UC Students: Get Up, Stand Up!

MichaelKarakashUCIprotestBW

Michael Karakasah | Staff Photographer Over 400 UC Irvine students march from the flagpoles to University Dr., trying to block traffic and advocate education reform, racial awareness, higher worker wages and more.

Traffic grinded to a halt on Mar. 4, 2010 as protesters flooded the streets around UC Irvine. Police officers and daily commuters watched as a group of 400 demonstrators reached Campus Drive and West Peltason. The protesters responded with cheers as a student declared, “This intersection is ours!”

The walkout was part of a planned statewide Day of Action that protested recent budget cuts to public education caused by a $20 billion state deficit. The movement began on California campuses but has spread to rallies in 32 states across the nation – all fighting for education reform.

The protest at UCI began at noon in front of the flagpoles with a series of speeches about growing frustration on campus resulting from the crisis within the UC education system. Speakers included undergraduate and graduate students, workers, faculty and alumni. The diversity of speakers mirrored the wide range of protesters, from involved activists to students simply passing by.

Humanities core lecturer Brook Haley took to the microphone armed with a whiteboard that he used to detail the fiscal transactions between banks, students and Mark Yudof. Haley’s informative speech and clever drawings elicited cheers and laughter from the crowd. He finished with a story about a student who had to drop out of UCI because his Cal Grants were cut in half.

Other speakers, such as English graduate student Dennis Lopez, used dramatic rhetoric to mobilize the listeners. At 1:25 p.m., Lopez ran up the steps behind the flagpoles, weaving through the seated crowd, leading the transition from words to walkout.

His voice echoed the unifying purpose of the diverse protesters: “Today is a strike. Today is a walkout. Today is the day we say enough is enough.”

The demonstrators began marching around Ring Mall, gradually increasing in numbers as protesters ran into classrooms and buildings recruit fellow students from their classes to join the protest.

The estimated 800 protesters chanted and drummed loudly enough to be heard across campus. They brandished signs reading, “Education is a right” and chanted, “They say cut back, we say fight back!”

Some faculty and students came out of their classes to see the commotion. When asked whether she would join the walkout, one student bystander replied, “I don’t know. I’m just not a big protest person.”

The demonstrators, however, maintained a different view on the protests. When asked about the goal of the protest, second-year comparative literature major Vileana De La Rosa smiled and said, “Total disruption.”

As protesters spilled onto Campus Drive, De La Rosa’s goals were realized as throngs of students weaved through immobilized traffic. Cars honked both in support and disapproval of the demonstration. Police officers and the fire department redirected incoming traffic away from the protesters, allowing the marchers to walk safely through the streets.

“This kind of thing will make the administration hear us,” said Raul Perez, sociology graduate student and member of Worker-Student Alliance.

The administration building was closed and guarded by police as early 7:30 a.m. in response to protests. In a written statement, Vice Chancellor Manuel Gomez responded  to the protest, saying that, “the nationwide day of action was an important step toward raising awareness.” He added that actual change would require, “consistent and constructive engagement with legislators.”

After circling campus on University Drive and Mesa Road, the protesters left the streets and headed back to campus at 2:45 p.m. in an attempt to occupy Gateway Study Center.

The majority of the group of now 200 protesters remained in the courtyard outside the study center between Langson Library and Gateway while a small group of students attempted to barricade the doors from inside. After a brief occupation, a smaller group of demonstrators changed direction and quickly moved on to bang on the closed doors of the Aldrich Hall.

Many students within and outside of the movement were surprised by the high turnout of protesters on the UCI campus.

Sarah Bana, executive vice president of ASUCI, added, “This movement shows that UCI does care.”

The four-hour protest finished on the grass patch near the flagpoles where 25 activists voiced closing thoughts.

There will be an open forum next Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Ring Room of the Cross Cultural Center titled “Dispersal of Knowledge” to discuss future actions.