“Our Home, Our Dream”

DIANE JONG/New University

At 9:30 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 28, 2011, UC Student Association delegates gathered at the 2011 UC Student Lobby Conference in room 437 of the Capitol building in Sacramento to prepare for their visits with CA State Senators and Assembly members. The undergraduate and graduate delegates from each of the UC’s 10 campuses rehearsed their talking points, paced around, chattered excitedly and mingled as they waited.

The minutes ticked by and the early morning chill lifted from off the streets. It had been below freezing for the previous two nights, but now in the light of day, the sun’s feeble rays began to warm the clear, bright, chilly air. At 11:52 a.m. delegates who were not lobbying gathered on the steps of the Capitol for the march and rally around Sacramento streets.

Students took up colorful signs and banners.

“I can’t afford public education,” read one sign. “Where’s the funding?” “#budgetcuts,” “$top taxing $tudents,” read others. “Make fee hikes extinct,” said one sign, along with a drawing of a bright green Tyrannosaurus rex. “WTF? Where’s the funding?”

The delegates began to chant, moving out onto the Sacramento streets. “Money doesn’t grow on trees. Don’t increase our student fees.” “What you doing Jerry Brown? Why you trying to shut us down?” “UCs under attack! What do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

As the marchers made their way through the Sacramento streets, they stopped in front of 1130 K Street. The students’ chanting reverberated through the streets. “Holla back! I got your back!” “What do we want? The Dream Act! When do we want it? Now!” “No cuts, no fees! Education should be free.”

Three days earlier, at 5 p.m., Friday, Feb. 25, the UC Irvine delegates boarded a charter bus to Sacramento. The road grew increasingly dark as the bus climbed the Grapevine. Rain turned into brief flurries of snow, then the bus descended into the valley.

Ten hours later, the delegates arrived at the Radisson hotel in Sacramento. After a light breakfast the next morning, Grecia Lima gave an opening speech.

“We are living in difficult times,” Lima said. “We are under attack. Gays are under attack, women are under attack, education is under attack … the thing is that everyone has a seat at the negotiation table. Everyone has a seat at the power table except for you, and you, and you and for that matter, me.

Political identity and being informed and involved were instilled in Lima’s speech.

“This is the time for you to discover your political identity, and this is the time to explore it,” Lima said. “The system has us fighting for cents. We won’t do that, we’re going to fight for the whole budget … demand education for all, no matter what the cost.”

The delegation made its way back to the steps of the Capitol on that frigid Monday morning to prepare for the post-march rally. Assembly Higher Education Committee Chair Marty Block took the podium, speaking in support of higher education and an oil severance tax.

“We need to make an unequivocal commitment to higher education,” he said. “We are the only oil producing state in the nation that doesn’t have such a fee.”

The oil severance tax would impose a tax on all crude oil extracted in California, and use funds collected to help fund education. California voters rejected a six percent oil severance tax five years ago; however, multiple proposals for such a tax routinely emerge at the state and municipal levels as a possible solution to the state’s budget problem.

CA State Senator Leland Yee then took the podium, giving words of encouragement to the students.

“What you’ve got to do is to translate that energy and knock on every single assemblyman’s door … and then you finally break down the Governor’s door,” he said to the crowd that had gathered on the steps of the Capitol. “If we care about the future we need to support you. You are absolutely the future. I want you to be always true to your beliefs.”

At 2 p.m., four UCI delegates met with Donald P. Wagner — Assembly member for California’s 17th district, which includes Irvine.

“What do I need to know about the cuts that I don’t know already?” Wagner asked. “$500 million is a big chunk of money, but we have a $26.6 billion hole to fill. Do you know what sort of cuts the UC system can absorb, because there will be cuts.”

Wagner sat back in his chair, crossed his legs and listened attentively from behind his desk. The four UCI delegates lobbied on behalf of the California Dream Act, AB 130 and AB 131, which would allow AB 540 students to apply for financial aid.

After listening attentively to an AB 540 student’s personal testimony, Wagner seemed more open to the idea of voting for the CA Dream Act. However, he gave no indication whether or not he would vote for the bills should they arrive on the Assembly floor.

The delegates then tried to convince him to allow temporary tax increases that are set to expire go onto the ballot. The extension of tax increases would raise about $12 billion, and be enacted through a June ballot measure to extend the temporary taxes enacted in 2009-2010 by five years.

“The public has had votes in the past, and they’ve voted against the tax increases every time [in this district],” Wagner said. “They don’t want taxes. The Governor is engaging in scare tactics. You have to try, and I agree with you that education is not the first place, nor the deepest place you want to cut. Cut run-ups in social programs. We need a plan B. The Governor has said, ‘I don’t have a plan B.’ So we don’t know what his cuts will be if the tax initiative fails.”

Wagner cited the massive gap between unemployment in the private sector, which lies at about 12 percent, and the public sector, which lies below 10 percent. He concluded that cuts could be made from the public sector, and added that there are appropriate ways to cut prison spending, which he characterized as, “absolutely out of control.” Wagner went on to explain that in prisons, the health care system is so dysfunctional from policies such as refusal to use generic drugs, that cost of patient care in prisons is rising to unacceptable levels.

“Prisons are probably one of the biggest places that I would cut,” Wagner said. “There is plenty of room left for reform … We can’t decimate the UC and CSU systems, but I believe that the tax initiative will fail for sure in my district and at the state level.”