Monday, February 24, 2020

Occupy C(OL)A: A Decade of UC Struggle

At the beginning of the 2009-2010 academic year a coalition of undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty occupy the Graduate Student Commons of the University of California, Santa Cruz. They splinter off of a demonstration at the base of campus against an egregious tuition hike. A prepared statement declares the situation untenable, the space liberated, and demands outmoded. Barricades go up as an attempted occupation at UC Berkeley is thwarted.
The Grad Student Commons holds for a week before voluntarily then dissolving. Over the course of the next four months there are something like twenty actions, primarily occupations and sit-ins, across the University of California system. In 2010 the escalation continues as electrocommunist dance parties are added to the mix to disrupt business and cover for other militant actions. Students also begin to join non-university actions like the riots against the verdict in the murder of Oscar Grant.
In 2011 the escalations spike. Students continue to struggle against the hollowing of the university by the state and the administration and continue to cross over with militant struggle against police brutality. When the Occupy Wall Street movement hits, it is in part due to the veterans and comrades of the Occupy California struggle (in New York and Oakland especially, but also elsewhere) who help transform the idea from an Adbusters photo-op to the seeds of a USian mass movement with a class analysis.
The continuity of national struggle over the past decade is full of ruptures. The police repression of Occupy eventually snuffed it out. Black Lives Matter developed its own momentum and path with, at best, assists from participants and organizers of Occupy. A number of sites of struggle also pop up, from Standing Rock to the Muslim Ban to street fights against alt right and neo-Nazi goons. Electorally, Bernie Sanders’ 2016 primary candidacy blew open the doors of the DSA, who seem primarily to have educated and agitated in order to position him better for his 2020 run (and surprisingly successfully, it seems, even if he does not take the nomination).
I begin in 2009 not because it is the origin (though it can sometimes feel that way, given the massive ruptures that Obama and the Great Recession constituted) or because it was my own point of radicalization, but because we seem to have looped back around. Graduate students at the University of California, Santa Cruz are engaging in a wildcat strike for a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) right now which started in December of 2019.
They are striking even though it is against the terms set by their union (the United Auto Workers) in the last rounds of negotiation. The strike has quickly been held up by a coalition – of undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty – and has faced barely-veiled threats of deportation from former Department of Homeland Security head and current UC President Janet Napolitano. 
The first four years of Trump’s presidency have seen inspiring actions but little in the way of engaged, mass movement building (and no, the liberal #Resistance does not count). COLA4All is reminiscent of that pre-Occupy occupy, spreading quickly across the UC system and, hopefully, into broader movement building opportunities. Hell, they even got a nod from Sanders, and Napolitano backed down quickly thereafter.
Reclaim UC put it well, arguing that the material conditions behind the COLA wildcat strike are consistent with those that inspired the initial wave of Occupy California – “[D]uring the California student movement of 2009-10, everyone understood how the UC administration used its police forces to enable and enforce tuition hikes: ‘Behind every fee increase, a line of riot cops.’ 10 years later, tuition increases have slowed down and, with few options for revenue growth, administrators have turned to ‘cost-cutting,’ esp[ecially] regarding labor costs, as a key component of their strategy. UCSC police are still on the front lines of UC’s financial strategy.” 
The conversion of the public university system into a de facto private entity, run like a business with minimal state support, lends continuity to the administrative and repressive apparatus. At a more systemic level, the struggle for COLA is linked to Occupy California by way of the Great Recession. The wave of immiseration that hit low- and middle-income households (with a wildly disproportionate impact on people of color) was a kind of creative destruction. From developers’ perspectives, neighborhoods that had been subject to the slow beat of "Urban Renewal" and tax breakdown were suddenly freed of the one barrier to successful gentrification – the fact that they were lived in by poor people of color who couldn’t be arrested (or murdered by police) for being homeless. Even better when those neighborhoods were adjacent to the booming tech industry. Silicon Valley’s radiating wealth coupled with scarcity artificially created by developers buying up foreclosed houses meant the second half of the 2010s blossomed into rent hikes that left even unionized graduate student workers in a position that they have once again described as untenable.
It would be ridiculous to claim that as goes the UC system, so goes the nation. What is clear, I hope, is that the material conditions facing university workers are not at all disconnected from the material conditions we all face. Graduate students too are being immiserated by the private control of the means of production, by the neoliberal state’s disinvestment from every social service except the military and police, from being propertyless wage workers in proximity to the fluid exchange of venture capital, IPOs, and land developers.
There has been a spark of life in the labor movement over the last half decade, although most of it has been talk. Bernie Sanders and Sarah Nelson have been among the most identifiable spokespeople, but everyone from graduate students to Kickstarter Employees to Game Workers Unite (and even SAG-AFTRA, in striking against the videogame industry a few years back) have been making moves unprecedented since Reaganomics. If that spark is to catch fire, COLA is one of the necessary models.
UAW leadership is facing corruption charges. Unions for Iron Workers and Firefighters have endorsed Joe “Medicare for all is bad for unions” Biden in the Democratic Primary. Even more recently, leadership of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW, a union known for at least a handful of militant locals) endorsed Biden as well to immediate backlash from a sizable group of members. A reborn labor movement without the capacity for actions like the COLA wildcat strike is, at best, only marginally better than the shambling zombie of a labor movement we have seen under neoliberalism.
Like Occupy California before it, the COLA wildcat strike represents a possible path forward in response to the same prevailing conditions, mutated as they have been over the last dozen years. It will require material support, generalization, and escalation. But we’ve done it before. This time we’ll just have to do it better.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Always Bee Cooking #8: Finishing My First Molasses

