Dylan Kupsh

Dylan Kupsh is currently enrolled in a graduate program focusing on
Computer Science at UCLA. During COLA, he was in his 3rd undergraduate
year where he was a double major in Computer Science and Sociology.
During his time at COLA, he helped lead many graduate students in
creating events for COLA. He was one of the individuals who devised
the Ortega strike: All Smiles, No Swipes that fed thousands of
students by encouraging students to walk into Ortega and eat.

My name’s Danyela Ornelas. I’m currently interviewing Dylan Kupsh regarding his role in the COLA. So what year and major were you when you first joined COLA?

COLA was my third year. I was a computer science and sociology major.

Did anyone introduce you to COLA?

Not really. I was really involved in the union prior to that and so I was like up to date. And so, you know, everyone, right when I started, it was all of us sort of making it happen.

Yeah, I think that was really difficult to just plan as you go on.

Yeah. It was scary, too, because I was a union officer at the time and I kept getting emails from people in the union saying, don’t say anything about COLA, don’t do anything about COLA.

I know that’s been really scary, especially when harsh punishments were being given to UCSC COLA organizations as well.

But I remember we first started in the fall of that year and it was more like UCSC rebelling against the union. And then it kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger until it like, dwarfs everything else.

Okay. So I know you mentioned that you were also part of the union, but was there anything else that caused you to join the organization and what exactly was your role in this?

Yeah. So as a little background, I was in USLAC, which is the undergrad student labor organization, and then I was also in Students for Justice in Palestine and UAW 2865. And so I was doing a lot of the organizing work on campus with the union UAW. I did a lot with AFSCME Strikes in the past. A lot of my role was trying to constantly expand COLA and also helping out a lot with logistics and planning and relaying what I learned from the AFSCME strikes to COLA– what we’ve learned was successful and what was less successful and also trying not to repeat mistakes that others made.

Yeah. What was the most significant protest to you?

For me, the most significant one was the Blackout day.

Oh, that’s right.

You know, like the days before I was like, oh, this might not be that big. We’ve only been getting like 200 people up the picket line. But then the day of, there were so many people. I think we made a smart decision and we went through the library which made the line go on for like 5 minutes. So there was a constant stream of people marching for COLA. And it was like, Wow, we really did that.

That’s incredible. That’s so inspiring. I understand that your Cheadle hall strike was a tad controversial but regardless it was pretty major.

Yeah. The second part of the Cheadle Hall strike was more impromptu.

Are there any current plans for COLA to bring more awareness to this organization?

I mean, we never really got the goal that we wanted, which is COLA. We were not pushing strong enough, I think. And then the other thing is just that it takes a lot of effort to get to the university and to strike. And I think we would have gotten it like if we were able to get like one or two more quarters. I think that it would have just continued to grow a lot. To the point where we were like Santa Cruz and actually shutting down the campus where people can’t get in and stuff. But I still want that goal.

Yeah, that’s a very important goal. Would you say a factor in not achieving a COLA was due to possibly the pandemic?

Oh, it was totally the pandemic. 100% the pandemic. I think it’s different when you’re at your own campus, like when we’re at Santa Barbara and we can talk to everyone. And everyone at Santa Barbara was on a very similar page about COLA and, or most of the people I talked to. But then when we get into these union conversations, it’s like a bunch of infighting and it’s exhausting. And it’s like people on my campus were wanting to do this and then saying, “Oh, you have to do something else”. And people here weren’t very receptive to that. Yeah, but I do think the pandemic played the biggest role though. Yeah.

Yeah, I remember I was a freshman when this happened, so I remember it being a huge explosive thing and then by spring quarter it just disappeared. I couldn’t believe the university is really failing their own TAs, their own students despite their goal of education.

It was close, I think. I think it’s harder to strike online, but I think we got really close to being able to do it again. But yeah, that was how it ended.

So how do you feel as one of the COLA representatives about the current housing crisis going on at UCSB and in Isla Vista?

Inevitable. I think it’s like the university’s own problem where instead of actually doing their job and building housing and actually trying to host students, they put all of their money in some millionaire to try to fix all their problems, which will probably never come to

Yeah. Funny enough, my, my follow up question was going to be, what is what are your personal thoughts on Munger Hall?

Yeah. Yeah, it’s kind of funny because Santa Barbara really needs housing and there’s so many places to build housing. And they haven’t been building housing for like so many years. And then they get this Munger Hall proposal, which is some billionaire (woooo) and then the other proposal that they keep spouting– the Ocean Road one– I remember it receiving a lot of criticism because it was going to cut down the eucalyptus trees and the tunnel. They were going to take out the tunnel. They’re really trying hard not to build housing.

Oh, it’s absolutely crazy. If there is one thing you could change about COLA what would it be?

I mean, not to have the pandemic, I think, would be the biggest one, but outside our control. You know, personally, I think I should have been like start more active from the beginning. But yeah, I don’t know really what to change about the overall movement. I guess there’s a lot of things I think should have played differently around internal racism. And I think there is a lot of interpersonal conflict toward the end that I wish would have changed.

Do you have any final words you’d like to say regarding COLA or to the university?

I don’t think it’s going away. I think it’s going to be continued in a year or in a few years. I think that at some point everyone’s going to say we’re fed up with being so ridiculously underpaid for the work that people do at the university itself. And I think when it comes back, it’s going to be stronger because it’s not just going to be mainly grad students. I think it’s going to be more demanding. I think the university has done a pretty poor job treating workers during the pandemic and after the pandemic. I think every single worker has been basically screwed over by the university, besides, like top professors and administrators. So I think it’s going to get worse.

Does it make you upset as a graduate of UCSB, as an alumni, that there’s still no significant change?

Yeah, well, I’m at another UC, so I’m getting the same problems.

Oh, no.

Now I’m a grad student and I have to live with this poor wage.

And a quick follow-up question. I would love to hear more about the Ortega: All Smiles No Swipes event.

Yeah, yeah. We heard that they did like eight of these at Santa Cruz. And there was someone from Santa Cruz who came down to Santa Barbara for a day. And they told us, you have to do this. And then on the other side, I was friends with AFSCME. The people who worked in the Dining Commons, their organizer, and he was also telling me about other campuses and the mistakes that they made with this. I think it went horribly wrong at Berkeley. So we got together with a group– there was like 30 of us or something– and we spent a whole day planning this out piece by piece. I guess I was the one who led a lot of it because I was the only undergrad that really knew the dining commons. And we did it before with AFSCME where we would go into the dining commons and do protests inside. It’s just a lot different when you’re letting people in for free. But it was really crazy how… I guess I was surprised at how simple it was. We just like went in at the start of the dining period, instantly like take over– the management or whatever was stunned. They didn’t hear anything about it and… I was expecting them to pull food and stop service, but they kept serving. And then lines start pummeling. There were a few people that we
assigned to do, like, social media stuff, and they did an excellent job. And we did a good thing. We were constantly talking to the workers behind the counter. And it was weird too, that the police response at Santa Barbara was different where they only sent an undercover cop who was really easy to spot and like, didn’t do anything.

Really. I didn’t know that.

Yeah. They had, like, a plainclothes cop that they sent and it was kind of funny because it looked like she was trying to dress up, like, as a college student. But you could tell a mile what she was. And yeah, I think it was like one of the best actions because it’s not only like helping food security, which was like a tenet of COLA with housing security, but it also had a direct financial impact on the university where if we kept doing that, you know, it has a big demand. And we were very close to doing it again. It’s just the pandemic.

If I may ask, what dining commons would you have chosen next, or would you have stuck with Ortega?

So we chose Ortega because it’s the easiest to take over. There’s one entrance and by the time you’re inside Ortega, they can’t lock you out. The problem with a lot of dining commons is they just close the door when you’re trying to get in, so you have to shimmy your way in. At DLG there’s that little turntable and they block you from entering.

Yes, I know exactly what you’re talking about.

It’s a lot more complicated. And then Carrillo has the long walkways where they see you for 20 seconds as you’re walking down and then you can never get people to Portola. I think we would have done Carrillo because I think we could have gotten away with it. I think, you know, be cautious of like logistics and stuff. But like, Ortega was just the easiest
one, and that’s why we did it first.

Yeah, that makes sense. I understand Ortega got to the point where it reached capacity very quickly. And from what I remember, there were the managers who were kind of complaining about students taking out food. And I understand COLA, you guys were encouraging them to do so.

Yeah, it was really funny, our interactions with the managers. Like the first thing we did is we went to the managers and we were like, everyone needs to be free today. And they’re like, Wait, wait, wait, we have to approve this. We have to go through our chain of command. And we’re like, you don’t understand. You’re not in charge today. We’re in charge. And it was really funny how quickly they realized what was happening. You know, they had
that one person by the thing like counting capacity. I honestly didn’t think it would ever reach capacity. I thought they would just take away food and it would be good for like 30 minutes or whatever. I did not expect to stay the whole dining period too. And it was also cool seeing people take out food. We brought paper plates because we didn’t want to put extra work on the workers here. So we’ll bring our own paper plates and trash bags and stuff. And the managers during the service kept telling us, “Don’t use those plates, don’t use those plates.” And I was like, “Really? You want to put more work on yourselves
here”, you know? And then at the end, we helped them clean up everything. All of us vacuumed the whole place, cleaned up the tables and everything. I think one of them was like, this is the cleanest Ortega has been while. But yeah, no, it was weird.

I assume you also maybe have spoken to some student workers and chefs. What did they say about COLA? And also about the event?

Yeah. So as I mentioned, a big concern of mine was the workers. I heard at Berkeley, they got really scared because of the way that the COLA people did that action. And so the whole time we, we assigned one person to basically be talking to the workers. And I think the problem that we realized after was that they really only talked to the workers
that you can see because like in Ortega, they hide all the workers in the kitchen or whatever. Yeah. And I think a big problem that we had was a lot of the chefs and stuff, they eat leftovers and there weren’t any leftovers. We ran out of food. And so it was
kind of funny because after we did the event, we’re like, you know, maybe next time we have to order catering even though we’re taking over dining commons, we have to order catering for the workers. And we were actually serious. But I think that was a problem for the student workers, I think. There were mixed reactions where some were like– I remember seeing Reddit– and they’re like, please don’t come to our dining common again. Like, we’re overworked. We kept trying to interact with the workers there when we were taking it over. But I guess they don’t really want to say that it’s causing them more work, which is understandable.

I would like to say that that event was the most positively representative for the students. I would just hear students go on and on about your organization because of this very event. You guys got a huge positive reception because of it.

Yeah, it was a really fun action to do. It was one of the most fun. And it was actually, like, really chill. I didn’t expect it to be that chill because we were taking thousands of dollars of food.

They must been so surprised, especially since you mentioned that other UCs have tried and they faced difficulties doing so.

Santa Cruz like did it eight times and so they were experienced. Berkeley I think the problem was that the grad students that planned it didn’t go to the dining commons and so they didn’t know. And they also didn’t really think about the workers inside. At UCLA, it was all undergrads that planned it, so they did good. And yeah, I guess it was trying to make sure that we’re anticipating the people inside. But yeah, it was cool. We were very close to not doing it.

Really, why?

People felt uneasy. Because it’s a really high-stakes action where it’s hard to protect the safety of everyone doing it. And it’s much different because it’s not your safety personally. It’s the people you’re letting into the dining commons. We’re not the ones that are eating the food. Like, I think most of the people in COLA, like the ones who planned it, didn’t really eat. We were letting everyone else eat. And so it’s like a different level of safety where you can never really anticipate what the police response or whatever will be. There was also like, is this too much? And we all tried to come to a consensus with everyone beforehand. And there were a few people who were, like, ambivalent about it. But I think afterward everyone was like, Yeah, that was a big success. Glad we did.

It was a huge success. I know you mentioned that one of the flaws of other dining commons strikes was the fact that there was not enough support. Help from
undergraduates. So would you say that alongside graduate students, undergraduates also played a huge role?

I mean, there wouldn’t be COLA without undergrads. There’s a lot of people on campus that I think are making that mistake, like a lot of worker organizations that are ignoring undergrads. But I think it was quite clear that wouldn’t happen without undergrads. You know, the marches were amplified. The amount of people who are actually quote-unquote on strike was dwarfed by the number of undergrads. The dining common action was me and a few other undergrads. I don’t think it would have happened without us because a lot of grad students just didn’t know the dining commons. It was kind of funny because when you’re first planning this action, we did a whole walk-through of it when the dining commons was closed and no one was there. And we literally rehearsed everything to a
tee and when we were trying to find the building all the grad students were like, “Where is Ortega? I’ve never heard of Ortega before.”

And I thought that was funny because I’d been here for three years. How do you not know where Ortega is or this other dining commons? And they’re like, It’s right next to the GSA lounge. But yeah, I think undergrads played a huge deal, especially at the beginning, too, like the Cheadle Hall sit-in. A lot of grad students brought their sections, and I think that’s what made the difference for the Cheadle Hall thing. And why it was so successful at the beginning was because there were like ten of us sitting in the office and then like one person brought a group of 30 people and did section right in the hallway or whatever. And I think that made it really, really effective.

And besides undergraduate support, what was the faculty reception like?

I think faculty support was it was really good at Santa Cruz. It was instrumental at Santa Cruz. It helped a lot of the wild cats get their jobs back. I was in a lot of those meetings and about them getting their jobs back and realized the arguments that we were making as a union relied upon faculty support and it worked. They got their jobs back. But at Santa Barbara, I personally wasn’t involved in the faculty thing because I think faculty are really hard at Santa Barbara to organize in terms of like who to contact and their position on campus. I think the people who did it did a good job. There were like 30 or 40 professors and they did their own march one day and I thought it was really cool. The faculty in the history department were the main ones pushing forward the faculty for COLA. I don’t envy people who had the role of getting faculty on board.

Were you ever afraid that what happened UCSC to graduate students would happen to UCSB? Was there a threat of losing your job?

I guess talking to a lot of UCSC people, I don’t think they lost pay over that. They lost pay in the intermediate time when they were off their jobs. I think the point about the job loss is that we had a union, we had good appointment section rights and I think most people weren’t concerned about being fired. It was there, but it was also not the biggest concern. I wasn’t nervous about people being fired. I think if they fired them, it would have made COLA ten times bigger. And they didn’t fire them. I guess I wasn’t nervous about them trying to. I imagine if the grading strike went on for a very long time, they would have made an attempt. But from my position, the university didn’t care about the teaching strike. They only cared about them doing the grading strike.

And I feel like UCSB was relatively silent about talking to the school as a whole regarding COLA. How do you feel about that? There were no major messages from Chancellor Yang.

Yeah, I wasn’t surprised. That’s the way that Yang did it in the past. He’s the type of person who won’t say anything publicly. He’ll do it all privately. There were three AFSCME strikes and UCSB never gave a single comment about any of the three AFSCME strikes. And I was like, you know, this is their game plan. I think the administration in the back of their offices was scared to help. Like when we did the sit-in, it was funny because we were in Chancellor Yang’s office and we see one of the workers in the office point out that they got a report from UCOP on COLA. We could see them photocopying it in their printer room and they
whisked it off to another room right away to try to hide it from us. But I thought that was really funny. I think there was there was this fear from the university about if they said anything about COLA, then they would get a union lawsuit like what happened at Santa Cruz with the housing thing. I think they did try to meet with us and I think we did have one meeting with them. The Vice-Chancellor, David Marshall or whatever, had a printout of every COLA story on Instagram. Like he had a folder and he literally printed out every single folder on Instagram. And I thought that was like, yeah, they’re definitely stalking us.

