Voices buzzed around the white room with drab brown carpet while the students waited for the Congress to begin as they sat in little clusters all around Pacific Ballroom C and D.
The opening speaker, Mayor of Maywood Ana Rosa Rizo stepped to the microphone.
“In the future of government, we need to keep [it] accountable,” Rizo said. “I’m here to move forward in a way that holds my values and make sure that public education is not privatized. Don’t lose your passion for social justice. We need to make sure that education is a right for everybody … As a collective, we need to move this country forward, starting with California. Many of us are here for different reasons, but we all want to achieve the same goals in the student movement.”
The 12th Annual University of California Student Association Congress had finally begun. Delegates from each UC campus were to choose issues to vote on for the coming academic year. After voting on the fourth day of the Congress, UCSA would have two resolutions to organize a campaign around, one for the undergraduate students and one for the graduate students.
UCSA is deeply rooted in a tradition of activism and social justice. Its roots lie in the Student Movement of the 1960s when students rallied to protest against the Vietnam War for free speech and civil rights. In 1968, Governor Ronald Reagan created a UC tuition in what was supposed to be a free education system. More than 3,000 students responded by rallying in Sacramento and soon realized that they needed a permanent organization to fight for their rights. The UC student body presidents from all the campuses created the UC Student Lobby, which would later become UCSA.
Today, UCSA is a University of California-wide coalition of undergraduate, graduate and professional students, and represents the official student voice to the government, UC Regents and Chancellors.
The UCSA Board of Directors meets monthly and has six full-time employees who focus on fostering coalition, empowerment, accessibility, affordability and quality of education in the UC System.
“We are in a profound crisis,” said former UC Irvine Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Manuel Gomez in his address to the delegates. “I tip my hat to the student protests, and in this time of accelerating globalization, we need the University of California to become a global research university. We need to foster global responsibility and provide global solutions to global problems. Let the clash of intellectual discussion resolve the issues of the conflicts in the world. It would be a dreadful university if there was silence on these issues.”
After breaking for lunch, the delegates went to their workshop classes. In one workshop titled “Tweeting the Movement: Building Up Student Power Online,” taught by Student Regent, Jesse Cheng, students discussed the different uses for social media in politics and social movements.
“So, how can new media help social movements, what’s good about it?” Cheng asked as he began the discussion. “Give me your ideas.”
“Well, it’s faster,” blurted out one delegate.
“Faster than what?”
“It helps you communicate faster, you know, get in touch with people.”
“Ok, good, what else?” Cheng asked, writing FASTER under the “Good” column on a poster board at the front of the room.
“You can use pictures, audio and video to communicate your messages.”
“Great,” said Cheng as he wrote on the board, “but you have to remember that social media on its own will not do anything. It’s like putting up a flyer. On the other hand, you can instantly message updates out before, during and after an event. You can say, ‘Help, we need more people at this rally, the police are coming,’ and people can know about it instantly if you send it out on Twitter.”
“Twitter is an especially useful tool because it aggregates good news onto one site which increases your visibility,” Cheng said. “Protesters used Twitter to coordinate their efforts during the Green Revolution in Iran.”
The 2010 UCSA Congress strongly echoed the national controversy over immigration reform. From August 12th-15th, 2010, the undergraduate delegates worked with UCSA staff to draft three propositions for voting: UC-Wide Holistic Admissions Review, Economic Justice in the UC System and Prison Reform.
The UC-Wide Holistic Admissions Review would bring forth the admissions review process that is already in place at Berkeley and UCLA. Admissions readers would have to look at all parts of the application instead of looking at the individual portions as is done now. Readers would also take an applicant’s living and social situation into consideration.
Economic Justice in the UC System would make financial aid available to undocumented students while developing a new source of revenue for the UC System so that students would eventually be able to push the Regents for a fee rollback. Revenue for the University will be generated by lobbying lawmakers to enact an oil severance fee in the form of a tax on oil producers. The proposition also includes protection measures for consumers that will prohibit oil producers from raising the price of gasoline and other petroleum derivatives.
“The most recent updated bill that was presented to the [California] Senate and the Assembly already provided the funding that we wanted, but it wouldn’t include the fee rollback,” said Andres Gonzalez, ASUCI Executive Vice President.
“We’re [pushing] for three- to- five million dollars more for higher education to fund the fifteen percent fee rollback. That would just go toward the fifteen percent [fee increase] that is going into effect this fall quarter,” Gonzalez said.
The final proposition is a push to get California lawmakers to allocate more of their budget to the universities and colleges by reforming the California prison system to focus more on rehabilitation rather than incarceration.
At 1:00 p.m. on August 15th, the delegates cast their votes and waited for the final decision. An impromptu talent show broke out. Student Regent Jesse Chang got up on the stage and read a spoken-word piece.
The results of the vote came back an hour later. The Undergraduate resolution — Economic Justice in the UC System. The Graduate resolution — a student drafted Bill of Rights.