This morning I finished off the first jar of molasses I ever bought, something like two years ago. I don't remember what compelled the purchase, but over that time (and despite its somewhat infrequent use) it became one of my favorite pantry staples. Not for its versatility, but for its targeted use.

I used it for basically three things, exclusively. Two of them I will include basic recipes for below. The third was oatmeal, which I have still yet to learn to love (or like). Before that, though: as I understand it, molasses is the byproduct of refining sugar. Blackstrap (what I was using) is the dregs of the most refined; lighter molasses are less refined and contain more sugar. The opposite goes for sugar; the darker brown, the more molasses is contained in the sugar itself.

This is useful information! For instance: it leads you to the conclusion of the first recipe below. And once you've made that, it makes it clear what utility certain kinds of sweeteners on the sugar-molasses spectrum provide to a specific recipe. Making cookies? Molasses is wet, so you could up the ratio of brown sugar to white if you want to make them more moist. The caramely, bitter byproduct is the best way to bring a level of sweetness without tipping the scales into saccharine.

The two recipes below hit the two major staples of my cooking: one is a preparation for other cooking, the other a staple that I have when I forget to eat for way too long. Neither are baking or (strictly) barbeque, which are probably what most people associate with molasses; I have no problem with either pursuit, but I haven't found myself working it into those (or, really, barbequing at all). Maybe on the second bottle.


Homemade Brown Sugar

This is hardly a recipe, but every time I've looked it up online I've seen people say wild shit about making brown sugar at home. Like, in a blender and shit. No one wants powdered brown sugar. That's absurd. Here's what I've done when I'm trying to bake and realizing I don't buy brown sugar or when I need to give a gift to some friends I'm crashing with for a week.

Place a small saucepan over low heat and add one part molasses. When it barely starts to bubble, add two parts white sugar. A rubber spatula works great to combine the two, but a spoon will do fine. Once they're incorporated you're going to keep needing to add sugar. The moment it breaks from just lightening up the liquid molasses to becoming distinct clumps you could theoretically stop, if you wanted really, really dark, clumpy brown sugar. The more sugar you add the lighter the color will be and the less clumpy.

Things to note: add sugar in stages. It will give you more accurate control over the results and won't lead to a giant mess. Don't be afraid to move the pot off the heat if things start to simmer too steadily or if the sugar starts to caramelize. You just want the heat to facilitate mixing, not cook. Also: enjoy the weird transformation, it's really fun. Plus you can make the brown sugar you want, which is chill.

Fake Baked Beans and Rice

Place a pan over medium heat. Open a can of pinto beans and decant some of the liquid. Pour the beans and the remaining liquid into the pan. Add enough molasses to come halfway up the beans, salt, pepper, a good amount of hot sauce. Stir to coat, then cover until the molasses bubbles vigorously. Drop heat to medium-low and let reduce, stirring occasionally to re-coat. Add dried thyme and sage a minute or so before serving and stir one last time.

For the rice: just before you pour the beans into the can, wash a couple cups of rice and then add your preferred amount of water (for my rice cooker that means a 1:1 ratio plus a little extra water). Add any flavoring you want - I find even a little bit of canola oil goes a long way, but butter or rosemary or black garlic oil are all excellent options. It should be done right around the same time. Serve beans over rice (and if you need something a little more nutritious throw some frozen veggies in the oven at 425 and top with those).

Things to note: I don't provide measurements here because I have no idea what the size or shape of your pan is. The goal is to get a good shellac of flavor on the dang beans. I trust that you can do it. The only real concern is to not torch the sugar, so using low heat and taking a little longer is always preferable. That's also why I recommend canned beans: you kind of can't fuck them up. I assume liquid smoke would be a great addition to this, but I've never actually seen or used that before I don't think.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Always Bee Cooking #7: Freestyle Sourdough

I finally read Salt Fat Acid Heat it is, in many ways, a really excellent book. A thing that bothered me: Samin Nosrat repeats the idea that baking is quantitatively different from cooking. Like: cooking is a thing you can experiment with, while baking is something that requires precision. This is probably true in a commercial kitchen. Other things that are true in commercial kitchens: pervasive sexism, sexual harassment, drug overdoses. At home? Fuck off.

