Protests Go UC-Wide

JASON DAVIS/New University

Last week, over a dozen UCIPD officers gathered around the areas outside of Aldrich Hall and Langson Library in what appeared to be preparation for a potential repeat of the events from one year ago on March 4, 2010.

Wednesday, March 2 was scheduled as a Day of Action for Public Education, similar to that scheduled last year in which nearly 400 protesters took to the streets around UC Irvine, halting traffic with their cries of “Whose university? Our university!”

This year, however, brought about a smaller protest, but with an equally strong message about the budget cuts and fee increases that have consistently attacked UC and CSU students across California.

Gov. Brown’s proposal of a $500 million cut signals a historical moment in California state history: for the first time next year, the UC system will receive more funding from tuition from their students than from tax dollars.

The March 2 protest was scheduled to begin at noon at the flagpoles. Before the chanting and picketing began, protest organizers used sidewalk chalk to write messages around the flagpoles and stairs. At 12:05 p.m., approximately 20 people began a picket line in the middle of Ring Road at the top of the stairs, chanting familiar phrases such as “No justice, no peace!” and “They say ‘cut back,’ we say ‘fight back!’” Passing students stopped to watch as some picked up signs and joined.

At 12:15, the assembled crowd, about 60-70 students, faculty and workers, took their seats on the stairs as the rally began. The series of speakers began with Keith Danner, a lecturer in English at UCI, who spoke about the crisis that the public education system was facing. “27 billion dollars. 154 billion dollars,” Danner opened.

The first number, he revealed, is the wealth of Larry Ellison, California’s richest man, according to Forbes Magazine; the latter is the wealth of the top 25 Californian billionaires.

“This budget crisis, so called, can be solved by the richest man in California and still have $10 billion left over for incidentals,” Danner said. “Spread it over the top 25 — it’s only fair — and there would still be $128 billion left over for them to share.”

As Danner spoke, the crowd booed at the mention of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and cheered as he tossed the notion aside that the budget crisis was anything but natural. “The message from Cairo to Wisconsin to California is this: we didn’t make this crisis and we won’t pay for it.”

Danner’s speech was followed by speeches from Ana Baginski of Radical Student Union and Hamza Siddiqui of Muslim Student Union. Both students discussed diversity and free speech. Baginski encouraged the crowd to think about the bigger picture and draw connections between all of the causes the protest was supporting.

“When students raise their voice for Palestinian people or rights for Black students on campus or rights against budget cuts, it’s all the same fight,” she said. “We could all be fighting for free speech, for a good, free public education, which is how it should be, and solidarity between all of our struggles.”

Siddiqui echoed Baginski’s cry for solidarity and encouraged the crowd to keep student activism alive. “The things you see in Egypt [and] the things you see in Tunisia are not a result of a day of activism, two days of activism, 20 days of activism,” he said.

Siddiqui noted that the strongest movements and revolutions are built over decades through the collective efforts of the people involved. “What we’re doing here today, even though 20,000 people on our campus are not here joining us in a fight that we all share, it’s still very, very important,” he said.

The rally continued with anthropology graduate student Cheryl Deutsch representing UAW Local 2865, the labor union that represents approximately 12,000 teaching assistants, tutors and readers at the University of California.

“Our working conditions are your learning conditions,” Deutsch said as she discussed the negative effects of the budget cuts on TAs, who are hit by the cuts both as workers and as students. Deutsch read UAW’s statement that rejected the framework that said there is not enough money to fund public education.

“Bleeding our education system cannot be a solution to the state’s fiscal crisis,” she read. The statement went onto suggest that the cuts to education would only further hurt the state’s economy, as well as also violate the California Master Plan for Higher Education that was proposed in 1960 as the UC system was growing.

The suggestions provided in UAW’s statement dealt with the “crisis of willpower and political power” that Deutsch said was plaguing the state, including an oil severance tax, a reversal of the Bush tax cuts and enactment of sentencing reform in order “to provide education, not incarceration, for the next generation.”

The rally concluded with a speech by Mitchell Brown, a UCI librarian for chemistry, earth system science and Russian studies. Brown emphasized the importance of education and becoming educated.

“The real question is: who becomes educated in a system where you don’t allow people access to affordable, open education?” he asked.

Brown also spoke about budget transparency and implored the crowd to consider what the future would be like if education were to continue to suffer.

The rally ended at 12:45 p.m. and was followed by a crowd of students who continued the protest at Aldrich Hall. A few students spoke about worker struggles and American spending habits, as well as criticizing the university and administrators.

At other UC campuses, protests came to similarly peaceful ends; at UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz, the protests led to sit-ins and occupations. At UCI, the protest officially came to an end shortly before 1 p.m. with no sit-ins or arrests, but a promise that the movement would continue through the remainder of the school year and into the fall as the threat of Gov. Brown’s enormous cuts to education continue to hang over the future of the UC.