On a night in January, I was looking at myself in the mirror of my bathroom at 4 a.m. I couldn’t sleep. Everything was theoretically okay though: I was safely escaping the winding down of Antioch, I was being reasonable and attentive to my feelings and health. I had taken a sound decision considering the circumstances, the little hope, the dimming down, the bruises, and I was supported in it by virtually everyone I knew. Until then, this rational discourse had satisfied and comforted me.
But at 4 a.m. in that cold empty bathroom, it was suddenly different. Maybe because of the insomnia that had turned my nights into atrociously agitated marathons for the past three weeks. Or maybe it came from the thought that classes would be starting soon at Antioch, and that I wouldn’t be there.
But at that point, the fact that I was ashamed of myself was inescapable. It wasn’t even an irrational shame, a post-traumatic, subjective guilt about leaving the battlefield before it was over, the ship before it sank.
No, that shame was rooted in something very rational, and was completely justified.
“You’ve always pretended you wanted to fight for social justice,” I told myself, “you want to dedicate your life to political struggle, you’re hoping to find a cause one day, to be part of something bigger, and you want to be ready to meet the challenge, to stand up, to be brave, fight for it, see it through. And exactly when that comes at your door, you can’t even recognize it for what it is? And what do you do? You run away, because it’s wearing you down?”
I wasn’t done scolding myself: “Integrity, responsibility, resilience…they don’t start in a hypothetical future, when you’ll have your degree, be qualified, when you’re hired, when you choose a cause, when Subcomandante Marcos calls.” The cause, in a way, chooses you, it chose you. It tells you here you are, this is the issue, the unjust situation, the oppressive system to dismantle, what will you do about it?”
There was nothing to be proud of. The hypocrisy of my situation was inescapable, blatant, vulgar.
I thought I should take responsibility for my choices though, and see through them anyway. I thought I would let this mistake be the first real regret of my life, and that I’d learn from it so as to not make it again.
Staying at Antioch in Exile is a huge leap of faith for students. It’s a risk, and it certainly should not be seen in purely idealistic terms; it is not merely a question of ideology or faith, of learning vs degree, of loyalty or of political consciousness. It involves issues of degrees of privilege and presents risks of transforming itself into an elitist, inaccessible institution for many students. The responsibility of the Exile organizers/ funders and of the CRF is crucial in making sure that Non Stop Antioch off campus next year is not a possibility for the privileged only. And it should be an essential part of those already committed to exile to make sure that these issues are solved and that Non Stop Antioch off campus is indeed as open, all-encompassing, accessible and democratic as possible. So that the material, tangible risk is reduced to the minimum, and we are left with the liberty to deal with the political commitment that it represents.
Because Antioch in Exile is a political stance. We will be part, and have already been part of a fight much bigger than ourselves: the resistance to the Corporatization of Higher Education. Chancellor Toni Murdock has on many occasions made clear her vision of Higher Education. A delocalized, virtual classroom, with no tenure, unions, community, shared governance and… no students either, —-at least not without the protection of a computer screen. Her vision is in line with the neo-cons/neoliberal ideology of the destruction of the public sphere, the dismantlement of community structures of governance/resistance, the undermining of the local. Just as Margaret Thatcher claimed that “there is no such thing as society, only individuals [and their family]”, Toni Murdoch is telling us that in her vision of higher education, there is no such thing as community, only customers, and the service they are willing to pay for.
I’m glad that I don’t have to move to Chiapas to fight neoliberal globalization. I can do it right here, in my community. I’ve often been uprooted, and I’ve never learned accountability. I flee when things go wrong. But that is also something that neo-cons/neo-liberals are counting on, in order to bring about their society-that-isn’t-a-society: the loss of attachment to the local, the loss of accountability to one’s community, the loss of political responsibility to our direct environment.
As an individual, I can come and go and choose what the best place for me is, look for comfort and for what a place can provide me; I can also choose to leave when a place is not providing me with what I want anymore. I could do that, and be a customer, in Toni Murdoch-Thatcher’s world.
Or I could choose to resist that impulse and decide that I’m also responsible to my community, even when I would get better “service” somewhere else, even when it crumbles down to the floor, even when it is driving me insomniac. I’m not postponing my political commitment to an ulterior time or a better place; full of my uncertainty, awkwardness and unreadiness, unprepared but eager, I’ll start tomorrow. I’ve already started.
With more love and gratitude than I’ll ever be able to give back to you Antiochians; see you in Exile,