The first day back from winter break protesters already hit Ring Road amidst the booths and frat lounges populating the sidewalk. They walked in a circle with rhythm sticks and drums playing to the beat of their chants: “Whose university? Our university!” and “They say cut funds, we say fight back!”
They also hoisted picket signs which read, “Keep UCI Public” and “Books, Not Bombs.” The protestors drew the attention of students walking on Ring Road and a tour group of startled high school students.
The protesters came from every area of interest. A branch of ISSE, a socialist student group from SDSU, labor unions, the Umbrella Council and Muslim Student Union all showed their support on Monday.
At its height, the protest was comprised of about 70 people, but despite the low turn-out compared to earlier demonstrations, the ralliers were undiscouraged and certainly energetic.
“Do not mind the numbers,” Faisal Abbas, a senior engineering and computer engineering major who represented MSU, said. He was one of the many speakers at the rally.
Those who spoke covered a wide range of complaints, from the usual discontent over rising fees, to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the treatment of subcontracted workers on campus.
It was on that last issue that Celene Perez, a graduate of UC Riverside, came on behalf of AFSCME Local 3299, a statewide labor union for the service and patient care employees of the UC system. Perez noted that UC Irvine is one of the few UCs to subcontract employees and believes that even the administration is hampering these workers from being “insourced.”
A rally focusing on subcontracted workers is planned for Thursday Jan. 14 at 2:15 p.m. at the flagpoles.
Garnering interest for activities such as that upcoming rally was one of the main concerns of the protest.
“I think the focus was to mobilize,” Avelino, who preferred not to give his last name, said after the rally. In his opinion, the protest included such a broad spectrum of issues to attract and galvanize as many people as possible.
With the low turnout, the need to catch students’ attention seemed even more pressing to those like Dennis Lopez, the event’s MC and a member of the Defend UCI Coalition. The graduate student of English and other organizers reached students through Facebook, clubs and student groups, and word of mouth. Despite their hopes, the winter break lapse became a communication hurdle limiting the number of students present that day. With more activities planned – like an open forum set for Wednesday, Jan. 13 – Defend UCI will be working hard to reach available ears.
The need to reach that audience created a sense of urgency in the protesters assembled. “We need to keep fighting or the 32 percent increase will continue until the UCs and Cal States are privatized, ” Sandra Flores, a sophomore and member of the Worker-Student Alliance, said in her speech.
“We’re out here for you! The 32 percent increase affects you! The library hour cuts affect you! The cuts in services affect you!” Lopez said while stirring up the assembled at the end of the protest.
The rally ended peacefully and quietly, with those involved staying optimistic of more student attention in the weeks to come.