Would you feel that COLA would have grown a little bit larger had the university made any public statements? I understand there was fear of lawsuits, but how do you feel about that?

Yeah. If they tried to fire anyone. I think there’s nothing that you can do to grow it more than doing something like that. I think it would have grown more if they said something.

And how do you feel about any negativity towards COLA? I remember looking up news articles about your events and there were many negative comments regarding COLA, calling the organization is kind of a waste of time.

I mean, we got what we accomplished or we got a big movement. I think there were some comments about like the Cheadle Hall lock-out thing that we did that I think were fair. It didn’t go to plan that day. I think that a lot of staff were incensed about the way that we handled a lot of the walkouts. But I think ultimately all the comments that were negative were outdone by a lot. And I would constantly be looking up on like the Daily Nexus and stuff and seeing what people were saying to see if there were any worthwhile criticisms. I think self-criticism is really important and mistakes that we weren’t thinking of that we made. And, you know, I think a lot of them were just like rich alumni saying something about like back in my day or whatever, and it’s ridiculous. But they got kind of outsized by everyone else.

Oh, for sure. I can wholeheartedly say as a current undergrad that the undergraduate is in full support of what COLA had done.

I think undergrad demands were largely left out of COLA. My interpretation of COLA is it’s kind of vague on like what the demand is. I think there was an attempt to really deliberately include more and more undergrads. I think most undergrad positions are way worse than what grad students face. And I think that it’s not as public and I do think it was constantly left out. A bit too much in my opinion. Yeah.

And then I guess the other side of it is the union dynamic. I think a lot of the statewide union leadership really sold out. And it was weird because like at LA, they did a whole thing like, please don’t go on strike. Please don’t go on strike. They’re like, begging us and it’s like, why? Why are they so scared? You know, a bunch of people are getting together, why are you trying to stop that? Internally, I think that was extremely present with a lot of the organizers. Me and Sheila were the two UAW people at UCSB the whole time, and I became the chair of the UAW at UCSB right when the pandemic hit. And it’s like we’re both facing this incredible pressure from not just the university, but UAW itself and UAW trying to cover itself. And I thought that was sort of antithetical to what we were trying to build. I don’t think a lot of people in UAW have really reflected on what they did during that time. And I hope they do. And I hope a lot of people learn from what COLA created, how effective graduate labor is in the university because there’s a lot of people that say you can’t strike unless you get so many people in this department to say, like, I’m not working. But COLA… there wasn’t. I think there were a lot of people, but it wasn’t like half of all TAs were doing this, but like 20 or 30% of all grades were withheld at Santa Cruz.

And that was more than 80% of students or something. It’s like a huge amount of students like were like, “where is my grade? Where’s my grade?” And I think it shows how integral graduate labor is to the university and how easy it is to shut down the university if you just don’t grade for like a quarter the whole university falls apart. And I think that’s kind of a lesson to show how neoliberal the university is, where it relies upon not the actual teaching, where they, they don’t really care as much about the teaching, but the grades. But it’s also, I think, instrumental for the future in trying to get a COLA contract or cops off campus, that you really don’t need 100% of people. You need a really committed group of rank and file people, and they can make a huge impact on the university. And I think it’s understated how much it affected them. And I guess while I’m on that note, I think it also revealed how incompetent a lot of university staff are. And, you know, I went to the lawsuit meeting every single question, the Santa Cruz labor relations person was like, yeah, after COLA, I finally read the UAW bylaws and I’m like– it’s your job! You’re getting paid 100K and you haven’t read the bylaws of the union that you’re supposed to be interacting with.

And it’s how reactive they are. I dealt with the Santa Barbara people for two or three years and they don’t prepare for meetings until like 10 minutes before. A lot of people are
trying to say the university is smart. The university is really playing this strategically. They’re thinking through all of their decisions. They have a ton of time. They’re going through ten chains of lawyers. When I really think the university always waits until the last possible second and they’re not as prepared as a lot of people think they are. I could see during bargaining the UCOP people don’t prepare for meetings, really. They just seem a little overworked, but who cares? Because they’re paid too much. But they’re like preparing like 5 minutes before these meetings and the only time that they actually prepared was during COLA when they were like oh, shoot, we actually have a huge problem where our university is getting shut down. And I think a lot of people still are thinking the university is really, really smart and strategic and stuff. And I don’t think that’s true. I guess that’s my opinion.

Thank you so much for sharing that with me. I understand that university disorganization is honestly a problem. You guys practically went to every meeting. You guys devised a very reasonable list of demands for the university. For them to just kind of glance at it seems kind of insulting.

Yeah, it feels like the university is constantly on PR watch where they’re just doing stuff according to their own interests or whatever. And then finally, when something goes bad, they try to overcorrect. Like, with this Munger Hall, it seemed like for years they were basically like stalling it out, like not doing much. And then, like, right once the stories hit, they’re in full damage control mode. And I don’t think it was strategic. It’s just being lazy.

Yeah. Thank you. Thank you again so much for your time. I really do appreciate it.

Interviewed by: Danyela Ornelas

Representative Salud Carbajal

What changes in gun policy were brought about as a result of the Isla Vista massacre in 2014?

Well, I think you saw a lot of red flags– Red flag legislation that came about in the state of California and passed. And since then, it’s been, I think, proven effective. There’s many instances that have been documented throughout the state of California where firearms– at least 21 cases, if not more, from one study that was done– were temporarily taken away from individuals who found themselves in crisis and a danger to themselves or others. So that was an important piece of legislation that came about as a result of the tragedy and the senseless violence that was perpetuated in Isla Vista in 2014. Since then, I think that you’ve also seen in Congress a stop and go, regrettably, or a go and stop in actions taken in trying to move forward with legislation that addresses gun safety. I say go and stop and stop and go because the House of Representatives has passed numerous pieces of legislation: HRA, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act, as well as CDC and NIH funding for gun violence research. But, regrettably, that legislation has not moved forward in the Senate.

There’s a filibuster that requires 60 votes for legislation to move forward. And even though there’s a slight majority of Democrats in the Senate to overcome, the filibuster is still challenging. And quite frankly, the Republican Party has been beholden and joined at the hip with the NRA. And as a result, we haven’t had the composition of the Senate, as we’ve had in the House, to be able to move forward with legislation that addresses gun safety laws. I also have emulated to a great extent the red flag bill of California at the federal level and have moved forward the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act in collaboration with the other chamber in the Senate, with Senator Feinstein in the Senate and myself in the House, that would provide grants to state and local governments who have an interest in implementing extreme risk border protection laws or red flag bills or red flag laws throughout their jurisdictions. These grants would provide them funding for training or policy development so that we could see more red flag bills and laws enacted throughout the country.

Because the red flag laws or bills that have already been passed, those have shown to be effective.

Rep. Salud Carbajal: Yes, they have. Yes, they have. Look, there is no one law. That is going to be the panacea to addressing the totality of gun violence in our country. But the propensity of a number of laws will no doubt increase gun safety and protect our communities from senseless gun violence in our schools and in our societies, so it’s really important. You know, sometimes individuals like to highlight where that law went to work here or that law, isn’t it? But it’s not one law, it’s the totality of laws. That’s why the more laws that we can pass and our common-sense gun safety laws, the better. For example, we ought to re-enact the assault weapons ban that expired, and there is legislation to move that forward again and a number of other pieces of legislation.

Yeah. Great. Let’s see. Do you think that the 2014 tragedy is still affecting your decisions in the government, and what you are putting forward?

Rep. Salud Carbajal: Absolutely. For me, like I said, I continue to re-introduce, as I have done this Congress, the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act with Senator Feinstein in Congress, her bill in the Senate and my bill in the House of Representatives this week. We continue to see tragedies throughout the country where the four red flag bills still have a significant impact when they are in place and in places where they don’t where they would have made a difference. So I am no doubt committed to continuing to do that, to continuing to look at other legislation that would continue to grow our gun safety laws throughout our country. And again, in an effort to reduce senseless, senseless gun violence throughout our country, in the schools and in our communities. I also had a sister when I was a little boy that took her life with my father’s revolver and more than half of the gun violence in our country is results from acts of suicide. So in my own family, I’ve had two instances of suicide. And I think it’s imperative to also remind ourselves that this isn’t just gun violence perpetuated by perpetrators, but also individuals who find themselves in crisis and depressed or in a position where they are. They aim to harm themselves, not just others. And these laws, these extreme risk protection order act laws and red flag bills, they go a long way because they would allow family members and local law enforcement and the courts to provide due process to individuals and evaluate if they are a danger to themselves or others. If so they may temporarily, let me underscore that temporarily, take guns away from those individuals and not allow them to also temporarily purchase other guns. So those types of bills are extremely important.

Yeah. And so before the 2014 massacre, about three weeks before, police responding to some concerned community members did a welfare check on Elliott Rogers. And so do you think that the red flag law could have prevented what happened if they were already in place back then?

I believe so. And I think the law enforcement themselves have opined that that could have been helpful. So absolutely. Yes.

Then our next question is what work still needs to be done as far as legislation goes to avoid events like this happening in the future.

And at the federal level, we need to pass my bill, the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, and it also need to pass other laws that continue to, in its totality, bring about safety in our communities and our country, in communities across the country. We need to pass the assault weapons ban that expired, and there is legislation being proposed to do that. But we need to also move forward with more research in NIH and CDC that would enable us to better understand this kind of violence and violence epidemic. We need to address bump starts through legislation and straw purchases as well as ghost guns. We need to do a lot that will bring about a safer country and safer communities.

I had one more question. So as a direct result of the shooting, like right after it, was there more input from the community either about gun control directly after the shooting?

Yes, there was. But let me expand on that. Every time we have a tragedy, and tragedies are happening almost daily– we’ve had hundreds of incidences and we have hundreds of instances every year of gun violence. Not only individuals taking their own lives, but perpetrators. Gun violence in our communities across the country, not just those that get the headlines, but usually those that get the headlines, no doubt create a conversation and increase outrage wanting Congress and legislative bodies throughout the country to pass gun safety laws. There’s a lot of legislation that’s proposed. And after a few weeks, it goes by the wayside. It’s been tragic that that’s happened. It’s a real tragedy that mostly after a tragic, senseless gun violence episode is when there is the highest interest in moving gun safety laws forward. Then that dissipates with time between these high profile, tragic events. And again, not to sound partisan, but overwhelmingly, I think Democrats have responded with legislation, passing legislation of different types. It’s been the party on the other side, the Republican Party, that’s beholden to the NRA and hasn’t really moved forward or collaborated with Democrats to move forward gun safety laws. That’s the reality. And if it wasn’t for the filibuster, we would have more than 50 laws in place. We pass all the laws we can in the House, but in the Senate, that’s where they go to die, regrettably, because we don’t have enough members of the other side of the aisle. And that’s a tragedy.

Are there any further comments that you would like us to include on our project?

We cannot stop advocating overwhelmingly. Poll after poll. Study after study demonstrates that over 70%, over 70%, sometimes 80% of the American people want these gun safety laws passed. So why haven’t been able to do that? And again, I think Democrats have been vigilant and advocates for these laws. We haven’t been able to do so because the environment hasn’t been such in Congress to have the number of votes that are needed to move these types of laws forward. Until the country elects a preponderance of individuals who believe in moving forward gun safety laws, we’re going to struggle to keep these issues alive and to move these laws over the finish line. But as a Democrat, I will tell you, I am proud to be a Democrat. I am proud to be a proponent of sensible gun laws. And I will continue to do so, because unless we do that, we, our communities will not be as safe as they can be by passing more of these important gun safety laws.

Thank you so much. Thank you for the work you’ve done to help mitigate tragedies like this in the future. And we appreciate you taking time out of your day to meet with us in this interview. Yeah.

Thank you for your attention to these important issues. Yeah, of course. And again, when we talk about gun control throw the word safety in that.

Yeah, we will definitely include that.

Because I think I think gun control, the other side who don’t believe in gun safety laws immediately go to the Second Amendment. And we always have to tell people this is not about the Second Amendment. This isn’t about doing away with people’s ability and right to own guns. This is about safety measures. You know, safety locks, safety for the safety procedures and measures that, again, not one law but multiple laws make our community safer. This is not about anybody’s Second Amendment. Thank you so much.

Interviewed by: McKay Kinsey and Aidan Locke

KCSB Oral History

Featuring Ashley Rusch, Lekha Sapers, Lisa Osborne, and Ted Coe

How did you get involved with KCSB?

ASHELEY RUSCH: My name is Ashley Rusch. I am the internal news director with KCSB, pronouns she/her. I’m a fourth-year communication major with a minor in professional writing and journalism, and I got involved with KCSB as a very timid sophomore. I was always interested in journalism, but I spent a year at the Daily Nexus doing print journalism, and I wanted to broaden my horizons a little bit into broadcast. And so I came over to KCSB, where I reported on a couple stories here and there before COVID hit, and then was encouraged by our lovely news and public affairs director Lisa to apply for the news director position. And I’ve been here ever since.

Lehka Sapers: Hi, I’m Lehka. I am a second-year film and Global Studies major and I’m also minoring in Earth Science. I am the station’s archives coordinator as of right now, and I got involved with KCSB at the beginning of my freshman year. When I started programming, I had a hip hop show called Coast to Coast, which I did online because of COVID, and then I got more involved as the year progressed and I finally got onto campus, and now I’m here on Excom and I’m really excited to spend another two years on Excom.

Lisa Osborne: I’m Lisa Osborne. I’m the news and public affairs director, so I’m a career staff person at KCSB. So as Ted and I came to KCSB because I just happened to meet one of KCSB’s music hosts, and then I found out there was a job opening here, so I applied.
But I spent most of my 20-plus career in broadcasting, anchoring news at radio stations in Los Angeles and hosting music shows for a national radio network.

Ted Coe: I’mTed Coe, Staff Advisor. I started at KCSB in October of 2000 as an employee. My job back then was administrative assistant, but largely in charge of the annual fund drive and administrative operations, and that role has changed over the years somewhat, expanded. I had been on KCSB as a guest when I was in grad school during the 1990s, and I was a listener too. But I was involved in a TA union, the UAW affiliated teaching assistants union and doing organizing for that. And KCSB provided a forum for us to discuss our issues and the struggle we were facing with the university, not recognizing our rights as employees and that kind of thing. And so on shows like No Alibis, which is still around with Elizabeth Robinson, so just making sure we can get our story out and help build the movement. I was also a fan of the music culture of the station as a listener and had friends who were involved at the station. And I applied when I was kind of trying to find new work while still in grad school, and my dissertation was on the punk subculture and the English department here, but I worked at a record store and knew people at the station and when a job opened up and I was kind of needing supplemental work along with my schooling, that administrative assistant job, I thought it was a good kind of opportunity. And here I am over 20 years later still working at KCSB.

