This article features Ambereen Siddiqui, a doctoral student from UCI’s Department of Social Ecology. She is also a Projects Fellow for UCI’s Community Resilience Program. She began organizing with UCI4COLA in March and does not speak for the movement as a whole. Petitions are in bold italics.

* This student run blog reflects writing by students from their own perspectives on topics related to sustainability. It does not reflect the position of the University. * 

 

More than a COLA

Written by Ambereen Siddiqui

 

What is COLA4ALL?

The COLA4ALL movement started at UC Santa Cruz late last year with a strike led by graduate students demanding a living wage, and it quickly spread to all 10 UCs as a demand for a “cost of living adjustment” (COLA) for all UC workers.

Unfortunately, the UC met our demands for relief from rent burden with military surveillance and police brutality at picket lines and at UCI’s own Aldrich Hall. This reactionary stance stems from a UC-wide commitment to capitalism, militarism and white supremacy, encapsulated at a larger scale by our investments in the military-industrial complex[1], TMT on Maunakea[2], and cops that terrorize our Black students, employees, and alumni. The UC is explicitly invested in the global project of white supremacy, and it comes at the direct expense of the climate[3], at the expense of its students and workers, and at the expense of Black and Indigenous lives. 

How can we resist?

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the COLA movement at each campus went mostly online and each has continued organizing to meet the needs of our communities. It is as important as ever to fight for housing, health, economic, and racial justice: a recent survey by ASUCI revealed that nearly 80% of undergraduates – disproportionately students of color – have lost their jobs, and a majority of undergraduate respondents were struggling to pay rent and buy groceries. 

“COLA4ALL is rooted in systems of sustainability, care, unity, transformative justice, and overall living. It is also centered around decolonizing (thus Indigenizing) education and disrupting the UC system, which is rooted in anti-Blackness, settler colonialism, capitalism, ableism, cisheteropatriarchy, genocide, and imperialism — all which fall under white supremacy.” 

– excerpt from UCI BSU & USAS Petition Demanding Accountability for the Incident Regarding a Black UCI Alumna on 2/20/2020 at UC Irvine

I’m privileged to be healthy and financially stable right now, and socially-distanced mutual aid[4] has been an anchor in a sea of anxiety and worry. I feel like I haven’t been able to learn anything this quarter, and I know many of my classmates and my students can relate, especially those working around-the-clock to hold up our fragile country. In fact, a recent survey by UCI4COLA revealed that 89% of UCI students are experiencing mental health challenges that impact their ability to complete coursework.

I have been trying to utilize my privilege to email-yell at faculty as often as I can, because it seems UCI only has enough empathy in its reserves to send out a flurry of emails proclaiming its support for Black lives without actually providing the requested resources (for which we definitely have the money).[5] UCI’s Black Student Union has taken the time to outline their demands clearly three times in the past six years (2014, 2016, and 2020). With the latest deaths of George Floyd, Tony McDade, and Breonna Taylor (along with countless other named and unnamed Black folks) serving as a turning point for some institutions, our university has continued to choose lip service over abolishing the systems targeting its Black students (like UCIPD). 

The institutional apathy that followed the monumental public health failures of our government and near-constant reminders of systemic racism is making it clear that we deserve more than just a cost of living adjustment – we deserve and demand the end to the white supremacist, imperialist, and capitalist university. 

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[1] You can learn more about the UC’s investments in imperial violence and sign on to condemn UCI student government’s repeal of the 2012 BDS statement here.

[2]Despite a majority of Native Hawaiians opposing the construction of the blatantly colonial TMT, the UC has yet to pull its funding.

[3] The UC has investments in weapons manufacturers like Lockheed-Martin and Northrop-Grumman that supply the Israeli military in destroying Palestinian homes, and supply our military, the world’s largest polluter. Also, the 13 already existing telescopes on Maunakea were deemed by NASA in 2005 as having a “substantial, adverse, and significant” cumulative impact. 

[4] If you need help or can offer help, fill out UCI4COLA’s mutual aid form here. Join the UCI4COLA mailing list to learn about our food & supply drives as they continue through the summer, and if you are able, donate to our GoFundMe or Venmo at UCI-Mutual-Aid.

[5]We have the money. See FAQ #1 at www.uci4cola.com, where you can also view our full list of demands, read testimonials from other students, and learn how to get more involved! If you’re looking for more engaged learning, COLA4ALL’s Strike University offers near-daily instruction for the revolution. You can follow @uci4cola on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.