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A logo for Ché Cafe with the words A logo for Ché Cafe with the words 'Why is UCSD trying to shut down a 34 year old student co-op and legendary figure in the history of San Diego independent music?'

You Won't Get a Penny From Me

By Sean Estelle

A logo for Ché Cafe with the words 'Why is UCSD trying to shut down a 34 year old student co-op and legendary figure in the history of San Diego independent music?'

The first time I stepped foot on University of California, San Diego (UCSD) Campus was not for a campus tour or a prospective student orientation. It was for a ska/punk show at the Ché Café.

The Ché, with its murals of Mao, Marx, Davis and X, and its chipping brick-red painted walls. Its bathroom with hardly enough room to walk in, and every surface completely covered in graffiti and band stickers. The clouds of cigarette smoke in the courtyard outside, where people mill around waiting for the next band and inspect the merch tables that are barely standing on all four legs. The writhing and roiling sweaty organism that is an audience at a punk show, contracting and expanding, circling, circling, circling and jumping into the rafters to escape the madness, and getting a shoutout from the ones on stage before they join you and play their bass hanging upside down by their legs. There’s a bearded muscular man who looks terrifying when he sings, like he wants to eat the mic, but really, he starts the set with a plea for consent and asks us to be careful with each others bodies because we’re building community, oppositional community, and if we can’t treat each other with respect here then how are we supposed to go out and change the world?

I still remember seeing Bomb The Music Industry! four summers in a row at the Ché, one time on my birthday. I still wear the shirts with logos spray-painted on by the guitarist, still think back on barbecuing in the parking lot while the drummer joined us for veggie dogs, and even now as I write this, I am overwhelmed with a feeling of nostalgia and love and a sense of the amazing community I was surrounded by from my junior year of high school onwards.

Music was a refuge for me, a way to escape into my difference even when I had no idea how to articulate that difference to myself or others. Going to shows every weekend at the Ché, and SOMA, and the EpiCentre, and the Metaphor Café, and people’s houses, exposed me to a subculture, to something that showed me there was more in the world than the 200-person, 98% white school I was miserably attending.

Now take a second to imagine shows 6 times a month with over 100 people, each with a story and a connection to the space and the people inhabiting it. Think about the students that host vegan Thanksgiving in the space every year. The theatre artists that use the space for performances. The list goes on.

This is what UCSD administrators have tried time and again to displace, at the Ché and in multiple other spaces on campus, and now things have reached a critical juncture.

On May 23, 2014, the University Centers Advisory Board (UCAB), which oversees the budget allocations for many of the student centers on campus (including 4 cooperative spaces, including the Ché), voted to take the Ché out of its funding budget, citing fire safety hazards and lack of investment from students. However, about 10 days before the initial email from UCAB citing fire safety standards, Ché members received a separate email from John Payne, the Associate Director of University Centers, saying that “The Fire Marshal was extremely pleased at all the efforts that have been made and has signed off on the inspection”.

The claim of no investment in the space came as a surprise after a petition, which received over 10,000 signatures, was put up when Ché members first received word that this might be happening. It makes more sense, though, when considering the testimony of an anonymous student member of UCAB who was present during the closed session of the budget meeting; they said that Doug Carlone, the Student Life Business Officer, stated “part of the issue is that the Ché Café does not fit the university’s aesthetic standards” after hearing a presentation about the historical importance of the space and the community that relies on it.

After this attack, the Graduate Student Association at UCSD voted to decertify the Ché Café Collective on June 3rd (and this was happening while UAW 2865, the graduate student union in the UC, was in intense contract renegotiations and threatening a grading strike, which really shows the priorities of GSA UCSD).This led to a 30-day notice of eviction on June 13. Shortly afterwards, the Collective released a damning press release revealing the political motivations and abandonment of good-faith negotiations between the Collective and University Centers.

After intensive organizing, including an email writing campaign and public solidarity letters from figures in the music industry, including Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against The Machine and Steve Aoki, the Collective was able to win ‘possession of the space and preservation of the status quo until a more full hearing on the merits can be held’. Since then, the Collective has learned that a new trial date has been set for October 10th in San Diego and has started a new petition to the UC Board of Regents and UCSD administration, demanding a halt to eviction proceedings and a return to the negotiating table. In the meantime, a GoFundMe account has been created, and as school starts back up at UCSD the Collective is ‘encourag[ing] UCSD students, faculty, and alumni to utilize the Che Café as a show venue, meeting place, community center, and safe space’.

Unfortunately, this is not the only student-run space currently under attack at UCSD. On July 1st, the Save The Ché Facebook Page boosted a post from the Books For Prisoners Page, informing the public that they were being evicted from their space, The Angela Davis Library, in which they have been based for 13 years. They are being forced to get rid of a large portion of their book collection, which means they will be unable to meet many of the requests they receive from incarcerated individuals for books.

Of course, closing libraries and community spaces is nothing new for UCSD. In 2011-2012, students took over CLICS (the Center for Library & Instructional Computing Services) after UCSD shut it down due to ‘necessary budget cuts’. After we ran the space ourselves for an entire quarter, issued a list of demands, and even occupied the Chancellor’s Complex for 2 weeks in Spring 2012 after hosting the largest rally UCSD had seen in 2 years, administration bulldozed the space over Spring Break and completely ignored students’ demands for more study space and less 400-seat lecture halls.

This barely even scratches the surfaces of UCSD’s attack on community and alternative spaces (including Espresso Roma, The Grove Caffé, The Crafts Center, the ongoing attempts to force out the Food Co-Op, and the list goes on).

The administrative powers that be are more concerned with new buildings and corporatization efforts, and putting money in the pockets of the Board of Regents, than promoting a richly diverse environment with physical spaces for students who don’t want to fall into the lockstep of the rhetoric spewed from the mouths of those in power. Of course, this makes perfect sense, given the histories of space allocation at UCSD.

For this reason, I am publicly promising that the UCSD administration will never receive a penny from me, so you can stop sending me birthday wishes and campus updates. Any connection I still have to that campus is directly tied to the spaces you are trying to destroy.

Those of you reading this who are alumni from an institution of higher education – do you know what form privatization is taking on your campus? Do you still support alternative, DIY spaces on the campus you come from? Are those spaces under attack for ‘not meeting aesthetic standards’? Do you you know where your money is going, what research it’s paying for, what endowment funds it may be supporting?

If not, then I encourage you to publicly promise not to donate to your school until it commits to free public education for all. Look to the student and community leaders at Free Cooper Union, who have taken their battle to preserve tuition-free education to the courts. Look to the alumni of DePaul, who have started a campaign urging their university to divest from companies profiting off of Israeli occupation. Support current students and resist the urge to ignore what may no longer affect you on a personal basis, because in reality the name of the institution etched into the diploma hanging on your wall will be a part of you forever.

¡La Lucha Sigue! Long Live The Ché Café!

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Sean Estelle

Independent performance artist currently serving as the Millenial Organizer for GameChanger Labs, residing in Chicago and the Internet.

Catch up with me @sancho108.

higher education




October 02, 2014

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