That’s a really fun insight into KCSB. What are your sort of day-to-day and overarching responsibilities and how they fit into how KCSB functions as a whole?

Ashley Rusch: So my role typically consists of working with my fellow news director and Lisa or news public affairs director to produce twice weekly newscasts on KCSB FM 91.9 and lead and train a team of volunteer reporters who are all very lovely people, ranging from all four years of UCSB students to community members that have been with us over many years. And then a very large part of my job consists of putting out the COVID 19 newsletter, which is sent out to the entire student body, which I’m sure we will touch on a little bit more. But that’s become a very large part of my job since the pandemic began. Other than that, just reporting on issues that pertain to local Santa Barbara news COVID news, UCSB related topics, and just constantly expanding my coverage and working with our reporters to do that as well.

Lehka Sapers: Like I said before, I’m the archives coordinator and my responsibility really is to preserve the station’s history dating back to its inception around 1961. So that role entails the digitization of many discs and all of the other archive mediums that we do have. We have sent discs to special collections in the library so that we can get those digitized. My job is also to spearhead the grant process, and we just finished, I believe, $1,300 worth of digitization through special collections, which I’m really, really stoked about. It’s also my job to interview alumni, get information from them, and to just honor the station’s history and how storied and incredible it really is. I also do the Pacifica Radio Archives that air from 4 to 5 every day.

Lisa Osborne: And I support Ashley and Daniel, our other news director, in the way that they work with reporters, and I will also work with reporters just depending upon our schedules, because we have a pretty good sized team of reporters, maybe 15 people now, I guess, both
community members and students. So Ashley and Daniel and I will figure out how we want to do training for the reporters and come up with story ideas to pitch the reporters. I also get involved in different meetings on campus, especially relating to Isla Vista community, not only campus, but community meetings too, so I’m part of the Isla Vista Community Network monthly lunch meeting. And because we have a show called Inside Isla Vista that’s about Isla Vista, so it’s a once-a-week, 28 minute program that has different hosts and then we talk about Isla Vista. So just kind of when I’m out in the community meeting with different people who have a stake in Isla Vista, they’ll find out about KCSB so we can produce public service announcements for nonprofits or events. So sometimes since I’ve been here for six years, people have gotten to know me so they’ll ask us to do a public service announcement. But even more recently, through our COVID newsletter, which started daily right when we were in the thick of the pandemic at the beginning, now we seem to get requests from all over campus, like administrators.

People want to get a survey out, they want something. So we’re kind of getting to be known for our COVID newsletter for being able to have the eyeballs of students and to be able to help publicize events. So it’s not just myself through different meetings, meeting people, but it’s our actual newsletter and Ashley and Dan, and Ashley and Aubrey, who was our other news director before that, really, really have become known. So because we’re an educational station, we don’t take any paid advertising. So we all of the commercials that we run are free for public events that are worthy, if it’s a nonprofit, we’re happy to help people out. And then another part of my job is compiling the report for the FCC Quarterly. So, we have to write about how the ways in which KCSB is serving our local community so we put together a report and then it gets filed on the FCC’s website. So, when our license is up for renewal, if anyone ever challenges us, we have documentation of all the ways in which we’re supporting the community, and that’s through the local news coverage that we do and the public service announcements that we do, and also through our other programs.

Ted Coe: I do a lot– supervise our student employment and there’s 18 student workers who are just under half time, run all of our departments and I provide coaching to them and other volunteers. I work on special projects, help with kind of support for financial affairs at the station, like our fundraising kind of deposits and the like. And right now I’m working on the 60th anniversary reunion planning and event organizing. I kind of act as a P.R. public relations point person for alumni and the greater community. So help focus on events and our relationships with outside entities like promoters, artists, and that sort of thing, but kind of broker that with the student employees and help them develop relationships with venues and promoters and that sort of thing. We do a lot of media literacy.

I find it so interesting how diverse the programming of KCSB is and how we’ve only scratched the surface. There’s radio programming and there’s newsletters and archives and just goes all the way down. It’s amazing.

Lisa Osborne: But something that’s different about KCSB is that we are we have programmers that are very engaged and we have like how many–over 100 programmers– whereas a lot of other college stations like are kind of going dormant. The students aren’t interested in it. So we’re different from most college radio stations and that there’s a lot of interest in KCSB, a lot of interest in being involved in KCSB. And also it’s multigenerational since we have volunteers and students.

Wow. That is really cool. You can definitely tell how the amount of effort and dedication there is in KCSB programming. Diving into more recent history and talking about KCSB– how have you seen the KCSB change since you’ve been involved?

Ashley Rusch: I think I have kind of an interesting perspective on this because I joined KCSB right when everything started changing, and I have that experience of what it was previously and how the newsroom functioned in person. The kind of stories that we covered and then shifting into the pandemic and how that dramatically changed a lot of our
programming and everything. But since I joined, I got this position in June 2020, so that was kind of right in the thick of the pandemic. And pretty soon after that, the news department, which was functioning remotely pretty well during that time, we were able to sustain our reporters and everything. We decided to utilize a project that Lisa had already been working on, which was putting out daily COVID updates for our programmers. And we decided to expand that and reach out to the entire campus community with that information. We found that there was a lot of updates coming from the university, coming from the Chancellor, but a lot of students were really confused and didn’t know what to do with that information. They had the ability to look at public health websites, dashboards, and things like that, but we really wanted to provide that in an aggregate news format for them to just kind of skim through and see and trust that they were going to get the most up to date information.

So our news team during that summer and then really amping up in the fall, decided to put out a three times a week full student-bodywide newsletter, which featured the latest information, testing resources, later becoming vaccine resources, and just any current
updates that we could provide for students. And I really think that that helped establish KCSB News and give us kind of a name for ourselves during that time. It was also something personally that made me feel like I was able to kind of give back to my community and keep me going during a time that was riddled with a lot of uncertainty. And it was really confusing for a lot of us, but just having the consistency of putting out that newsletter was really advantageous, I think, for our news department, for the traction that we got and also just for the campus community and letting, you know, a lot of freshmen that were coming in for the very first time online, they knew that we were there for them providing this resource. We tried to make those intros as friendly as possible, myself and
Aubrey, the previous news director at the time. And as Lisa mentioned earlier, the newsletter really has since transformed into kind of like a community spot where we can promote events and local organizations.

We’ve put out some really important information there that has been picked up by other news outlets. At one point, I believe someon on Reddit said, like, we were giving out better information than the university was, which was kind of cool, just, you know, establishing that camaraderie, kind of like a special perspective. As a student journalist, I always thought like, what would I want to know as someone that’s reading the news? What am I curious about and I really applied that perspective in our newsletter coverage, so I would say that’s how KCSB news has changed since then. And obviously, a lot of our coverage has centered around COVID 19. We’ve spoken to a lot of experts over time, but also just in general KCSB has really gotten more flexible and been able to roll with the punches. We, you know, we never stopped running. We kept going. We went to pre-recorded. We stayed on 24/7, which was a really big task to tackle as a campus radio station. But I’m really proud of all the efforts that all of our programmers and executive committee have done to keep us sustained.

Lehka Sapers: Like Ashley was saying, I think that programming has gone through a very large transition over the course of COVID 19. I was not here at the onset of the pandemic, but I came in towards the tail end of it, and I got a lot of the online programming. I did a lot of my shows from virtual DJ, from my house or from my apartment, which was a little bit frustrating that I couldn’t get into the station but come spring 2021, I came into the station for the first time. I saw my office, I saw the music library, and I was like, Wow, this place is
really incredible. And now around winter 2022, I know our program director and our assistant program director are working towards reintegration. I’m not sure if their goal is total reintegration, but I know that as of now there’s a very good portion of programmers who are in-person following the pandemic, which is huge. And also I know that K-JUICE are training program for novice programmers is becoming a lot more intimate and there’s going to be a lot more one on one attention to make sure that they know exactly what to do when they get in person in studio.

Ted Coe: Well, the station is grown in terms of the number of students and staff. News and public affairs director was introduced during my tenure, and it started with a large grant from the Sarah Miller McCune Foundation that supports a lot of media initiatives. Then it
became a career staff position, and that’s allowed us to grow our news department in a lot of ways. We added a second news director, we’ve added a librarian position, a business coordinator position, and a digital media coordinator position also. We’ve experimented over those years and doing events that are maybe a little more niche than program board. Hosting concerts in our courtyard was kind of an innovation and we experimented with a lot of things like film presentations and lectures. When opportunities arise, we might agree to try things we’re not used to doing, but we always try to make them work and sync with the broadcast mission of the station, which is our primary function. So like some of those courtyard concerts, a number of them were broadcast live. A couple of years ago, we were voted best radio station in Santa Barbara by the Santa Barbara Independent which was really exciting and kind of speaks to our impact in the community.

We’ve built up a lot of partnerships with units and departments on campus and faculty and like really expanded our multimedia imprint. It’s important to see KCSB as a multimedia entity, I think, and that’s evolved and changed over time so that people have more of an outlet for the written word in multiple formats on our website and zines and through social media and the like. Then the whole thing with just having remote broadcasters during the pandemic that we had to really pivot and we were well equipped to. A few other stations relied on alumni to help kind of flesh out a 24/7 schedule. And we still have a lot of these programmers who are doing music and cultural arts shows and other kinds of content who are still with us. That’s built some engagement with our community and really helped us stay fresh at a time when sister stations were having a run a lot of archived material and weren’t being as current or keeping people as up to date on what’s going on in their community.

That’s so important, especially during the time when we were all so isolated. It was nice to feel up to date and connected with the UCSB community.

Lisa Osborne: A couple of things that started since I got here was our Inside Isla Vista show, And then and then once a year we offer course credit to students who want to report for KCSB News or sports. They can earn course credit winter quarter in exchange for reporting for us.

Let’s pivot to talking about more of the historical side of KCSB. I’m interested in hearing about its establishment: why was it that moment and why was it those people?

Ted Coe: It started in the dorms in 1961, ’62, and it was called Radio Navajo after the name of the hall in Anacapa. There was a student who had ties to radio and his family. FM was kind of like a new medium in a lot of ways and so they started a carrier current station with a little low power kind of set up but it was a wide kind of broad interest, from what I’ve heard and learned. It wasn’t just kind of the nerdy people who like to play with transistors and that kind of thing. That was the time when social media didn’t exist in the way we’ve come to become used to. By the time it started being heard across campus and then increased its reach, students would kind of communicate with each other by reaching out to the radio station and making dedications and getting messages relayed. There was a kind of interactivity there. But the Kennedy assassination happened in 1963 and other stations were emerging. We were the first in the U.C., probably because Santa Barbara seemed like a safe bet for this kind of forum, as opposed to the Bay Area where activism had already had an impact even before the free speech movement. So the students at different
campuses were starting these stations and they started communicating really early in the mid-sixties. The U.C. radio network established communication across different campuses. And that has grown over the years that we’re affiliated with UCRN and with other community radio and grassroots radio associations. But the Kennedy assassination was in 1963 and I think maybe changed people’s consciousness a little bit about the role of radio and the lives of the community it’s part of. Then between the mid-sixties and seventies, the radio station really had a significant impact in terms of reporting on covering the takeover of North Hall in 1968 and race issues on campus. The bank burning also is an important symbol, we even have a small imprint Bank Burner Records, where we put out a couple of vinyl recordings using that label. KCSB was there too. It let people know about what was
going on in the community and how police were being heavy-handed and the drug war was really intense and the war in Vietnam. And then 1970 was when the events in Isla Vista exploded, but the station was blamed for just reporting on stuff and perceived as
kind of stage managing activities in the streets. Street fighting and that kind of thing. But we’ve always been covering important events in the community, affecting students.

The growth of Isla Vista has been through self-sustaining organizations like the Food Cooperative and the clinics and that kind of thing. It’s a piece of what the radio station was about and discussing. Further afield, I think the newsroom has been substantial– the
folks from the late sixties had bigger newsrooms than professional stations. Covering the Diablo Canyon story that was like further up the coast but had implications for all of the Central Coast because of the fault line. In the late sixties, Storke Tower was commissioned as a student media center, and the station built a transmitter up on broadcast peak in the Santa Ynez Mountain Range. The station was there when there was all of these things that happen in our community, like the birth of Earth Day, the plan de Santa Barbara, El Congreso, and the rise of the Chicano power movement. Then there was a collective called Radio Chicano in the seventies and eighties. SB has been kind of like a lightning rod and a sounding board for what’s going on on-campus and in our greater community. Being on the mountain like that raised our broadcast range significantly. Where you had like maybe a low power FM kind of impact, all of a sudden it’s reaching the tri counties and south San Luis Obispo County and down to around Camarillo.

Lisa Osborne: Here’s some stories from 1970, the Bank of America burning. There’s about an hour and a half an hour and 47 minutes worth of audio from KCSB that we ran this there where the bank burned. And you’ll actually hear some reporters went out on the street with
their recorder. The cops are busting into their apartment at one part and they’re pulling them out of the apartment. And because the cops were illegally entering people’s apartments at the time, the sheriff wound up going on trial. You’ll be shocked at the police
coverage and the police presence that was in Isla Vista.

Lehka Sapers: If we’re talking about UCSB’s anti-establishment history and the culture that they just put out into IV, we could talk a little bit about the Honey Hearings and how that kind of sparked KCSB presence in Isla Vista as a force of news and not just a force of radio. Those hearings were allegations of police brutality from a man named Joel Honey. He was accused of flying over Isla Vista and dropping tear gas canisters into the neighborhoods. I’m not entirely sure if this was true or not, but the coverage of that and the bank burnings,
as well as KCSB being shut down was really the onset of the news department, and not just a station that was that was opposed to playing rock and roll because it was seen as offensive. A station that stuck just to AM radio waves and broadcasted 50 feet away
from Anacapa Lawn. So that was a really big turning point in the station’s history, I think.

Lisa Osborne: At the time they had a lot of reporters actually, and they would have to call in from the payphones. They would actually be running to the payphone to call in their stories. They’d be watching what was going on in Isla Vista and go to the payphone.

Ted Coe: There’s an alum, Ann McCreary, who has good stories. Her ex husband, who’s now passed on was chief engineer and he started while he was a student. They had basically set up a reporting station in Isla Vista and borrowed phone lines from local businesses because stuff was happening in the streets. They just had to be really creative with creating lines and networking from out in the streets, out in the larger community.

That is that an incredible amount of resourcefulness on behalf of reporters from KCSB. That absolutely goes to show the necessity also of student reporting and reporting outside of the established news sources.

Lehka Sapers: I think it’s interesting that you say that, too, because although the reporting itself was out of the mainstream establishments, KCSB was becoming more and more established on campus as an on-campus presence as they moved from Anacapa to San Miguel to Storke Tower. I know that they also spent a little bit of time in the UCen as well, but they’re really just a means of communication and they wanted to reach as many people as possible. So I think that they moved to Storke Tower in an effort to search for better
coverage, better antenna, better tower, better AM service at that time to promote their 24 hour operation schedule as well as get an increase in budget. That movement prompted both the transition of a better radio station as well and later on, the transition to becoming an FM radio station on FM air.

