Berkeley sit-in against cuts

October 15, 2009

BERKELEY, Calif.--Approximately 150 students took over the Anthropology Library at the University of California (UC) at Berkeley on October 9 to prevent it from being closed for the weekend.

Since the onset of the devastating budget cuts, basic services have been severely affected, including the library system, which is now almost completely shutdown over the weekends. As midterms get underway, a group of students decided to take action to reclaim library space and demand the reversal of the damaging and unnecessary cuts to campus services.

Students, workers and faculty responded to this call to "emancipate" the Anthropology Library and a schedule of teach-ins, some given by prominent faculty members, was soon arranged. Students spent their night in the library studying, participating in teach-ins and debating the future course of the anti-budget cuts movement.

As the night wore on, there was an atmosphere of increasing solidarity and militancy as students and workers shared experiences of the cutbacks and recognized a shared desire, and ability, to take action against the moneyed interests who are out to destroy what's left of public education.

UC-Berkeley junior Jonathan Nunez summed up the mood: "People are angry about what is happening, and increasingly they're ready to do something about it. Most people here have midterms coming up next week and yet the libraries are open less and less. How are we supposed to learn if we can't get access to books? We're being made to pay more for less and we're not going to take it any longer."

In addition to the cutbacks in services, students have been incensed by UC President Mark Yudof's plan to increase student fees by 32 percent, which will propel the cost of a UC undergraduate education over the $10,000 mark for in-state students. There is increasing concern and growing evidence that such proposed fee increases are unnecessary and that Yudof is simply using the perception of crisis to increase revenues that are then used for non-educational purposes.

In this vein, one of the most powerful presentations at this weekend's study-in was given by Professor Robert Meister of UC-Santa Cruz. His latest research reveals the extent to which the UC regents have "financialized" the UC system, using student tuition as collateral for bonds used to finance expensive construction projects. Many of these projects have been undertaken by companies in which one or more regent has a personal financial stake, a further sign of the degree to which public education in California has been corrupted by the profit motive.

In the face of such corruption, the "study-in" was a resounding success and a provocative challenge to the UC administration's campaign of austerity measures. Made to choose between forcibly closing the library and evicting the students and staff, or conceding to the demand to keep the library open, the administration backed down and yielded to the student-led protest.

In the days leading up to the action it emerged that the UC administration had tried to force librarians to "police" the study-in, but in a further sign of the growing solidarity between all sectors of the campus community, the librarians categorically refused to do so. Librarians were present throughout the action, but they made it clear that they were in full support of the student-led protest and had agreed to staff the library solely in order to provide support to students studying for midterms.

Following the inspirational success of the September 24 walkout--in which more than 5,000 students packed Sproul Plaza as hundreds more helped staff picket lines in support of a one-day strike called by University Professional and Technical Employees union (UPTE)--Friday's action signals a further escalation by the burgeoning anti-cuts movement.

On October 24, Berkeley activists will host a statewide conference on public education with a view to building statewide action against the budget cuts. This, plus the growing number of protests at campuses and schools throughout the state is a further sign of rising public anger and a willingness to challenge those who would deny Californians the right to education.

At UC Berkeley, further library actions are being discussed amid an atmosphere of growing student militancy, while students at other UC campuses are contemplating similar actions. Throughout the state, and beyond, the idea that education should be free is rapidly gaining ground.

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