Via Infoshop News
By Michael Reagan
INTERSECTIONS, Vol. 2, #2
Last summer, the University of California Board of Regents voted to increase student tuition by 32%. When they announced fee hikes and budget cuts while simultaneously granting themselves pay increases, faculty organizations and unions called for a one-day walkout and symbolic strike on September 24th across the UC system. California faces a budget shortfall upwards of $20 billion dollars, and education faces an inordinate degree of the cuts. That day brought out thousands of students and seriously disrupted operations at the LA and Berkeley campuses.
At Berkeley, the actions on the 24th led to a blundered attempt to occupy Wheeler Hall, a prominent building at the heart of the campus, and to establish a student general assembly. Both fell short of their potential. Without consulting other students, a small group tried to turn the general meeting into an occupation by locking the doors with u-locks. Students not prepared to risk arrest — most of those present — left. Attempts were made to organize the general meeting elsewhere, but disagreements over questions of race, participation, and representation meant a viable student organization did not get off the ground.
Despite the failures, the September mobilization spurred further activism. In November a more successful attempt was made because the occupation wasn’t disrupting other organizing efforts. Students put forward a list of demands that included protecting student co-ops and re-hiring laid off campus workers. Thousands of students gathered in support.
Police arrived and violently attacked, breaking one graduate student’s hand. After the occupiers were cited and released, they claimed success having sparked the interest and energy of the entire campus. Similar school occupations soon spread and students began organizing forums and building connections regionally and statewide.
Another week long occupation occurred in early December with students negotiating with the school. But when occupiers announced a free concert, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau called in police to oust the students, and 66 were arrested. Tensions remained high on campuses.
In early January, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger promised to reverse state budget priorities and allocate more money to education than to prisons, in a reversal of twenty years of fiscal priorities. An office staffer admitted this reversal was in reaction to the statewide student uprisings. These changes come with their own sets of problems, but show that student organizing is having an impact.
Meanwhile enormous efforts went into mobilizing for a nationwide March 4th day of action. From grade school to graduate students, young people took to the streets in an effort to defend public education, fight racism, and disrupt efforts to privatize schools.
Students at the University of Washington, including Common Action members, took part in the March 4th national day of action. Several hundred students held a rally and picket in the main campus plaza and then marched into the U District. Entire classes of high school students joined the demonstrations. Several campus groups came together to organize what turned out to be the largest campus demonstration in three decades.
With positive media coverage and a respectable turnout, the University of Washington demonstrations were a success. However, more students stayed away from the protests than participated. In one defining moment, the demonstrators disrupted a large lecture room in Kane Hall to encourage students to ditch class and join the protests – but not one of those seated stood up and walked out. Organizers will have to examine the reasons for this reluctance to participate if they wish to build larger demonstrations in the future.
In California, as in Washington, student organizing has been rife with problems and possibilities. March 4th was huge – what happens now depends on what we as students, parents, teachers, staff, and organizers do next.