Ted Coe: They were growing. What they had in the UCen was much smaller than what we have. At certain points, especially during non-Covid times, you might hear a live band performing in Studio A or activities around the station and that wouldn’t have been possible in the space they had in the UCen. The Storke building was funded by donations from the Storke family and in honor of Thomas. In 2019, the Student Media Resource Building celebrated its 50-year anniversary. They had to work with administration and they created a coalition of campus officials and students, largely driven by students. They got support from career personnel and administration faculty.

We talked about KCSB as an agent of change and that’s really come through in a lot of these examples. What role do you think that KCSB plays on the UCSB campus?

Ashley Rusch: Yeah. I think just right off the bat, we’ve definitely mentioned this already, but what immediately comes to mind is community building. I think both within my experience and I’m sure anyone that’s been involved in KCSB in whatever capacity can attest that this is kind of our little home on campus. I’ve met my best friends here and really, really grown here in so many different ways. Coming in as someone interested in journalism, it’s really allowed me to grow in that way in the news department, but also really develop the leadership skill set and managerial skill set and all these other things that I think I didn’t expect to get from KCSB. And I think that’s really important. Just seeing how much people care about the station that have already graduated or gone elsewhere, I know Ted already mentioned this, but the fact that alumni all came back during COVID to keep the station up and running, it just shows that it’s like this giant group project that everyone’s working to sustain. We’re having our 60th anniversary coming up pretty soon as well on
April 30th. So that’s going to be really exciting and we’re really excited to see all of the alumni come back and just get together for this mutual, shared love of the station. Community building is really, really important. And we’ve tried to sustain that too, through the news department and have shown our entire student body that we have their backs and we want to provide them the most up to date information in a comprehensible way, especially in light of the university not always meeting that standard for information that we
would like to put out. I’m really grateful for the community that we’ve been able to build and continue to build a KCSB.

Lehka Sapers: I think on the campus in particular, we are a source of information for them. We propagate communication, I think, especially with the COVID newsletter that was super important. I feel as though that KCSB News gives the public a lot more information than the administration does, which I think is super awesome. And in terms of media and our media content, I think that it’s an impact that we have on more than just the campus, because we broadcast a very, very long radius as of now. That means that obviously a lot of people are listening to what we have to say which I think is super cool. We do have a region wide impact and I’d be excited to see how far that that does expand.

Lisa Osborne: I would say that KCSB offers a meeting place in space for different kinds of students to come together, because I feel like our group, our executive committee, is very welcoming to that, to all kinds of students from all kinds of backgrounds. It also gives the opportunity for students to have a voice and have a leadership opportunity since it is a student-led station. We make efforts to in our news department, and we can even grow more in being inclusive when it comes to getting the word out about our volunteer opportunities and stuff.

Ted Coe: I like that example. It’s a community center, physically and in reality. I remember a book from grad school called Imagined Communities. That kind of image always stayed with me because that’s what defines a community. So our alumni were part of that.
We could have some continuity. The listenership is worldwide in some ways and we’ve had alums who wanted to be part of this and were engaged and willing to give up their time as volunteers. We redefined how we might think of community in terms of Santa Barbara County and UCSB. It’s physical, it’s in-person, but it’s also virtual. That impact has changed, people’s listening habits have changed, the way they discover new content has changed. We do have on-demand platforms, we use SoundCloud for news and public affairs in some ways. We have an archive playing on-demand platform for the radio station and we provide playlists and all of those multimedia kind of ways we communicate that’s allowed us to stay relevant.

I don’t listen to as many podcasts, but I was noticing an ad on Spotify yesterday where it’s like you can listen to music playlists with a podcast and people commenting on the material that’s being played. And I was like, oh, so they’re still trying to figure out how to do
what radio does. There’s nothing like doing a deep dive and getting behind the music. Radio talks about things that are going on in your community, gives historical context, and talks about things that are under discussed or underreported or controversial. That’s the role we play too.

Thank you all so much! If there’s anything else you wish we talked about or anything else you’d like to add please do.

Ted Coe
: There was a mid 1980s controversy over some music that got played on the air and the FCC tried to enforce rules around what’s called obscenity and art. That’s just one story. The background with Sean Hannity or like all the famous alums.

Lisa Osborne: Did we even talk about the Sean Hannity part? He got kicked off the air here. He had a radio show here and he engaged in hate speech. He got kicked off the air and then he went and got publicity after getting kicked off the air. And then that’s what landed him his first paying gig radio show

Ted Coe: He was really incendiary and very homophobic and he was using panic around the AIDS epidemic to demonize the LGBTQ community. It created controversy and then the way it was handled gave him an opportunity to position himself like he was being canceled or like he was a martyr. And that kind of gave him the national spotlight.

UCSB COLA Timeline

In late 2019, UC Santa Cruz went on strike in order to obtain higher wages, or a Cost-of-Living-Adjustment (COLA). The goal of this strike was to aid graduate students in receiving a liveable wage that would reflect the cost of housing near campus. This came to a total of $1,412 based on their formula that had variables consisting of: rent for a 3 bedroom apartment split in three, pre-tax income, and monthly cost of living adjustment. Many sister UCs followed suit in support of UCSC. UCSB used social media and staged daily protests to demonstrate their support for UC Santa Cruz. These protests began early in the morning at 8:00 AM at Storke Tower until early evening at 5:00 PM, eventually leading to a grading strike in March 2020, where TAs refused to grade the work of their students in order to force negotiations with the UC Office of the President. Here are the major events that solidified the cause of COLA.

December 9, 2019: Beginning of Strike

Organizing emerged gradually on the UC Santa Cruz campus. The Graduate Student Association (GSA) and UAW 2865 had banded together to call for a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) from the UCSC administration. To no avail and no negotiation to be seen, resorted to the full-on strike that called for administration attention and gained a noticeable following of Graduate and undergraduate students alike. 

The demands were as followed:

  1. Out of rent burden
  2. Without raising tuition or fees
  3. With a guarantee of non-retaliation

Soon other UCs joined the cause of UC Santa Cruz. UC Santa Barbara follows similar tactics as done by UC Santa Cruz, not limited to strikes, marches, sit-ins, and even grade withholding. The message was the same for all UCs who participated: administration must develop a suitable plan that will aid their students to have a substantial wage for a proper living situation. 

January 23, 2020: Connection to UCSB

A call to action as UCSB became the second UC to join the COLA cause, ultimately fighting for a better wage for TAs who struggle against the rising rent from Goleta and Santa Barbara County. While this was not a formal announcement of striking, it became the ripple that would inevitably lead to a full-on strike and marches. 

Soon other UCs followed suit, many providing numerous support for COLA and creating their own small organizations that would reach locally to the other Graduate students who also work as TAs but still struggle to make ends meet. 

Sicheng Wang, Photograph of a rally of groups; graduate, undergraduate, and faculty in front of UCSB Library, Daily Nexus, 23 February, 2020

February 23-24, 2020: Cheadle Hall Strike

A prominent point for COLA in terms of UCSB as it was this day that the Graduate students had declared they would begin a full-on strike on February 27th. In this protest they decided to take over Cheadle Hall, quite literally staying within the building, and only left at midnight on February 21. The purpose of this action was to gain the attention of Chancellor Yang so that he may address the situation and hopefully provide a solution. 

By then UCSC had declared their TAs were going on a full grading strike. UCSB had begun a noon rally in front of the library, with numerous attendants all calling for the attention of Chancellor Yang and President Napolitano to address the situation and to be empathetic toward their Graduate students who do so much for all of the UCs across the state. The only person to make a comment was Chancellor Yang to notify The Daily Nexus that meetings would begin soon. As for President Napolitano of the UCs, she remained silent on the matter.

February 27, 2020: UCSB COLA Wildcat Strike

UCSB4COLA organization went into full swing, where a multitude of Graduate Students and Staff joined together to strike against the low wages and minimum support offered by the University despite the rising cost of rent and the housing crisis. There was an overwhelming amount of support at the Wildcat Strike on February 27, about 300 showed up for the second day of the rally. Lasting from the early morning at 8 AM, into the evening hours of 5 PM the strikers went on rallying from the Storke Tower Lawn then onto the Arbor, Mosher Alumni House, and circled the Library on the way back to Storke Lawn. By the end of the rally, COLA had over 1,000 supporters on their side.

The creators and heads of UCSB4COLA found this support to be very profound, wanting to keep the momentum going and using it as a motivator to keep going for the cause, hoping for more involvement by the student body. Not only did they have support from students, but faculty, and even local politicians, some of who mentioned taking the cause to our state’s capital, Sacramento.

March 5, 2021: Black Out Protest

On March 5 COLA set out on yet another protest, this one being a ‘black out’ protest, where all participants were encouraged to wear black, as they wanted to make a comment on the University of California’s motto – “Let there be light”. Standing in solidarity with the recent graduate students who had been fired at UCSC for withholding grades as a part of their protest, they began early on that Thursday at 7:30 AM in front of Cheadle Hall. Blocking all four entrances and chanting, some got into verbal altercations with UCSB staff who did not support the cause. 

UCPD became involved after administration employees were prevented from entering the building, so protesters moved into the halls and floors of the building and continued to chant. After a de-escalation between an advisor and protestors, there was a rally at Storke Tower once again. Many speakers from different unions spoke at the rally, and there were about 3,000 people in attendance. Those of who marched to Henley Gate at 1 PM, chanting about both COLA efforts and the distaste of cops’ presence on campus.

March 6, 2020: Gaucho Bucks Cop-Out

After days of protest, rallies, and strikes, the University finally made an announcement of acknowledgment, providing a hopeful solution to the demands of the COLA movement. The university made it clear that they wanted to award the wage increase and cost of living adjustment demands. The only issue? It was to be paid in Gaucho Bucks, the increase being $1,807.51, announced by Janet Napolitano herself. 

Though this seemed to be a step in the right direction, it was not quite what COLA graduate students wanted for themselves. Gaucho Bucks are very limited in where you can use them, such as the Bookstore, Arbor, Ortega Dining Campus, and other campus exclusive facilities. What Gaucho Bucks definitely did not help with was rent, one of the bigger and broader issues and concerns of graduate students.

March 9, 2020: “All Smiles, No Swipes” 

One of the focuses of COLA was to promote acceptable living conditions for graduate and undergraduate students to thrive in. A clear crisis plaguing students of any campus is food insecurity, where not every student under the supervision of the school has a reliable source of food. As a result, COLA organizers decided to take over Ortega Dining Commons on campus on March 3rd, 2019, where they promoted their “All Smiles, No Swipes” event. On this day, COLA organizers had allowed students, regardless of whether they held a meal plan or not, to enjoy a meal for free at this dining commons. 

There was no indication that the UC system wanted to stop this event. During the situation, authorities were called but nothing was done to take COLA protestors off the premises. There were a few altercations between staff and students trying to take out food, but under the protection of COLA organizers, many students took out meals. The goal was to have the student body side with the COLA movement and based on generally positive comments, it worked. 

Sanya Kamidi , Photograph of COLA Protestors speaking to students during ‘All Smiles, No Swipes’ event Daily Nexus, 9 March, 2020

April 10, 2020: UC Santa Cruz Submits Grades

Weeks into the spring quarter and after students had been subjected to learning from home because of COVID-19, the UCSC graduate students who had begun the COLA protests, submitted grades for both fall and winter. The reason? After May 1, these absent grades would change to ‘Pass’ for students, and no letter grade would be given. This could have caused a number of issues for undergrads and the UC administration shifted this burden off of themselves and onto the students. 

Many UCSC graduate students were fired for withholding grades, and because of these eventual submissions, they were up for possible reinstatement, meaning there was no guarantee. At this point, UCSB was the only campus in the UC system that still had not put in grades. Because they had to submit grades, UCSC began putting their efforts into pushing for help in Unfair Labor Practice charges with hopeful backing from UAW. Ultimately, what they wanted was protection from their strikes as grad students. The UAW focused on getting signatures to move forward with the charges, which was harder due to the momentum lost with the COVID-19 pandemic eliminating in-person interaction. 

April 10, 2020: COVID/End of Boycott 

Ultimately what put a halt to this organization and the remainder of the COLA movement, was the COVID-19 pandemic. UCSB4COLA is still alive and well online on Twitter and Instagram, focusing mainly on the housing crises and upsets happening on campus and within Isla Vista. 

September 30, 2021: Housing Crisis 

Despite a slow start to the rebuilding of COLA, the cause to promote substantial living wages remains strong especially now with countless students facing the idea of not having reliable housing. A mixture of the pandemic and the influx of admitted students has shone a light on the housing crisis. Some students were even offered hotel contracts for Fall Quarter 2021, as all the housing contracts had already been sent out. A gathering at Storke Tower led to a march to Cheadle Hall to voice their concerns and complaints to the administration for not paying closer attention to this dilemma that could have been easily avoided and solved in a more suitable solution. 

By: Arianna Sanchez and Danyela Ornelas


pay us more ucsc – UC grad student workers fighting for a cost of living adjustment, https://payusmoreucsc.com/. Accessed 12 March 2022.

Bemis, Henri. “Graduate Student COLA To Be Paid in Gaucho Bucks.” The Daily Nexus, 6 March 2020, https://dailynexus.com/2020-03-06/graduate-student-cola-to-be-paid-in-gaucho-bucks/. 

Kamidi, Sanya, and Jackson Guilfoil. “UCSB Grad Students Hold Demonstration in Solidarity with UC Santa Cruz Over Cost-of-Living Adjustment.” The Daily Nexus, 23 January 2020, https://dailynexus.com/2020-01-23/ucsb-grad-students-hold-demonstration-in-solidarity-with-uc-santa-cruz-over-cost-of-living-adjustment/. 

Rivera, Arturo Martinez, and Holly Rusch. ““Without graduate student labor, there is no light”: UCSB 4 COLA Rallies as Part of UC-Wide Black-Out Strike.” The Daily Nexus, 6 March 2020, https://dailynexus.com/2020-03-06/without-graduate-student-labor-there-is-no-light-ucsb-4-cola-rallies-as-part-of-uc-wide-black-out-strike/#search. 

Rusch, Holly. ““All Smiles, No Swipes”: COLA Protestors Organize Lunchtime “Liberation” for Ortega Dining Commons.” The Daily Nexus, 9 March 2020, https://dailynexus.com/2020-03-09/all-smiles-no-swipes-cola-protestors-organize-lunchtime-liberation-for-ortega-dining-commons/. 

Rusch, Holly. “Students, Faculty, Community Members Organize Protest Over Housing Crisis.” The Daily Nexus, 30 September 2021, https://dailynexus.com/2021-09-30/students-faculty-community-members-organize-protest-over-housing-crisis/. 

Swartz, Katherine. “Two Days In, UCSB COLA Wildcat Strike Draws Close to 2,000 Supporters.” The Daily Nexus, 28 February 2020, https://dailynexus.com/2020-02-28/two-days-in-ucsb-cola-wildcat-strike-draws-close-to-2000-supporters/. 

Swartz, Katherine. “UC Santa Cruz COLA Strikers To Submit Withheld Fall and Winter Grades.” The Daily Nexus, 29 April 2020, https://dailynexus.com/2020-04-29/uc-santa-cruz-cola-strikers-to-submit-withheld-fall-and-winter-grades/.

Swartz, Katherine, and Sanya Kamidi. “Graduate Students Occupy Cheadle Hall Until Midnight, Rally for COLA and University Support of UCSC Strikers.” The Daily Nexus, 23 February 2020, https://dailynexus.com/2020-02-23/graduate-students-occupy-cheadle-hall-until-midnight-rally-for-cola-and-university-support-of-ucsc-strikers/. 

“UCSB #copsoffcampus (@ucsb4cola) • Instagram photos and videos.” Instagram, https://www.instagram.com/ucsb4cola/

In the Wake of the IV Tragedy

May 2, 2014

Responding to concerned members of the community, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Deputies conducted a welfare check on a twenty-two-year-old UCSB student, who would later become the perpetrator of the IV Tragedy. The deputies did not search his apartment, stating that he appeared “harmless.”

May 23, 2014

Twenty-one days later the perpetrator wounded fourteen and killed six: George Chen (Chinese: 陳喬治; pinyin: Chén Qiáozhì), 19; Chengyuan “James” Hong (Chinese: 洪晟元; pinyin: Hóng Chéngyuán), 20; and Weihan “David” Wang (Chinese: 王偉漢; pinyin: Wáng Wěihàn), 20; Katherine Breann Cooper, 22; Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, 20; and Veronika Elizabeth Weiss, 19. He used legally purchased weapons and his car, in which he eventually committed suicide. 

May 24, 2014

The Isla Vista community held a Candlelight Vigil in Storke Plaza, facilitated by Associated Students and the UCSB administration. Thousands attended the event in remembrance of the victims. The assembly moved through Isla Vista, following the perpetrator’s path. Many affected by the tragedy gave speeches, including one victim’s father, the Chancellor of UC Santa Barbara, Henry T. Yang, and community members. Countless speakers expressed their frustration with the lack of gun reform and preventive measures that could have helped prevent the killings.

The Daily Nexus

May 27, 2014

UCSB held a memorial service was held in Harder Stadium that was attended by over 20,000 people mourning and remembering the victims. Speakers shared stories and memories of the victims, and encouraged members of the audience to reach out to politicians with the phrase “Not One More”, in order to assist in promoting stricter gun control.

May 28, 2014

The UCSB Surf Team organized a memorial “Paddle-Out” attended by over 1,000 people in order to remember the victims. One of the organizers stated that the turnout was much bigger than anticipated, and that it was a “testament to the strength and resilience of the community”.

The Daily Nexus

May 18, 2015

Two fathers of victims of the tragedy spoke at an event called “Turning Tragedy into Activism: Why We Got Involved in the Gun Safety Movement” to share their opinions on gun rights. They both advocated for more gun control, but not a complete ban on guns. 

May 23, 2015

UCSB held a candlelight vigil on the anniversary of the tragedy. Chancellor Yang and several family members of the victims spoke in remembrance of those who lost their lives one year prior.

The Daily Nexus

November 8, 2016

Isla Vista voted to enact the Community Services District (CSD), giving the community more power to change and improve itself, although it was not given its own revenue (through a tax) until two years later. 

May 23, 2017

Three years after the shooting, US Congressman Salud Carbajal introduced the “Gun Violence Restraining Order Act,” which would give everyday citizens more power in stopping violent events in the future. It lets anyone file concerns about people they are worried are trying to buy or use guns. Once reported, the police would then investigate them. In certain cases, it would grant the police the power to temporarily confiscate a person’s gun(s), which would aid in stopping access to guns by potential perpetrators. The goal of this act is to prevent shootings by restricting access to guns, and allowing the community to help stop these tragedies by reporting those who they think may be a threat to themselves or others.

January 1, 2019

Assembly Bill 1968 is introduced in California which bans anyone convicted of certain domestic violence misdemeanors and those who have been housed in a mental institution for over a year from ever owning a firearm. Secondly, the bill mandates at least eight hours of firearm safety training for anyone attempting to acquire a concealed carry permit. Third, it gives police officers the power to verbally request gun restraining orders when there is not enough time for a formal, written request.  Finally, it forces all California Law Enforcement agencies to file information on stolen/lost firearms. A majority of these new laws assist in the prevention of tragedies similar to the Isla Vista Tragedy. While this bill was not enacted as a direct result of the Tragedy, the laws it puts forth aid in the prevention of events such as those experienced in Isla Vista on May 23, 2014, from ever happening again.

 By: Aidan Locke and McKay Kinsey

Works Cited

Timeline: Growth and change in the aftermath of the Isla Vista shooting: The Daily Nexus. The Daily Nexus | The University of California, Santa Barbara’s independent, student-run newspaper. (2017, May 23). Retrieved March 13, 2022, from https://dailynexus.com/2017-05-23/timeline-growth-and-change-in-the-aftermath-of-the-isla-vista-shooting/ 

I.V. community remembers fellow students: The Daily Nexus. The Daily Nexus | The University of California, Santa Barbara’s independent, student-run newspaper. (2014, May 30). Retrieved March 13, 2022, from https://dailynexus.com/2014-05-28/i-v-community-remembers-fellow-students/ 

Thousands attend paddle-out: The daily nexus. The Daily Nexus | The University of California, Santa Barbara’s independent, student-run newspaper. (2015, May 24). Retrieved March 13, 2022, from https://dailynexus.com/2014-05-29/thousands-attend-paddle-out/ 

Rep. Carbajal introduces bicameral legislation to reduce gun violence. U.S. Congressman Salud Carbajal. (2017, May 23). Retrieved March 13, 2022, from https://carbajal.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=108 

Noozhawk. (n.d.). After decades of effort, Isla Vista votes for self-governance. Noozhawk.com Santa Barbara & Goleta Local News. Retrieved March 13, 2022, from https://www.noozhawk.com/article/election_isla_vista_csd_utility_user_tax 

Fathers speak on gun safety, Control: The Daily Nexus. The Daily Nexus | The University of California, Santa Barbara’s independent, student-run newspaper. (2015, May 19). Retrieved March 13, 2022, from https://dailynexus.com/2015-05-19/fathers-speak-on-gun-safety-control/ 

One year later: Candlelit Vigil and March remembers students lost: The Daily Nexus. The Daily Nexus | The University of California, Santa Barbara’s independent, student-run newspaper. (2015, May 26). Retrieved March 13, 2022, from https://dailynexus.com/2015-05-24/one-year-later-students-remembered-in-candlelit-vigil-and-march/ 

We remember them: Honoring the unlucky bright minds of our youth: The Daily Nexus. The Daily Nexus | The University of California, Santa Barbara’s independent, student-run newspaper. (2020, July 24). Retrieved March 13, 2022, from https://dailynexus.com/2015-06-30/we-remember-them-honoring-the-unlucky-bright-minds-of-our-youth/ 

Bradner, E., & Agiesta, J. (2017, October 2). Americans want strict gun laws after mass shootings. then their interest fades. | CNN politics. CNN. Retrieved March 13, 2022, from https://www.cnn.com/2017/10/02/politics/gun-control-polling-las-vegas-shooting/index.html 

El Centro Timeline

El Centro, also known formally as El Centro Arnulfo Casillas, has acted as a glue for Latinx students since its establishment in the late 1960s. This sacred place has comforted and cultivated generations of scholars, but through this process has also faced trials and tribulations. Below is a timeline delineating the journey of resilience and compassion that both El Centro and its students have embarked on together.

October 1969

IMAGE CREDITS: El Plan de Santa Bárbara/October 1969

The publication of El Plan de Santa Bárbara by the Chicano Coordinating Council on Higher Education was the direct result of the meeting between professors and students at the Francisco Torres Residential Hall in April 1969. This plan outlines the implementation of Chicano Studies programs throughout California as well as a community space for Chican@ students to be made available on campus. The goals of this plan were to make higher education more accessible and less alienating to Chican@ students. 

[Logan, Jim. (April 12, 2018). A Legacy of Community, Pride. THE CURRENT. RETRIEVED FROM https://www.news.ucsb.edu/2018/018900/legacy-community-pride]

Fall 1970

IMAGE CREDITS: Roger Hagie and Steve Riede/EL GAUCHO/October 15, 1968

The establishment of the Chicana/o Studies department stemmed from the North Hall building occupation in 1978 and the El Plan de Santa Bárbara Conference in 1969. The El Centro building housed the first Chicana/o Studies department in the entire University of California system, providing a community space for students.

[RETRIEVED FROM https://www.chicst.ucsb.edu/]

Autumn of 1975

Building 406 was named after Arnulfo Casillos, (1948-1992), a professor and activist. His legacy was used as a testimony of resilience and kindness that was utilized as a center for the intentions and regards for El Centro for Latinx students. 

[RETRIEVED FROM https://www.chicst.ucsb.edu/] 

August 7, 2013

IMAGE CREDITS: Gloria Campos/Daily Nexus/August 07,  2013

El Centro becomes a target of bigotry by being vandalized with the phrase “Deportation = Justice; Deport Illegals NOW,” on its entrance doors. This blatant attack impacts undocumented students and resource such as UCSB I.D.E.A.S that is affiliated with El Centro alike.

[Staff Report. (August 7, 2013). Vandalism Attacks Undocumented UCSB Students. THE DAILY NEXUS. RETRIEVED FROM  https://dailynexus.com/2013-08-07/vandalism-attacks-undocumeneted -ucsb-students/]

May 23, 2016

IMAGE CREDITS: Nicholas Bogel Burroughs/Daily Nexus/May 23, 2016

Student Advocacy group, VOCEROS, met with UCSB Administration with a list  of more than 30 demands made for the retention and well-being of Latinx students. The meeting was held in El Centro and emphasized the importance and maintenance of El Centro.

[Bogel-Burroughs, Nicholas.(August 7, 2013). UCSB Open to Latino Students’ Demands. THE DAILY NEXUS. RETRIEVED FROM https://dailynexus.com/2016-05-23/ucsb-open-to-latino-students -demands/]

January 13, 2017

IMAGE CREDITS: Jose Arturo-Ochoa/Daily Nexus/January 13, 2017

Negligence From UCSB Administrators in the upkeep of El Centro resulted in students and organizations needing to evacuate the  building in 45 days. Students came to a consensus that El Centro was  integral enough to their college experience that it was “worth getting hurt over.”

[Yelimeli, Supriya . (January 13, 2017). Students Told to Evacuate El Centro Annex Before Possible Demolition. THE DAILY NEXUS. RETRIEVED FROM https://dailynexus.com/2017-01-13/students-told-to-evacuate-el-centro-annex-before-possible-demolition/]


El Centro implemented the idea of a community garden that is located in Lower Westside Santa Barbara, and the Somos Semillas Food Sovereignty Project was established. This was an effort to cultivate community and sovereignty in regard to food education. [RETRIEVED FROM https://sites.google.com/view/elcentrosb/somos-semillas-garden?authuser=0]

By: Adriana Rodriguez and Veronica Huerta, First-Generation Latinx Undergraduates


May 12th, 2020

This organizer has requested to remain anonymous in their interview.  They were hired as a “salt” by the UAW and were involved in grad student organizing from 2012 to 2016.  In this interview, they describe their experience working under the recently elected AWDU party (Academic Workers for a Democratic Union) and the political culture within the UAW.  They were interviewed by Frances Woo via Zoom.


Ok, so just get started, can you give a little information about what your involvement was with grad student organizing?

Sure. I was involved in UAW 2865 at UC Berkeley and I was an undergrad, so I was a tutor and like tutors are part of the grad student union as well, and they hired me as like a “salt” to try to organize the tutors because the tutors had essentially no union presence at all. And I was like friends with the activisty members of the union prior to this so they kind of encouraged me to become a tutor and do that part of the work. And so I got hired by them part time for a while, I think probably like one year. And that was it.

OK. Yeah. And I just want to know a little bit more about like the different contracts that were struck with the UC, because I recently got into contact with someone else at the UAW about acquiring the contract negotiations. And yeah, he was talking about, like, how there are different ones for tutors, postdocs and academic researchers. Do you know a little bit more about, like, why there was like individual contracts for each group?

The postdocs are a whole separate local. They’re 5810 and they are separate partly because they just do totally different work, like they’re, they don’t teach, or like it’s when they are doing the GSR (graduate student researchers) job, they are not teaching. I realize that many of the same people work as GSIs (graduate student instructors), but in the GSI role, they’re not teaching and they have a lot of different things that they would focus on because they’re actually generally making a lot of money. They’ll make like 80 or 90 thousand, especially in the hard sciences, and are seeing this more as a career stepping stone, so it’s just like a different realm. That’s my impression of why it’s a separate local. I think it’s also a separate local because they did not like the politics in UAW 2865. And like I know that they were separate locals prior to this, but I think there is a real division between the political climate in those two locals, and that’s probably part of why it stayed separate. UAW 2865, most of the leadership is very consistently from humanities, even though most grad students are in science and engineering, and the GSR union is much more representative of the that. For tutors, we had a separate contract because tutors generally worked only a couple hours a week and were undergrads, not grad students, and had different demands as well, like really wanted a flexible schedule, more so than wanting sick days, for example.

Ok, cool. And what made you want to get involved with, like, student organizing?

Well, I was a socialist already and thought it would be good, and I was working as a tutor already anyways, also, and I wanted to make my workplace better.

Was it like people reaching out to you involved?

Yes, I mean, I was already friends with a lot of the leadership of that local. So I was just kind of hearing about it as it happened. Yeah, they encouraged me. They’re like, you sure you should apply for this job.

OK, and so what exactly was your role as an organizer?

Technically, what I was supposed to do, just act as a “salt” like, sign up new members from the tutors, try to get there to be like some interest in joining the union, and maybe ideally, I think they were hoping like some sort of a movement of tutors demanding whatever thing they wanted.

Did you feel like there was a lot of involvement, like from the other tutors that you recruited and signed up?

Some. I was, they they hired, like three of me. The other two were in humanities and I was in math, and it wasn’t, like, I would say out of the three, it did the best job, and I’m not saying that to brag like that was not really disputed because I signed up actual members and the others didn’t. But it’s hard with the math majors because they weren’t really super interested in it for the pay; it was more like, “we want to do this experience. It looks good on our resume. We want flexible hours. We’re only working four hours a week anyways”. You wouldn’t necessarily do that job if you were just looking for money because there were jobs that would have much more regular hours that you could apply for. So the union, and the union approached things like the leadership from a way that really turned people off. So, for example, they were like really gung ho of like, tutors need to be paid more, and like, just would not hear the tutors did not care if they were paid more and that this was not a relevant demand or, “tutors need to be salaried so they have sick days!” and they didn’t want to be salaried or have sick days. We liked having flexible schedules. And you can’t have, like, sick days and flexible schedules because if you want to change your hours every week, it doesn’t, you see what I’m saying? Like, there’s not a good way to write that into a contract. And people were fine with that. And then they would, against my advice, do things like host a union pizza party and let the bosses come in. And so tutors would show up and their boss was at the union meeting they had showed up to, and so, unsurprisingly, they were terrified and never wanted to do anything related to that again.

Mm hmm. Yeah. So when you say that you gave them advice in regards to, like the, what the tutors wanted, did you guys like, did you meet with, like the upper members of the union about, and like discuss those issues?

Within my local, yes. The whole thing was just being planned at the Berkeley level.

