformity, community collaboration, and global emancipation. None of this is possible without participation from every one of us. We forge shared goals and commitments with the knowledge that we are not all positioned equally.

Our first public action as the LZC on the day of Trump’s inauguration spoke louder than anything we can say. Those students, workers, faculty, and staff who went on a wildcat strike that day know it was a memorable experience. We all saw that solidarity need not be a drab experience, even when confronted with pouring rain.

The months ahead worry us greatly. The LZC has yet to respond to the neofascists on campus, some of whom are even people of color. Other than their clumsy display of jingoism during the successful January 20 strike, they have quickly retreated to Reddit and the Troll Forest; yet they and their ideologies are still present on this campus. We long for the day in which our university no longer provides a playground for them, nor their neoliberal enablers cracking deals with DARPA and the CIA while getting richer off the face-recognition biometrics used to police our borders. ¡Que se vayan todos!

Fighting Trump’s neofascism necessitates the recognition that White Supremacy does not begin or end with a single president; it is this country’s founding principle. Some of us research and struggle to teach these histories at UCSD. Some of us confront daily hostility in our respective laboratories and workplaces for rejecting the university’s complicit role in reinforcing the status quo. We do not want more speak-outs, we don’t need therapy fluffies, and we don’t need the university to offer a handkerchief. We act on our own terms as students and workers who seek a complete revolutionary transformation of society.

We believe that any movement worth Patrice Lumumba’s and Emiliano Zapata’s names will know to differentiate friend from foe. At UCSD and beyond, we have many foes. We have never, and do not now, count the BSU among them. We have emailed the BSU and SAAC organizations for the purpose of setting up a meeting to discuss how to move forward with a creative strategy for confronting the neoliberal university and neofascist state together.

We take this moment to share our Principles and Points of Unity below: