UC Irvine saw its first large protest of the year as roughly 300 students gathered at the flagpoles for a teach in and protest at noon on Wednesday, Nov. 9, joining thousands of college students on 10 different campuses across the state in observance of a Statewide Day of Action.
Wednesday’s rallies were designed to kick off a week of protests, leading up to the California State University Board of Trustees, and UC Board of Regents meetings on Nov. 16 in Long Beach and San Francisco, respectively.
“The University is very concerned with its perception in the world,” said UCI Librarian for Chemistry, Earth System Science and Russian Studies Mitchell Brown, using the campus libraries’ struggle to keep up availability to students to comment on the broader impacts of state- level cuts to higher education. “I want someone who’s a free thinker, who challenges conformity […] libraries are an essential part of that. Libraries are about rigorous confrontation of knowledge. Libraries are a place for dialogue. What’s good for the libraries is good for the students.”
Although only about 100 students attended the beginning of the teach in, attendance grew as students filtered in from Ring Road. The next few speakers touched on the various effects of the steady decrease of state funding in higher education. Third- year psychology and social behavior student Christian Rodriguez delivered his appeal to the UC Regents in a piece of spoken word. He argued that he cannot level with the Regents because they are greedy, and though they may have been idealistic at one time, their positions of power must have corrupted them in some way. Fear or greed must have led to a shift in their ethics.
“We are crying out enough at the top of our pollution filled lungs,” he said to thunderous applause.
A representative from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees #3299 followed him to the podium and told the growing crowd about their fight for wages.
“We’ve had to fight very hard for a raise that was guaranteed to us in our contract back in 1998,” he said. “The Regents don’t want to release it. I ask that we form a worker-student coalition. Together we are stronger.”
The crowd rallied, chanted and cheered, and Rei Terada, Professor of Comparative Literature and Director of the Critical Theory Emphasis, took the podium.
“There’s an assumption that once reality has been determined, you can’t say anything further,” she said. “Critique is the mainstay of the enlightenment education that the university historically supports.”
Professor Terada highlighted UCI’s underground culture, which is blossoming as students find new and creative ways to engage in campus life in spite of the massive budget cuts. She argued that by actively divesting in the UC system by cutting funds, and admitting increasing numbers of out- of- state students, the Regents were creating an environment in which California citizens no longer have any reason to invest in the University because it is no longer for them.
“What’s happening today here at the flagpoles is only a fraction of what is happening on campuses all across the state,” said ASUCI Executive Vice President Patrick Le to a roaring crowd.
“I want you to raise up your fist like this if you’re fed up.”
He stepped away from the podium, stuck his fist in the air and shouted, “We’re fired up!”
“Can’t take it no more,” the crowd roared back.
Protesters began to march around Ring Road just after 1 p.m. stopping at classrooms and lecture halls along the way for more speakers, and to encourage students to walk out of their classes.
The group neared the Francisco J. Ayala Science Library and headed for the round plaza at its entrance, shouting out for students walking around Ring Road to join the protest.
“Agitate! Occupy! Take back UCI,” they chanted, voices echoing deafeningly off of the hard concrete, tiles and glass. “Hey, hey. Ho ho. These fee increases have got to go!”
Later the protesters hung up a piñata by Humanities Gateway and shouted around for volunteers.
“We want you to break it open and get what’s yours,” said one of the organizers, handing a piece of plastic piping to an eager protester.
Finally, the group snaked through the Student Center Food East Food Court, through the UCI Bookstore and made their way back to the flagpoles.
At the end of the march, protesters gathered in front of Aldrich Hall, many sitting in a circle, blocking the main entrance. Organizers announced that they had organized bus rides to a protest planned for Wednesday, Nov. 16 at the CSU Board of Trustees Meeting.
“One of my professors said he agreed with the principles of this movement, but that he didn’t think [the protesters’] methods are effective,” said Taylor, a sophomore mechanical engineering major who did not wish to give his last name. “Those of us who stay in class [during the walkout] are supportive of this, but we don’t necessarily agree that these are the best methods.”
The afternoon shadows lengthened, and protesters continued to plan for their coming day of action on Nov. 16. A bullhorn was passed around and anyone who wanted to speak got a chance to stand in the circle of sitting people. A list was passed around for people interested in getting a bus ride up to Long Beach to the protest.
“We need more people out and we need to escalate our actions,” said Seneca Lindsey, a Graduate Student Researcher in Earth System Sciences. “This is just the beginning.”