Mm hmm. And so I know that you were organizing between 2012 and 2016 is that right?

No, I think it was. 2010? No, I’m sorry. Give me a sec. Yeah, that’s right, ok, yeah, you’re right, you’re right.

That’s okay, it was a long time ago.

I’m like, what year did I…? OK. Yes. That’s it. 2012 to 2016.

So I know you were working when AWDU, like the AWDU party was in power, so how did you feel, like it, like how did you feel working under them was?

I originally joined because I was friends with like all the AWDU members through other political organizing, so I came in being like OK, these are clearly, you know, the right people, and then they would just say really dumb sh** like, sorry, but for example, they would literally say, “we’re joining the union because we want to take the unions’ dues and use it to do political work”, like, political work unrelated to the union. For example, like supporting, there was a big Black Lives Matter movement at the time, and I was totally a fan of that and like participated a lot and helped to organize within Berkeley. But I didn’t think it was correct to join the union to take the dues and direct it over to something else. When a union in itself is like a social service, a service that stands up for workers and for all people to have rights and to just kind of see it as a cash cow and disregard the fact that the union in itself does good work by the fact of giving workers rights I thought was really wrong, and that really turned me off. And they really would say, like, “we’re gonna take this money; we’re going to spend it on our activism stuff!”. And then, so that was my first bad taste, then they framed some guy for sexual assault, like, I cannot tell you 100 percent that it was a frame, but they would brag about the fact that they had framed it. Like this was not a, you know, under the table type of thing. This one girl said she got an email from someone who said that this guy had raped her 10 years in the past. She wouldn’t show the email to anyone. She would not disclose any further information about it. It was incredibly convenient because it was against someone who they had just decided that they didn’t like and wanted to get rid of, and so it was just extremely suspicious. And then ,just like shot down anyone who said stuff like “you don’t believe women. This is clearly, you need to believe in women 100 percent of the time, even if, like, we’re not even seeing the accusation”. So that seems super shady. And then they had this idea, like “militant minority” strategy of, “we’re gonna organize with other people who have political views similar to us”. And like, I’m a socialist as well, right, but I don’t think we should only organize other socialists in a union, because the great thing about a union and its power is that everyone’s interests as workers is united behind this organization, right, and so the goal of the organization should be to get all those people to see that, right, and to fight for these rights together, and instead, they would just kind of discard anyone who wasn’t super politically aligned with them, of like, “oh you’re-“, generally was like you’re racist and sexist, but really, it was just anyone with different political orientations, or who didn’t know things like they, they were the type where if you say “you guys” like to a bunch of girls, you would get like shut out forever, which discarded anyone who didn’t happen to have essentially a really powerful humanities education. And so they only had representation from select few humanities departments and weren’t interested in changing this, like. At Berkeley in particular, almost half of grad students are in electrical engineering. They had one rep and gave him no support. In the hard sciences, most of the departments which are bigger individually than all of the humanities combined, most had no representatives and they weren’t interested in changing it because they knew those representatives would not have the same political views as them. So they would rather have no representation at all, which I would get if we were a political party, but we’re not. We’re a union and we’re supposed to represent all workers and hear workers and hear what workers want, and so, yeah, I think that led to things like having a pizza party that led to tutors getting fired because they didn’t care about handling the actual work of a union. They were just interested in like having a rally or building a movement, and this side of thing, not that I’m against building a movement, but unions have a special power that’s separate, you know.

Yeah. Yeah, I didn’t know that-, so the tutors got fired after that, the pizza party event?

Yeah. Some got fired under different pretenses of like, oh, you know, we just, we don’t want you anymore, and one, I didn’t tell the union because he didn’t have papers, and he got fired because they were afraid that the bo-, my boss was afraid that the union would find out that they were hiring someone who didn’t have papers which we’re not supposed to do. And so, I don’t remember the exact details of this. He went to the pizza party. They didn’t like him any more because they thought he was pro union. They fired him and, like, rehired him two semesters later or something, but it just led to there being no trust in the union. Like, you wouldn’t go to a union event if, after the first one, people are fired, right?

Yeah. Would you say there was also like a lack of communication between, like the union, like, hierarchy and the other people that were involved?

Yes. Between the union hierarchy and its actual members, they really communicated only with a minority of people who they thought agreed with them politically. For example, they declared a strike, and like, I think I remember calculating, it was like five percent of grad students went on strike. And they didn’t mind that, because they hadn’t reached out or organized at all for the strike to even happen in entire departments. So their friends turned out from like anthropology or whatever, like those five departments, but like, there was no strike at all in chemistry, for example. And that was super regular, like some, a lot of people in the hard sciences didn’t even know they were in a union.

Yeah. So, also you mentioned that you were an undergrad, so I’m just curious as to what the organizing process was like while also being a full time student.

It was stressful, like getting hired by them was shockingly easy. I kept telling them, like, because I was getting paid more than I had ever been paid before, which was cool, like union jobs pay well, you know. I think I was making like 24 dollars an hour and my previous job had been like 8. And so I was like, hey, you should have like things you want me to do, but they were so intent on kind of following, you know, their own politics, which I respect, but they took it to an extreme of like, you don’t have to do the work, it’s fine if you have no results. And it kept being fine if we had no results. And like, like I told you, they hired three copies of me to do this tutoring “salt” job, and the other two never recruited a member. Like, they gave these people like thousands of dollars, and like, I like them. We were friends. I’m not saying this to say that they were bad, but just to say that this was really ineffective work. And then it was stressful because when I realized that I did not agree with what AWDU was doing, and I was the only one on campus in the leadership who thought so, so all my friends stopped talking to me, and they were all like 10 years older than me, and so it was just extremely intimidating.

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. So in regards to, like the community would you say it was like, pretty like isolating, and like political in people’s ideologies?

I’m sorry, can you answer that question a bit more?

So, like when you were working with people within the union and like recruiting people, because I know that you mentioned that a lot of people have a really strong political ideologies and kind of wanted to associate with the people that have the same views, so would you say it was pretty isolating in that way for other people?

Yes, definitely. Like, for example, I recruited a bunch of physics majors to turn out to one of their rallies and they came and they were excited at the beginning and then some of the leadership decided that they were going to, like, yell at the dean and throw trash at his office or whatever, which I’m not actually opposed to, like whatever, he’s a horrible dean, but it was just a bad move because it turned off all of these people that I had brought. And they didn’t care, because if you’re gonna get turned off by that, then you’re clearly a bad person and don’t deserve to be in the union. So in that sense, they were self isolating because occasionally someone outside of their political bubble would show up, but they would just get turned off like purposefully and shut down.

And were the protests that they held, like, did they correspond with the larger, like UC wide protests or were they individualized to Berkeley’s campus?

This one was specific to Berkeley, I believe. I mean, it was a ballot our dean, sorry give me a sec to try remember. OK, I’m not, like totally sure about this, but unless they coordinated something across Deans, which is possible, I think it was just at Berkeley, which is weird because they did do a lot of things campus by campus with no coordination.

So outside of like union contract timelines and stuff.

Yeah. Like lots of political organizing outside of union contracts and not unrelated always, but not using the union as a power source other than a list to turn out members to a rally.

And so since you were involved with the UAW from 2012 to 2016, what would you say was, like, the biggest, if any, like changes between that time period within like the UAW?

AWDU collapsed right when I was leaving. Like, their membership rate had just sunk and sunk and sunk, and they were doing nothing to recruit new members because they didn’t care if they did, so that changed, and then a whole bunch of other groups like them kind of sprung up across different campuses. So when I joined, it was like AWDU had just risen to power, and then when I was leaving, they were pretty much done. I think that was the main change.

Was there a new group that came into place?

Oh, there’s like a million different ones. I don’t remember the names of them. In Berkeley, it’s still AWDU people, I believe, or at least like AWDU friendly people. In San Diego, it’s like Power or something, I forget. It’s a lot of groups that are politically like AWDU, and some of them are weirder, like the Santa Barb-, no the Santa Cruz people are extremely like ultra left. Like the COLA thing they just did was an unauthorized strike that they did not consult the rest of the locals if they even wanted to do this or not, if we were willing to pay their legal fees when they did this, like if anyone else thought that was a good move. They just kind of went and did it anyways, and that’s like a continuation of AWDU type group over there, and then some are a little bit more reasonable now.

Are these AWDO-, AWDU type groups, like, organized, separate from the UAW or just like super left factions of the UAW?

Do you mean like if they have an official stance within-, like, can you clarify that question? I’m sorry.

Like, were they officially working with and like under the UAW or was it more of, like, like sort of a club organization, like outside organization?

Yeah, more club. Like, if you go to those meetings, I can’t guarantee because I haven’t been for a long time, but my experience was that you would see as many people who were not union members as who were even in the local. It was kind of like, a political organization that was infiltrating the union, is more how I would characterize, at least AWDU. And they hate UAW Internationals. They would definitely not call themselves like a faction of UAW

Ok, cool. So I thought I’ve gone through pretty much most of my questions, but the last thing I want to ask about was during 2014. I know there were protests like across UC campuses, and I know that there are 20 students that were arrested at UCSC, and I was wondering if that had any effect on, like organizing at Berkeley.

Do you mean the protest against the fee hike or the Black Lives Matter protest? Because they kind of overlapped timeline, timeline wise.

The fee hike.

OK. Those protests, even though they led to more arrests in Santa Cruz, actually started at Berkeley, and we did a ton of work for that, and I would not have called that union related. That was like a whole separate group. It began in Berkeley with something called the Public Education Coalition, which was an activist group that had many AWDU members. That’s where I knew them from previously. I did a ton of work at Berkeley for that, actually, and we organized that with mostly undergrad students since it was a fee hike that mostly affected undergrads, and then the union kind of came and was like yay, this is vaguely related to our contract, but I would not call that primarily a union campaign, the fee hike movement.

Ok. Well, I think those are all my questions. Are you okay with being cited and quoted on the website, which rather prefer being anonymous or is anonymous an option because of some I would love?

Yeah, yeah, definitely. Oh, yes, that would be great because they all hate me from back then and I kind of know that.

Yeah. I want to make sure that you can speak freely. Great. And so since this is like a quarter long project, our article will probably be up like towards the end of this quarter. But I can send you an email so you can check it out after. Do you have anything else that you would like to add?

No. Thank you so much for taking the time to like hear that story.

Thank you for talking with me.

For sure.

Have a good day.

You, too.


Kavitha Iyengar

May 14th, 2020

Kavitha Lyengar is the current statewide president of the UAW and resides on the Executive Board with nine other people.  She first took on leadership roles in the UAW in 2016 after several years of union membership. She ran for local campus leadership and then statewide leadership.  In this interview, she describes what drew her to get involved, the inner workings of the UAW, and the union’s challenges and goals moving forward.  She was interviewed by Frances Woo via Zoom.


So to start off, can you give a brief description about your position at the UAW?

Yeah, I am the statewide union president, so that means that I serve on an executive board with nine other people who were elected by members across the state. And I’m a grad student and a GSI at UC Berkeley.

Ok. So what made you first want to get involved with the UAW?

Yeah. So I got involved in 2016 when I felt like the left needed to build a lot more power to fight the forces against us. So that’s what made me get first involved. I was in my like second or third year of bad school by then.

When you say, like the forces against you, are you talking about, like, just the UC overall?

Yeah, the UC overall. But I think more importantly, in 2016, I was looking at kind of big right wing attacks on issues I care about, immigrants rights, women’s rights, economic inequality…seemed like it was going to vastly expand. And I think for us to kind of fight back against those conservative forces we need to have strong progressive institutions on the left that bring people together and to which we can have kind of real power. And so I yeah, that’s what made me first get involved, is that being involved in your union, I think is one of the most important things you can do to have kind of shared and big power.

When you first joined, were you like one of the general members of the organization?

Yeah. So, yeah, I joined my first day of grad school. I joined my union, but I wasn’t super involved or going to union meetings until,yeah, my second or third year. And then I, yeah, I started going to union membership meetings and then organizing committee meetings, and then I ran for local campus leadership before I ran for statewide leadership.

How do you feel like the overall, like, vibe of the community in terms of like being in meetings, like the people involved were?

Were? Yeah. So, I mean, right after the Trump election, a ton of people went to union meetings because we’re all, I think, looking for ways that we could come together and have kind of a way to collectivize our efforts. And since then, the unions kind of really grown over the last, now about four years, I can’t believe it’s 2020. Over the last four years, union membership has grown; a lot more stewards and leaders are involved in the union. And I think there’s a real sense among grad workers that when we come together, we can transform our working conditions. And I think we see a lot of that happening right now. We’ve seen that happen over the past few months. I think it’s a real testament to regrowing a union.

Yeah, definitely. So how do you kind of describe the UAW leadership crowd prior to, like you moving up in the ranks?

Yeah, I mean, I think there’s kind of lots of different philosophies for how graduate student unions should work and be run. I experienced a union that’s member-, that’s, that’s membership, whose membership declined for about a decade and who kind of levels of engagement were pretty low in my experience. And so, yeah, I feel like over the last few years, kind of everyone involved in the union has been really dedicated to rebuilding it and really building it up into a strong fighting union.

Yeah, definitely. Were there any changes that you like want to implement moving into your position as president?

Yeah, I mean, it’s really important to me that, like everyone knows they have a union and that they should be a part of it. And that being a part of it means not only kind of signing a membership card, that that’s a really important way for us to have collective power, but it means that there is like someone on the shop floor who identifies as a union leader, someone who is constantly talking with their friends about the union and is making sure that their friends are participating in union actions and efforts and kind of building that structure is kind of been on the top of my list of the most important things we can do, because, you know, to have a really strong and effective strike threat that can win the things we need, like an end to nonresident supplemental tuition, housing stipends, free public transit, which I think we need as part of a green new deal and abolishment of the title nine system as it currently exists. All these kind of really big, bold demands is going to take everyone coming together. And I think that takes building really serious and sustaining structures. So that’s kind of been one of my major priorities, is making sure we can build those structures. It’s also really important to me to get more international students involved in the union. It’s such a huge group of workers, are folks who come from abroad and face all kinds of discriminations in terms of visa, all kinds of discrimination in terms of tuition, like extra tuitions that folks have to pay simply based off of where they’re born. And I think it’s really important in order to fight those issues, to have lots of international students involved in the union to take those issues on. So those two have been really, those two issues have really been at the top of my mind, in addition to, I think, the third big one has been making sure that we have a real political presence in Sacramento. As you know, a public sector union, our boss’s boss’s boss is the governor of the state of California. And so it’s very, very important, particularly looking at COVID right now, that we have a strong coalition with other unions, both to fight on the shop floor, fight against the boss, but also to come together to make sure that the impacts of COVID aren’t on the backs of workers. And so making sure as a piece of that we have a plan in Sacramento to move bills effectively is very, very important.

And what would you say are some of the biggest struggles that you face trying to like get people together and organize?

