11130432_10153233513069882_484921488533984024_oI am not really a radical, although I admire radicals. It isn’t my temperament. I feel odd speaking here because this is one of the first times I’ve really spoken in these protests. My small contribution has been to write a chronicle of these events for people elsewhere, to make the protest legible abroad. It was also a chronicle of my own confusion. I am often confused, and the UvA confuses me in particular.

But what I saw on Saturday affected me deeply. I want to set that scene with three images; then I’ll talk about horseshit; and finally I’ll talk about silence.

The first image is of a young woman who ducks under a police line and runs to the Maagdenhuis steps to join the core. The crowd cheers as she hugs a comrade, and the police look like hockey defensemen who have let a puck slide between their skates. Riot cops, horses, and a dozen police vans had made a perimeter around building; inside the perimeter, twenty or thirty teachers and students were discussing “myth and realities of the medieval university.” Bless them. They were vastly outnumbered by police. The disproportion was farcical.

I do not have to describe the cops dragging our colleagues to the center of the Spui. We could see the batons swinging. But I will emphasize that the plainclothes policemen were provocateurs, and acted like thugs.

The second image is of horses. The mounted cops pushed the perimeter back further, and I found myself arm in arm with others against the formidable haunches of a horse. I want to say hello to that student who grabbed my arm. Bless her.

Such violence is relatively rare here, so this seemed shocking and unnecessary, even though these are probably standard tactics, and elsewhere in the world it might have been worse.

Horses are noble beasts. This horse was nobler than its rider. This horse would not target hardcore occupiers and pluck them off the street. This horse would not choose to engage in intimidation.

The third image is of cobblestones & molecules. There on the Spui the crowd sits, avoids the horse shit, and carries on the academic festival. Flanked by cops & horses, we return to the topic of the medieval university, because why not? We also hear an eloquent and abstract mic-check about single-molecule microscopes—probably the first time that has ever happened—because why not?

For a moment, in the rain, we have a utopian university in the open air.

Our protest is a “big tent.” Someone said Saturday that the DNU makes mistakes, sure, but at least they learn. Ideally, that is what students do. (Teachers also make mistakes, and also learn.)

The CvB apparently has not learned. The decision to evict genuinely mystified me, because the occupation would have ended in less than 48 hours. It was cruel, but at least cruelty makes sense. It was also stupid, because it has only revived the protest, and that is the part that does not make sense.

On Horseshit. I’ve talked about noble horses, and I’ve talked about literal horse shit, and now I’ll talk about figurative horseshit—as opposed to bullshit and chickenshit. These words show the power of American slang. There is good scholarship on bullshit, and on chickenshit. Bullshit, one could argue, is the language of leadership. Chickenshit is the manner of modern bureaucracy. The term itself arose with the enormous modern military of the Second World War. Modern military life was a slog; chickenshit was the word for stuff that made military life worse than it had to be: petty harassments, chores, tedium. We say chickenshit “instead of horse- or bull- or elephant shit,” the great scholar Paul Fussell wrote, because chickenshit “is small-minded and ignoble and takes the trivial seriously.”

I can tolerate and even participate in bullshit, and I know that some chickenshit is inevitable. Horseshit is harder to stomach.

The literature of horseshit is less extensive, because horseshit is less interesting. It is akin to bullshit: both involve falsehood. But horseshit refers to tactics, not ideology.

For example: when the CvB speaks of itself as “the University of Amsterdam,” that now feels like bullshit. The real University of Amsterdam is the students who were arrested Saturday. The real University of Amsterdam is us, here.

When the CvB uses a judge’s ruling in a court case that the CvB itself had initiated, and then emails the entire staff to say that “the University of Amsterdam cannot but comply with” this ruling, as if it had no choice, then that is horseshit, by which I mean a deliberate, scornful lie, told by petty people in power to idealists who have less power.

On Silence. Finally, about silence. A university is many things: an institution, a legal entity, a bureaucracy. The university in the 20th century and our own time has often been a surrogate for the state, the site of loud debates over politics and culture, inclusion and exclusion. We care about the university the way we would care about a polity and a social order. 

But a university, onze universiteit, is also a living community. Not everyone in that community has been involved in the protests, and certainly not in what happened Saturday. But what happened does affect us all.

We’ve proposed a silent march. Why? Because we don’t have to say anything. We’ve already said a lot, in chants, in vergaderingen, in emails, in pictures.

We don’t have to TELL anything, because we have SHOWN something.

We can be silent in this march because in a profound sense WE do not have to prove anything. THEY do. Whatever our own disagreements with each other, and whatever our confusions, we can be silently confident about one truth, and that is that WE are the University of Amsterdam.