To prove my impulsive "fuck off" to myself, I decided to develop a recipe for sourdough bread that I could never replicate. I wanted to use as a base something I had never seen anyone do (and couldn't find a recipe for on the internet) and bring in the knowledge I gained from having baked bread maybe a half-dozen times, and sourdough only once.

What I decided on was to bake bread where roughly 75% of the volume of the dough came from discard. I had a grip of it sitting in the refrigerator, collected over about a month of uneven feedings, covered. I wanted to use it all.

Anyone reading: good luck. It baked off two loaves.


  • 1 month's worth sourdough Discard, unevenly distributed
  • 1 1/2 heaping pinch salt
  • 1 packet active dry yeast
  • 1-2 heaping pinches sugar
  • a grip of flour, whole wheat & all purpose
  • water, hot enough to register on the inside of your wrist but not Hot
  • Olive oil (whatever feels right)

Remove the Discard from the fridge (where you've been storing it, covered).

Bloom yeast - drop a packet in the hot enough water, add a little bit of sugar, and wait 5-10 minutes.

Add bloomed yeast, salt, oil and sugar to discard. Lightly mix together.

Add 3 cups whole wheat flour. Mix with a wooden spoon, greased. Add 1 cup All Purpose Flour. Mix for a fucking minute. It should be gross sticky, but no flour should be left.

Keep adding All Purpose Flour, about 1/2 cup at a time. Keep mixing. Go from sticky wet mess to weird messy sticky wet. To "is this right?" when it falls apart and recombines. Push through, continually adding flour, until it feels like bread dough. You're going to have some dough loss, and you're probably going to have to switch to your hands at some point. Be near a sink.

Cover with kitchen towel (or whatever), go to a friend's house, play Case 2 Day 1 of Detective. See the second Jumanji movie with Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black. Go home.

It's been, idk, 9 hours? and this is way goopier than you meant it to be. Which means all that time you spent setting up a kneading station is worthless. That's fine. Add one heaping spoon (I mean literally a spoon you would eat with, not the measurement) at a time of All Purpose Flour and work it in. Get almost to dough, but it should be still sticky if you have to hold it while you talk or walk briefly. Bring it over the finish line by kneading it on a floured surface - I prefer the "fold in half, turn, shove with the palm of your hand, repeat" method.

Grease a bowl (drop some oil in & smear with your fingers), drop the dough in upside down, flip over, cover and put in fridge.

Wake up six hours later and fuck around for half an hour. Get up, pull dough out of fridge, divide. Shape two loaves. There are ways you've probably learned to shape dough for baking. Do those, or do some other shit.

Put the two loaves (rounds, baguettes, boules, whatever) on the tray you'll be baking them on. Set a timer for an hour.

Once the timer goes off, go in. Start preheating oven to 450F. Start boiling water in an electric kettle. Grab your cast iron & your oven mitts. This is going to take a half hour. More or less based on your setup.

Once the shaped loaves look good to you score them lightly with a knife then throw them in the oven, middle rack. Throw the cast iron in the bottom of the oven. Fill it with the boiling contents of the kettle. Do this carefully and with oven mitts on. Shut the door on the 450F oven. Wait 30 minutes. Your cast iron has probably given up the moisture it is going to at this point (or at 40 minutes), so pull it out when it does. Alternatively try an even more dangerous refill with boiling water, which might get you done a little faster and with a little less crusty crust.

Check in every ten minutes from that 30 minute mark. I have no idea how your oven works. I have no idea how mine works. If you have a digital thermometer, poke it in until it hits 190F (or a few degrees below). If not, poke a knife in until it comes out clean. Pull the bread out, place on a rack (or whatever you have; ideally it has airflow above and below, less than ideally it is on another solid surface - it's also fine if it's still on the baking sheet but the bottom may burn a little) and let cool for at least 10 minutes.

Serve this weird garbage bread. It's wildly tangy, even with a starter that is actively not aggressively sour. It's good as fuck.

Further Notes

  • In the post on Seared Sourdough Crumpets, I referred to the starter as Reginald. She's Gina now.
  • Butter, allegedly, complements this bread exceptionally well
  • I've alluded to some longer, more theoretical posts in this series for a while now. I'm still piecing them together. They're frankly a bit farther out than I expected. I still want to do an overview of what media to look for when you're learning to cook, and the ideological underpinnings of food media. But I think I'm going to have to frame it more like a Freshman Year of Autodidact's Culinary School term paper. Even without having a ton of words down it's been influencing how and what I write about in these posts (and is partially to blame for why I've not been so good at keeping up with them month-to-month). Hopefully more from me soon on that front, though!
  • I really wanted to bake some macadamia nuts into this bread but forgot to. I bet you could do some real weird shit with it. You could double down on the tartness with cranberries or cut it with nuts or blow it out into a whole other direction with pickled jalapeƱos.

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