I mean, I think the biggest hurdle has been just the fact that there was kind of years without structures in the union that really touched everyone’s lives. And so I think just like moving from a place where someone, like doesn’t know about the union hasn’t heard about it, no one and none of their friends know about it and none of their friends have known about it for years, has really kind of built a culture where people really don’t think of it as kind of the air they breathe or something that really matters in a daily material way. And so I think is one of the biggest obstacles is kind of rebuilding from a place of not knowing. Because I think a lot of us come to organizing because it’s, you know, part of the air we breathe for whatever reason. That’s because of the way we were raised or our ideological predilections. But it’s like something that we just think of as a common sense. And I think building that for people in places where it hasn’t been for years is really, has been quite a challenge. And then I think, you know, the other big challenge is that the University of California doesn’t want to treat us the way we deserve. Right. Like that is the other major, major, major challenge is the boss. The question is like, how do you transform the conditions of power to make the, cause the boss to care?

So right now, what are the kind of best methods are you using to kind of like, re-engage people and like we stimulate their culture of caring about the union and knowing about the organization?

Yeah. I mean, I think there’s a variety of tactics we take. I mean, running campaigns about issues that people care about I think is super, super important. And I mean, people are diverse. People care about a lot of different things. So I think it matters quite a bit to have campaigns running on housing stipends and housing issues. I mean, that’s a shared issue that clearly runs across the grad student workforce. But I also have a, we have a committee addressing issues of sexual violence and sexual harassment at the university. We have an international students committee that’s really working on these visa issues I was talking about, um, working on having kind of projects and programs that are really addressing all of those issues I think is really important so we have a way of talking to our co-workers that’s really grounded in something that folks care about. And then, you know, like raising the visibility of the union is always very, very important. And so making sure people kind of know it and see it, but I think kind of at root, the most important thing is identifying people who folks have relationships with because it’s all based on real relationships. That’s what organizing is, and so making sure that there are people who people have real relationships with, who identify and care about the union and identifying those people through kind of different issue campaigns and bringing folks into our kind of broader plan to win, I think is the whole game.

And how have you kind of seen the member engagement increase or just overall shift as your time as president?

Yeah, I mean, I think we’ve seen member engagement increase in a lot of ways. I think we’ve seen at least like and my experience at Berkeley is the most kind of specific, but I mean, over the past few years, I’ve seen more members involved and engaging in union democracy than I have in years. And, you know, we’ve seen member engagement increase in votes and in elections in the union. We’ve seen membership engagement increase in terms of like departmental engagement. We have people who identify as the union in their department and talk with their co-workers who come to union meetings regularly. And I mean, I think the kind of whole COLA movement, while really, you know, the union didn’t, um, organize the wildcat parts of it, I think is really a testament to grad workers coming together and kind of realizing our place as workers in the university and I don’t think that happens without a strong union existing and without kind of a presence of a union that helps people to think through our relationship with the employer as workers, not just as students.

Yeah, definitely, um, and so, yeah, can you give a little more in-depth information on, like, how the union is kind of working through both like the COLA movement and also COVID?

Yeah, yeah, totally. So our union has, the university filed legal charges against the union for supposedly organizing the wildcat strikes. And we have filed legal charges against them for failing to bargain with the union over cost of living issues and for unlawfully disciplining folks at Santa Cruz who were on a wildcat strike. So, you know, our union has fought for decades on cost of living issues. This is, you know, one of the reasons our union was founded in the 90s was because we hadn’t seen wage increases in years. Past living issues have been, you know, a big issue from the very, very beginning of our union. And just, you know, during our last round of bargaining, we tried to bargain over housing stipends and the university said housing stipends are student issue, not a worker issue. And that’s been really core to our nig problem in our union for a long time, is that the university likes to treat as students, not as workers. That’s how the university is justifying giving folks housing stipends at other campuses. They’re saying, oh, these, we did this for you as a student, not as a worker so we’re not going to do it through the union contract. And I mean, all of us in the union know that it’s better for it to be in a union contract. It meansbyou have rights; it means you have protections; it means that it can’t be unilaterally taken away from you. That’s why we want a union. And so there’s a really big issue with the university’s kind of position on this, that this is, my god it’s dark, that this is just a student issue. And so our kind of relationship with the kind of cost of living issues is, you know, run deep in our unions’ DNA for a long time, and right now is taking the shape of union members organizing around an unfair labor practice strike authorization vote, because given the university’s unlawful behavior, union members can decide to go on strike together. And because of the university’s failure to follow the law to bargain with the union about these cost of living issues rather than unilaterally implementing changes that we have no protections over. That’s something that’s, you know, an ongoing effort. And, you know, the kind of timelines and all the kind of plans around that totally transformed because of COVID. So the COVID-19 pandemic, you know, is bringing forth the worst economic recession I’ve seen in my lifetime. I was here, you know, have like…This is worse than 2008. And it’s, the unemployment rates are worse than the New Deal era, you know, or the Great Depression era. This is like really, really bad. And we’ve been working in coalition with other organizations across the state, across the UC, across the country, to call for no austerity, right, in the face of this crisis. We need to have fully funded public institutions. We need free health care. We need paid leaves. We need housing. We need to cancel rent. We need like, all like, it’s really laying bare all the ways in which our system is brok- is broken already. And it’s, like we need free child care, like all these problems that were like, problems before are just exacerbated now. And so I’m really looking forward to the opportunity this affords us to work together with organizations to get more bud-, bigger budgets from the state and from the federal government, to get more research funding, to tax the wealthy, to redistribute wealth in the state of California so it goes to the people who need it, so it goes to public institutions. And I think that’s really one of the major goals and opportunities we have right now, is to come together across all sectors and identities of the working class to really take on the like, right wing corporate forces that, you know, got me involved in my union in the first place.

Yeah, definitely. And can you tell a little bit more about how, like, communication is going right now, like across other collaborating organizations, but also like within the UAW in terms of like the executive board with the other members? And things like that.

Yeah. Yeah. So I’ll start from the shop floor and move up. So, you know, we have stewards in every department talking with their coworkers all the time about what’s going on. We’ve been having phone banks every day for a variety of reasons, to just like be in touch, check in with how things are going, make sure people are doing well, see if they’re having any workplace issues, and let them know about these broader efforts that we’re engaged in on a variety of levels. There’s also, you know, union meetings that happen on each campus every month, things like monthly membership meetings, committee meetings, et cetera. Our statewide leadership, in addition to our executive board, there are elected leaders from each campus who sit on joint council, that group just met last month or last month to talk about kind of how to orient our organizing efforts amidst COVID and these broader fights we find ourselves in the middle of now. And then we also have e-board that meets monthly to talk through our orientation and how we are collaborating with other organizations. I and a few other e-board members have been really involved in the UC Unions Coalition that meets every week or has been meeting every week now given COVID to talk about our shared orientation around demands of the UC, demands of the state of California, and demands of the federal government. So we’re talking about how to collaborate on federal funding like the Cares Act, but in the next stimulus round, making sure there’s lots of money for universities to get research funding, working with the state budget to make sure that the cuts to UC aren’t as deep as the state want. The latest projections I’ve seen are they’re looking at 10 percent budget cuts to the UC from its usual, from, in terms of its state funding, you know, like only, a vast, vast minority of the UC’s funding, like five to 10 percent comes from the state in the first place, but that’s going to be cut by 10 percent, supposedly. And so figuring out how we, you know, have a joint effort to push back against that, and then also really have a united front before the employer who, you know, historically, last time there was a recession, the cuts came on the workers’ backs, and that’s unacceptable. And that’s not the way we, it should go at all. And so we’ve been coordinating at that level. And then also working through coalitions with community and labor organizations across the state for kind of really bold demands around housing and full employment and health care and making sure that we have a shared strategy around like schools and communities first in the medium term, that we need to have a plan that surround reforming Prop 13 and taxing the wealthy so that we can fund things like our public schools with the moneys they deserve and having plans around the Rental Affordability Act so we can have the rent control we need so that the landlords don’t just get wealthier. So we’ve been talking about collaborating on those efforts and also organizing efforts around kind of shared corporate targets. And then we’re also, you know, in conversation nationally with academic worker unions across higher education institutions in the UAW, because the UAW represents eighty thousand academic workers across the nation. And then in conversation with workers who aren’t necessarily just academic workers, but other higher education workers at different universities about how we can have a national strategy around fighting austerity. But like that, all of that stuff only matters if the people at the gr-, on the like shop floor are participating and engaged in it, so that’s why it’s really important that we are building those structures I was talking about and having conversations with people every day to get people engaged in this fight. And so we’re currently talking about launching a big petition around not only our cost of living issues, but what it would take to have a really kind of just recovery and that that would include addressing our cost of living issues, making sure people aren’t laid off, making sure international workers don’t face xenophobia that is unmerited.

In terms of resources, how is it like organizing like these different levels of, like collaborations and organizing with, within the UAW, and also like all these outside organizations as well?

What do you mean by resources? Like how do we, like, divide energy between all of this stuff? Because like. Yeah. Yeah, totally. Right. Like the questions, like priorities and time and how we can do all these things.


I mean, like I said, the most important stuff is the shop floor organizing and so that’s where I think most people spend their time and effort. And there is a, kind of, smaller group of us between the executive board and the joint council who are part of these more like statewide national conversations and finding ways for our union to usefully plug in. But really, all that stuff is only meaningful if union members are really engaged and involved. So that’s where the vast majority difference time is being spent.

Yeah, definitely. Um, yeah. Well, those are all of my questions. Do you have any questions for me?

No, no, not at all. Yeah, I. Well, I guess like. So what else are you. Yeah. What are the other kind of moving parts for your like trying to do a deep dive on the history of grad student organizing?  So the way we were kind of like structuring it is we basically are going to like old newspaper articles and we also got access to the old UAW contracts so that we can kind of like point out like what advances that grad’s in organizing has made in terms of like contractual efforts and also interviewing, like old UAW members or grad students for their perspectives on, like, the fight. And also just like the inner workings of the UAW. So seeing how it’s like progressed at the years and like, well, parts of it kind of worked. What did it do that the overall, like, presentation of the information that we find is like a mix of providing a blueprint for future leaders, but also like recognizing that, like we have done all this work already, especially because organizing is definitely hard work and it’s super easy to get discouraged. But especially because, like for students that only go to school for like four years, it’s really hard to see like a super tangible change within that amount of time. So, yeah, just kind of like showing students that, like, it can be done. Like this is how much this is how far we’ve come. There’s so, so much more that we have to do. But we can get there, you know. Yeah. Have you been really good article that I like to show people? The history of our union is that S.F. Gate article about our recognition strike when we first formed our union. Six thousand out of nine thousand teachers going on strike together to win our right to unionize. And I find that to be a really kind of useful historical perspective on kind of like that type of power we have to build to really like the University of California.

Yeah, I’ll double check it out. Yeah. Yeah.  Well, thank you so much for meeting with me. And I if you like, I can send you an email and the articles up so you can check it out. Also, are you okay with being quoted in some parts of the article?

Yeah, yeah. That would be totally great. OK, perfect. Well, I hope you have a great day. Thank you. Meeting with me. Absolutely. Wants to be nice. Thank you. Bye bye.


Brian Malone

April 29, 2020

Brian Malone was a graduate student at UCSC who was elected into the UCSC UAW unit chair position in 2008/2009 and one of the five UAW bargaining members who organized the Vote No campaign on the 2010 contract.  In this interview, he provides critiques of the UAW, details on the structural takeover of internal party AWDU (Academic Workers for a Democratic Union), and his perspective as a bargaining member of the UAW.  Brian Malone was interviewed by Frances Woo via Zoom.



So just to kind of explain a little bit about what I’m researching. So in light of the recent color movement, we’re kind of looking into the history of grad’s in organizing, and that’s in relation to UCSB and also just U.S. wide because it is covered UC-wide due to the UAW involvement. So to start off, I just want to kind of get a feel for what your involvement was in grad student organizing.

Yeah, so. This is all so long ago. So I have tried to bring some of this back in my memory, but yeah, it is. 2008 or 2009 was sort of the beginning of the budget cuts movement. So the first sort of big cuts from the state of California to the U.S. and and that, um, and there were a number of grad-there was a grad student organizing committee at UC Santa Cruz, UCSC, where I was as a grad student, that, um, got involved with that. And there was a big sort of March 4th was the big sort of day throughout the UC March 4th, 2009. I think it was. And, you know, we shut down the UCSC campus. And and and that was similar. So I was sort of I was involved with that as a as a grad student, a member of the sort of ad hoc we called the G SOC graduate student organizing committee. But also at that point, I had. I was also the unit chair for the UC Santa Cruz UAW unit. So I think I think I was elected that in 2008 or 2009. And so that was sort of concurrent. And. Yeah.

Ok, perfect.  So I just want to know a little bit more about what made you want to get involved, like in terms of GSOC and being the chair.

It was, um, I think a couple I mean, I wasn’t I wasn’t when I came to graduate school, I wasn’t particularly politically active. I wasn’t. I didn’t have a history of activism or organizing at all. And my sort of sense was, you know, I’m just here to keep my head down. And do you know my graduate work. Right. Like, get my degree and get out. But I think a couple of things changed. And one was, I think. The with the cuts and the way those. The way things were in my department and on campus, it was just so clearly unfair that I just sort of couldn’t ignore it like this was really this…It was a crisis in a sense. And so I sort of felt like, well, I can’t you know, I’d rath- maybe I would have rather not been involved. But but but this is happening. And if I can do anything to to to to push back against this, I think then I’m going to have to try. And I think part of that came also from a really remarkable organizer who was a few years ahead of me in the history department here, Sarah Smith. And she had been unit chair before me at UAW. And she’s just I mean, she’s always just been a really good organizer and she’s very good at bringing people in. And so she’s sort of you know, she would call me as the UAW unit chair and say, hey, this thing is happening. Will you come to a meeting? Hey, will you come to a phone bank? You know? And she’s just really, she was so good at bringing people in and recruiting people. And so, you know, I went to a few GSOC meetings. I did some stuff. I realized, oh, you know, I have time. I have some energy. I can put some some effort into this. And then after a while, Sarah was like, well, you know, my term as a unit chair is coming to an end. How…why don’t you run to do that? And so I think a lot of it really was, being invited in and recruited by really good, smart, strong organizers and activists who are already here and there was already a structure in place.

Did you feel like a sense of community within like the people that you were organizing with?

Yeah, I did. I think it was a really good group. And I still remember some of those first meetings and I didn’t really know most of those people, but I didn’t feel like I was sort of on the same, like, these, I mean, these were really politically active organizers, um, I was sort of like, I’ve never done anything like this. Why, you know, why am I here? But they were just so you know, I think there was a really good energy at that point on campus, like people were excited. People were, I mean, they were upset. They were angry, but they were excited about sort of getting together and doing stuff. There were sort of you know, we came up with a sort of a good plan of how we wanted to do things and yeah, it really felt, I mean, and then later in my UAW years. Yeah, I got closer to some of those people. And I mean, I’m still you know, these are some of these people are still my friends. Like, I still, you know. Yeah. There really was a community there.

Yeah, definitely.  And so based on just some of the research that I’ve done. Yeah. I read that during, like the 2009 to 2010 contract negotiations. You were one of the bargaining members of the UAW. So I just remember that you vocalized some concerns regarding the contract. So I was kind of wondering if you could tell me a little bit more about that.

