The clouds began to roll in at 11:41 a.m. Amidst the Greeks handing out fliers and the clubs selling boba, a small group of students stood somberly at the top of the steps in front of the flagpoles.
“DEATH OF PUBLIC EDUCATION.”
Their banner spoke for their cause in the way that their numbers did not. By the time the rally began shortly after 12:15 p.m., there were only 30 to 40 people gathered.
“What’s going on?” a passer-by stopped to ask a nearby student who shrugged.
“I dunno,” he said. “It looks like a protest, but I gotta get to work.”
* * *
Oct. 7 was intended as a “day of action for public education” across the nation. Several groups all over the United States called for people to demand justice for the public education system, one that has been suffering under the failing economy.
Throughout the UC system specifically, protesters have continuously rallied for their vision of affordable education, especially since the historic 32 percent fee increase last November.
With rumors of a one to 20 percent fee increase being voted on at this November’s Regents meeting, protest organizers hoped to raise awareness over the dire situation plaguing UC schools.
At UCI, few students attended the noontime protest, despite the 462 people who had confirmed their attendance on Facebook by the previous night. Across the street from the flagpoles were two UCI police cars, in addition to at least a dozen visible officers spread out around Langson Library and Aldrich Hall.
“Yeah, there are a lot of cops,” John Bruning, a sociology graduate student, said. “It’s kind of unnecessary.”
But the university was not leaving anything to chance. “UCI officials knew something was going to happen on Oct. 7 based on large, vertical banners that were dropped from the Science Library and administration buildings on the first day of school saying, ‘Strike, Walk Out on Noon October 7th,’” a UCI Community Service Officer (CSO) who wishes to remain anonymous said.
The CSO, who agreed to speak to the New University under the name Mr. F, said that UCI officials then searched the Internet for information about the Oct. 7 protest and were led to both Occupy UCI!’s website and event pages on Facebook.
“That website [Occupy UCI!] had links to documents that indicated a communist or proletariat revolutionary slant,” Mr. F said. “It looked like they wanted students to take over the administration of [UCI] … I’m not sure of the rhetoric. It sounds like [it advocates] violence, but there’s been no violence observed yet.”
* * *
“We want money for our jobs and education, not for war and occupation.” –chant, 12:22 p.m.
Students leaving their classes and the library passed by the gathered protesters. Few stopped to listen, and those who did stop had to strain to hear what was being said.
“We were denied a permit for amplified sound,” Bruning explained after the protest.
Physics grad student Jordan Brocious added, “We were told we couldn’t have amplified sound because a fraternity would be playing music down the road.”
The ten-minute rally consisted of words from three speakers discussing fee increases, holding the university accountable for its actions against students and the ramifications of the war in Afghanistan on public education.
At 12:27, the group declared it was time to share its frustrations with the rest of the campus. With four UCI police officers in tow, the protesters began their march, chanting: “No cuts, no fees, education should be free!”
* * *
“We are the students!
(We are the students!)
Mighty, mighty students!
(Mighty, mighty students!)
Fighting for justice!
(Fighting for justice!)
And an education!
(And an education!)”
As the protesters made their way around Ring Road, other students stopped to watch. Some took photos with their camera phones while others ignored the chanting and continued walking to class.
“This is not UC Berkeley!” a passing student shouted at the group.
“Some students have said, ‘We as UCI students already have enough to worry about between school, work, figuring out how to pay tuition and feeding ourselves. It’s not that we’re apathetic, we just need to do what we have to do,’” Mr. F observed. “These seem to be more realistic attitudes rather than the idealistic thinking of the protesters.”
At 12:51 p.m., the protesters reached Aldrich Hall, whose doors had been locked with a sign placed on the front: “Aldrich Hall Temporarily Closed.”
“Where is the administration?” earth system sciences graduate student Seneca Lindsey asked the gathered crowd. “They see us as a threat.”
Before the protest’s end, third-year social science major Shacole Hamlett stood in front of the gathered crowd to share a spoken-word piece, which she said she wrote after asking herself what she wanted. “Huey Newton spoke about the difference between a revolutionary suicide and a reactionary suicide, the latter is when you die without ever being free or fighting for freedom,” Shacole said. “I don’t want to commit a reactionary suicide.”
* * *
“My resistance will seem uneducated, irrational and overwhelming, but my resistance will not budge, my tantrum will be heard and I will never watch, wait or expect.” – “The Ones That Watched, Waited and Expected” by Shacole Hamlett
The protest ended at 1:10 p.m.
Though the numbers of the Oct. 7 protest were nowhere near the numbers UCI saw on Mar. 4, protest organizers were not worried. They alluded to future protests and days of action being planned, especially with the Regents’ November meeting coming soon.
As they plan, so will university officials. “What worries me is that they’re pushing this violent rhetoric,” Mr. F said. “Does this foreshadow their future actions? All this raises more unanswered questions. There are so many conflicts between what they say and what they do.”
Additional reporting by staff writer Gregory Yee.