Taking a Stand to Fight the Man
The beating of drums and the shouting of the students, faculty, groundskeepers, janitors and other staff members were impossible to ignore on Thursday, Sept. 24 when UC Irvine participated in the state-wide campus walkout.
Prior to the noon rally at the flagpoles, people had already begun to congregate and march in a circle on Ring Road between the Gateway Study Center and the Langson Library.
Each marcher held a picket sign with messages saying “cut prisons, not schools,” and “cut the crap, not the budget,” while they shouted, “No justice, no peace,” and “Si se puede!”
Once noon came, a group of around 500 people came to stand or sit on the stairs in front of the flagpole in the near 100 degree heat while numerous speakers talked about the walkout and why everyone was assembled.
The first speaker was Fernando Chirino, a fourth-year graduate student of sociology.
“We are here as a community to resist the budget cuts,” Chirino said. “We cannot sugarcoat what is happening around us. This is a crisis.”
Chirino observed the crowd composed of many different groups from groundskeepers to students, and from lecturers to janitors. Although all different groups had different motivations behind the walkout, all of them united in resisting the cuts being made.
“An attack on one is an an attack on all!” Chirino said.
The next speaker was the local president of University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE), Gladys Ramsey. In her speech, she demanded more viable offers in their meetings with UC administration.
As Ramsey spoke, a few anti-union protestors began to shout, “No unions!” to which she responded, “Thank you, we support freedom of speech.”
The speakers continued with English Instructor, Keith Danner, who mentioned that if people stood still and fees continued to rise at the pace that they have been increasing at, an 8-year-old child would soon have to pay $30,000 per year in order to attend a UC after high school.
Other speakers included Chuck O’Connell, a member of Associated Students, Coalition of University Employees (CUE) local president Dianna Sahhar, groundskeeper Lucio Pacheco and others.
“I have made my paycheck with the sweat of my forehead and now they are laying me off.” Pacheco said.
Toward the end of Pacheco’s speech, the words “lay-off Yudof” were said and it became a common phrase for the remainder of the rally.
Stories were told of students who had to drop out of school because they could not afford the fee increases, and of janitors and groundskeepers who were laid off and are now struggling to feed their families.
One of the most powerful speeches, however, was made by Humanities Center Director Catherine Liu.
“We need to ask why tuition was virtually free for students in 1973, and then we need to look at why Chase is out there in the Student Center right now trying to push credit cards to students,” Liu said.
Many of the orators blamed the war in the Middle East or the huge amount of money allocated to prisons as reasons why education was becoming lower in quality and higher in price.
According to Lopez, the prison budget has expanded 127 percent over a 10 year period while money for education has only grown by 21 percent.
“All I know,” Danner said, “is that in July of 2008 there were 80 full-time employees; now, one year later we have 67. They are going to lay off 26 more this year – cutting it in half.”
Later on, another rally was held in the Social Science Plaza where Associate Professor of Anthropology, Victoria Bernal, spoke.
“This is a fundamental question of democracy,” Bernal said. “We need these public universities to be affordable, otherwise only the children of the rich in society will receive the skills and education to take leadership positions. Our education at UC has always been elite, but never elitist.”
Besides being concerned for her students and for society in general, Bernal is also worried about her own children. Professors do not receive a discount for working at the University and their children pay as much as any student would.
She continued on the subject of the allocation of money to prisons that many other professors had discussed that day.
“Society picks up the cost either way,” Bernal said. “You can look at the average education level of prisoners and homeless and realize that if we don’t allow people the opportunity to get a quality education at a university now, we will pay for it later.”