Yeah. So. There’s there was partly a history there, which was the UAW at that point.  We had really significant critiques of the UAW at that point, the sort of statewide UAW. And, and I mean, I think the critiques we had is that it was a very demobilized hierarchical union, like the sort of statewide executive board, they called the shots and they weren’t particularly activists; they weren’t particularly interested in member organizing like. It was very Top-Down. It was very top down. It was very it was more business unionism type style than we would have liked. You know, it was really, and I mean, they tended to really want to focus on pay, primarily, but they weren’t even very good at that in a sense. And the interesting thing is that it really was centralized at Santa Barbara. Like, that’s where the leadership really sort of had its iron grip. Meant a lot of them came from set. And I my understanding is Santa Barbara has really changed politically since. Which is amazing. But at that time, like there was this sort of cabal or clique of Santa Barbara, UCSB powerbrokers who were running the union and, and there was a lot of friction or tension between them and the Santa Cruz people. So my predecessor, Sarah Smith, felt like her hands were totally tied in trying to organize. The grad students at Santa Cruz. So she wasn’t allowed to actually even have email list of the members. Like all emails had to come from the president of the union. And, you know, and there is a story that Sara tells that, you know, she asked she request she had no power over her own budget. And so once she requested colored paper because she wanted to make posters for an event and the president denied her request because the president was afraid that she would use the colored paper to make unapproved. Posters unapproved. I’d like it really. It was really like this top down. The president of the union controls all the messaging or the president of the statewide controls all the messaging and, and so we found that very difficult to to mobilize and organize membership. And part of the problem with that is that, you know, the statewide leadership, the executive board and I was on the executive board for a while, they really they really didn’t want to pursue the kind of contract campaign that seemed like we needed to do it, and so I think one of the big issues with that contract campaign was that. It kicked off like a contract campaign, kicked off in like mid April or something. When Berkeley was already getting out for the summer and then the primary organizing for that contract campaign happened over the summer. While all of the students were gone and off campus. And the primary pressure that we intend that the statewide bargaining team intended was to put a bunch of names on, I think they called it a report card where it sort of hear our criticisms of the U.S.. Here are the things we want. Sign this. And so I spent hours that summer calling graduate students in my unit and saying, hey, would you sign your name to this report card, you know, and find they did. And then in like July or something like I they sent me a big printed copy of this report card and I had to go to the admin building and hand it over to whoever would come out the door. And there was a photo of it. And this was what we this union thought was pressure like this is what they thought was our lever of power, and it was. Wrong. Like, I mean, it was so not helpful. You know, and so and at the table, the U.S. was saying, we don’t have any money and we’re not giving you anything. You know, we’re not, you know. Well, we’ll offer you a point. Five percent raise it or whatever. I don’t know. You know, and and there were members of the bargaining team from Berkeley and Davis and Santa Cruz who were sort of like, you know, they’re not offering us what we need. Like the salary they’re offering us doesn’t even keep up with inflation. They’re not really giving us the other things we want. And we’re not putting pressure on them like this report card thing this summer. It’s stupid. Like we’re putting no pressure here. Like, the thing we need to do is we need to start organizing strike pledges like we need to. And. And, you know, and eventually it is. It’s really important, was really important for the UAW at that point to settle the new contract before the expiration of the old one. Like, they didn’t want to ever go off contract, but in order to strike, you have to go off contract. Among other things have to happen. So but they really wanted that contract to get settled by the end of September when the contract expired. Luckily, the U.S.’s offers were so bad that we didn’t manage to settle it then. But there was still a lot of pressure, like, no, we’re not going to do much more organizing. Come on, let’s get this contract settled. You know, and I think it ended up two percent raise or something, which wasn’t. I mean, essentially with cost of living, I think it was a pay cut and and the bargaining team pushed that through and outvoted those five of us who who didn’t like that. And in the last few weeks of the campaign, when it was clear that the UAW statewide wanted to settle this contract, no matter what, we get some of the bargaining team and particularly the members from Berkeley, we’re sort of like, well, we if this happens, we have to put together a vote no campaign and we have to try and get our members to vote down this inadequate contract. And so that’s yeah, that’s how that came about. 

Did was the UAW ever conspire with why they wanted to. Why they didn’t want to go off contract?

They had this you know, they had this. They have this cliche, this thing that they would say over and over again. Now that I think about it in it, it was just this phrase that they would say that it was almost like an article of faith, like it was a dogma. And they would say over and over again, our power is at its greatest the day before the contract expires and, and no one ever actually explained why they thought that was the case, because that also seems wrong like that. I don’t see any leverage there or not the kind of leverage that you can have when you’re out of contract and can start considering work actions. Yeah, it’s it was this point of pride with them that they always settled the contract before the expiration of the previous one. And I’m not. I don’t think anyone ever adequately explained to me why they thought that is the way they had to go. I mean, my speculation, like we would speculate that they didn’t actually want to like, it’s a lot easier to do it that way. Right. Like it it’s a lot simpler. It’s more sort of structured. You know, it and it and it causes a lot less trouble. You don’t ever actually then have to be, you know, I mean, there there are some boxes that open if you go off contract, but, you know, potential problems. But you know those you can negotiate around some of those. But, yeah, I think they just I don’t think they wanted the chaos. I don’t think they want to be uncertainty. And I think I mean, I also think they really weren’t that interested in any kind of work action. Potentially.

And when you reference them as they are you kind of referencing the executive board or.

Yeah, it would be the. So the. Yeah, it’d be the executive board. It would have been the international representatives. So that paid representatives from the UAW International who to serve are tasked with keeping the our statewide local on track. And then also the bargaining team, who, again, for the most part I mean, does are the campus leadership positions on each campus, the two. And so and for the most part, the executive board and the international reps kind of decided policy. The bargaining team sort of took their, took their, took the cue from them. So, yeah, yeah, that’s the they here.

Ok, cool. And then so when whenever the contract was, like ratified between the UAW and the UC, did all the members of the UAW have to vote to approve it? What was that process?

Yeah, they did. So they had to vote. Those votes are usually pretty. Pro forma, they’re used, but they just, you know, they usually don’t even bother to put much energy into turnout because I mean by the time the bargaining team big time. By the time a tentative agreement is reached, like everyone just wants to get it approved and done with. But then in that case, in that situation, we decided that our best option, that the two Berkeley reps and the two Santa Cruz reps and the Davis rep. We decided that our best option was to try and convince them, reship to vote it down. And so we actually did run a pretty, a pretty decent Vote No campaign. And actually the majority of Santa Cruz, the vast majority, voted it down, voted against it. I even think, although I don’t remember this for sure. I think Berkeley may have voted it down majority wise. And so statewide it passed because they ran up big totals down at UCLA and the southern campuses. But it really only passed right, as I recall, like 60 percent, which is pretty remarkably low, like most of the time, contract ratification votes like 97 percent. And so, you know, we didn’t win like the no vote. No campaign didn’t win. But I think it really did show that we had some organizing power, especially at the northern campuses. I think. And I think it made a lot of people mad, like the Santa Cruz. Again, the Santa Cruz members voted overwhelmingly against that contract and then they got stuck with that contract. And I think that really made them angry. And I think similar a lot of people at Berkeley were upset. Like, wait. This is a terrible contract. We voted against it, but we got stuck with it anyway. And so I think that was. Yeah, yeah, I think that was agitational in some ways.

Was there did the UAW ever address the fact that, like, the majority is in person? Berkeley voted no.

No. No. No, I’m not positive. Berkeley had a majority, but it was close. And those numbers must be somewhere. But I know Santa Cruz was. No, I mean, they they you know, they had a press release where they trumpeted, you know, contract passes by by 20 percent, you know, because it was 60 to 40. Right. And so it was, you know, 20. You know, they had a big trumpeting press release. And they and then we all sort of ignored each other for a few months. Yeah, I mean, then we all sort of never talk to each other again. Well, because that was sort of it turned out that was the first first sort of skirmish then, because then the following year in 2011 was the UAW elections. And so all the positions, the leadership on the campus and the executive board were all up. And so the vote now was actually sort of the catalyst for a lot of us, especially in the North, to say we have to take over the union, like we have to win those seats, like we have to have a campaign. Like the next step now that we’re stuck with this contract is to change the leadership so that the next time contract comes up. We do this right.

So do you think the change in leadership kind of helped push the UAW into more progressive direction?

Yeah, I mean, I think when I mean. I think when, when, AWDU academic workers for Democratic Union. When that organization when we won the UAW elections and took over the statewide, you know, I think one thing that happened is and part of the platform was to give campus autonomy. So like campus leaders got access to their e-mail lists, like they could email their members, like they could organize their members and however they saw fit and. You know, there wasn’t as much top down messaging like, OK. This is, you know, it was so much more collaborative. Bottom up. But then, I mean, I think really clearly going into the next contract campaign, which was, I guess three years after that, four years after 2014? Yeah, I think it was. It was run totally differently. So, you know, the statewide. For one thing, bargaining was run differently. Like when I sat through bargaining in two thousand nine and 10, like the bargaining team, we would sit in a room. We would never actually go see any of the U.S. negotiators. Like like the international rep would, like come into the room and say, this is what the U.S. saying. I think we should say this. And then we will be like, yes, OK. And then he’d go back and negotiate behind the scenes, you know? It was all behind closed doors. We never actually really had any participation in it. And by the next contract, that was totally different. Bargaining was open. So opening bargaining. And it wasn’t just all the bargaining team members were there. It was any number who wanted to come could come. And I you know, I was by then, I wasn’t unit chair anymore. But they actually did hire me to organize for a couple of those quarters, and part of my organization would be organizing people to come to these opening bargaining and have the members show up and tell you see what they wanted and see the horrible things the U.S. was saying, you know? And then I think we also really organized actions on the ground. So when bargaining came to the various camp, you know, that was another thing. Bargaining used to would often take place off campus, but when audiogram bargaining, they had to come onto campus and then we would have our members show up and, you know, demonstrate outside or march, you know, and show power in numbers and show mobilization. And also, as I recall, we left that contract expire. And we I think we we had an we had several strikes. We had a U all peace strike, you know, and a part of my organizing. Then when I was on the payroll to organize, then, you know, was organizing for that strike and getting students to turn out for that strike and and not cross the picket line. And so I think we did a lot. We mobilized and organized the members. We went past contract expiration. We really made it very unpleasant for the U.S., like very unpleasant for them. And I think in the end, we got a better contract then than we would have gotten like actually, I think a really good contract, as I recall. I don’t remember the numbers, but the raises were better than than had previously happened then. My understanding then is this last contract, things kind of went bad. But I was already gone from the U.S. at that point. So, yeah, I don’t know what happened there.

Yeah. Yeah. And that’s like another thing that I’m curious about. So like, I’m going to be interviewing more like UAW members regarding that. But so I think those are the majority of the questions that I’ve had. I think one for one those. What is your opinion on the current COLA movement? And kind of like why do you think it emerged even with, like, all of our negotiations with the UAW or.

So this is from this is from a bit of a distance because, I mean, I still live in Santa Cruz, but I don’t teach it at UCSC anymore. Most of my friends and connections there have moved on. And so, you know, I’ve gotten some updates. I run into people around town sometimes. And, you know, I see stuff on Instagram. I mean, I’m all for the COLA movement. I’m excited about it. I think it’s really exciting. I think. I mean, I think. I think part of. My understanding, and again, this may be imperfect, is that the most recent UAW leadership has been a bit more cautious and maybe agreed to a contract that not everyone was very happy about. And I think one of the things that may have activated again was this sort of Santa Cruz resentment because we are such a small union or a small unit within the broader UAW. And we don’t I mean, you know, 10 years ago, we didn’t feel like our concerns were being taken seriously, like we were being paid attention to by the bigger unions. Like we just sort of got dragged along. And I think there’s there are things. I think it’s really hard to be a grad student in Santa Cruz and I imagine in Santa Barbara as well. Right. Like cost of living is terrible. It’s not, you know, even though it’s a small town. We don’t maybe sort of feel like we get the respect and prestige that, you know, the Berkeley and UCLAs do. And I think. And so I do think that. It sounds to me like dissatisfa- I mean, I think just general grad student dissatisfaction has been building at Santa Cruz is the place gets more expensive and and all of that. But I think it seems that that they felt like the UAW leadership wasn’t taking them seriously, wasn’t giving them what they needed, wasn’t bargaining the kinds of contracts they needed. And so they sort of felt like, you know, this is we’re gonna take this into our own hands, like we have to like our union isn’t going to do this for us. And so we we have to do this without the union. Yeah. But again, my sort of outside understanding.

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. I’m going to of jump back just a little bit. But so during your time organizing, I was just curious like because I know you mentioned like their representatives on different campuses, but in your opinion, like how involved do you think, like grad students in general were with like the direct actions of the UAW? And by that I mean, kind of like in terms of contract negotiations, like how many do you think were like invested with and like aware of what exactly was happening?

I mean, that’s a good question. That’s a hard question. I think. I think before I think in the 2009 2010 campaign, not a lot, because essentially I think, the, the sense of the the idea from the statewide was, you know, let’s ask our members to do as little as possible, essentially, like let’s let’s call them and ask them to sign a report card. And that’s really all we’re comfortable asking them to do. So I think there was a lot of deep mobilized members then. You know, it’s harder to say in the next campaign under AWDU like what that looked like, especially on other campuses, because I was mostly just focused here, you know, but but, you know, we were turning out several hundred people at Santa Cruz for various things. You know, that was about, you know, when we struck, I think half to two thirds of our unit of our unit, actually. And I’m sure it was much lower at other campuses, which are much larger. But I think the mobilization was. Higher. I mean, again, I still don’t know. You know, I think there’s still lots of graduate students who don’t know what’s going on and don’t pay attention and do sort of keep their heads down and just sort of. You know, they’re there for them, for their degree. And so they aren’t. But yeah. So I think it’s hard for me to estimate.

Ok, perfect. So I think those are all my questions. Do you have anything you’d like to add regarding anything that you talked about?

No, I think I mean, that sounds about right to me. Yeah. Are you talking to other people from that from that old time era? Who are you talking to? Or can you tell me?

Yeah. So I’ve actually, cause most of my research has been going through, like old student journals and reports and stuff. So I’ve been like kind of trying to like track down people. And there was a grad school organizer. I think he went to UCSB, but he was also talking about like concerns regarding with the UAW, my contract negotiations in 2007, I think? And that was like one of the earlier contracts. So I reached out to him and we’re going to set up an interview to discuss what happened back then, too. And then I also have a couple of interviews with, like UAW leadership lined up just to kind of see what happened on their end. Yeah. Because there’s definitely like two sides to like what every like what happened during the time. I think the main thing that, like, I want to talk was not really about like the divide, but more so how, like, both groups are kind of fighting towards the same goal, but in like different methods.


Ok, cool. Thank you so much for being with me.

You’re welcome. Yeah. Yeah. Thank you. It’s a fun project. Yeah. So I wish you luck on it.

Thank you. And also, I was just wondering if you perchance have any access to, like, pictures of any the organizing that you did during that time, if not a while ago?

Oh, I’m sure I do know somewhere on my hard drive that I do. I could glance through some of that.

Yeah. If you have the time and you can just send some over there, be great. But if not, that’s okay too.

Ok. Yeah. Yeah.

 Ok. Well thank you for meeting with me. I have. I hope you have a good rest of your day. Thank you.