The Confessions of a Student Protestor

There is a new energy within the UC student movement. Throughout the state, students are marching, occupying and joining together in solidarity against the fee increases. But the movement is not just about the fee increases. Although the protest at UCLA was certainly a wake-up call for many of us, the movement did not begin there.

I’m not writing this to defend the students’ actions at UCLA, or this past week here at UCI, because we haven’t done anything warranting defense. Rather, I’m writing to describe, in a limited way, what the movement represents and what we’re up against.

Every person at the protests, whether he or she can articulate it or not, is standing up for two principles. We are standing for our right to an accessible, affordable education. Contrary to what we’ve been led to believe, education is not a gift, a privilege or a commodity; it is a right. It is an insult to claim that we have that right when the material conditions for exercising it do not exist.

Second, we are protesting for our right to have a meaningful say in how the University is run. As long as we’re left out of the decision-making process, we will be at the mercy of the state legislature, the Regents and the bureaucrats occupying Aldrich Hall. The only way for us to protect the university, its mission and its soul, is to democratize it.

We’re standing up against a long history of privatizing public services, including public universities. We will no longer stand by idly as the corporate and financial elites who make up the UC Regents turn our public universities into businesses. We are here to be educated, not to increase profits we will never see.

We’re up against a police force that has made it clear, time and again, that they’re not here to protect us. Regents knew they couldn’t pass the fee hikes democratically; they had to surround the building with a contingent of armed police. Clearly, the Regents would rather unleash the police on unarmed students than hear what we have to say.

We are up against the bogus notion that the state government and the Regents have their hands tied by the recession. The state of California has refused to fund public education by refusing to increase state income with common-sense initiatives like severance taxes on oil drilling and the enforcement of existing tax codes.

We’re up against an administration that funnels student aid away from those who need it the most. The administration has made it clear that it is not interested in reaching out to poor students and students of color.

We are up against the notion that protests are outdated, that protests makes students look spoiled or ignorant and that our collective action is what keeps the Regents and the state from hearing us. If the Regents were going to be swayed by proper haircuts and speechifying, they would have listened to our student regent, Jesse Bernal, or especially UCSA president, Victor Sanchez. Because the regents won’t listen to us as equals, we make use of our greatest strengths: our presence in number and non-violent direct action.

We’re up against a student press that parrots unsubstantiated reports of student violence against police while euphemizing police violence against students, as though harsh words and hotdog buns were a threat to batons and tasers; batons and tasers that the police turn disproportionately against students of color.

Indeed, we are up against an entire history of racist policy-making designed to keep students of color from ever entering the university. The walls of Jim Crow fell and were replaced by the walls of financial impossibility for students of color, which is why we stand for a university that is accessible to, and affordable for all students.

That is, we are standing with the entire student body when we stand for our right to accessible, affordable education and our right to meaningful participation in the university’s governance. We are standing with all of our fellow students regardless of nationality, race, ethnicity, legal-status, sexuality, gender-expression, faith or politics, and we’re standing alongside all academic and service workers who share our struggle.

James Bliss is a fourth-year political science, women’s studies and African-American studies triple major. He can be reached at jbliss@uci.edu.