Struggle heats up in California

November 20, 2009

Todd Chretien reports on protests at UCLA and campuses across the University of California system during three days of strikes and actions by students and staff.

NEARLY 2,000 students from University of California campuses--including Berkeley, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Riverside, Irvine and San Diego--converged on UCLA's campus November 19 to confront the UC Board of Regents as it voted to increase tuition by 32 percent next school year.

Several hundred students surrounded the Regents' meeting, chanting, "UC Regents, I see racists!" and "Lay off Yudof," referring to UC President Mark Yudof. Workers and students disrupted the meeting, and 14 people were arrested, as large numbers of police lined up to defend the Regents.

California Highway Patrol officers were even brought on campus for crowd control. Three Black students were reportedly Tasered in altercations with campus police.

After the Regents voted for the fee hike, students held a die-in, blocking the busy intersection of Wilshire and Westwood for several minutes. But protests began earlier in the day, even before the sun came up, when around 30 students occupied Campbell Hall with a banner reading, "In solidarity with university occupations everywhere."

Student protesters at UCLA have faced tear gas, tasers and arrests
Student protesters at UCLA have faced tear gas, tasers and arrests

The action came in the middle of a three-day system-wide protest, anchored around a strike by members of the University Professional and Technical Employees union at UCLA and UC Berkeley, which was supported by Coalition of University Employees union members and others.

On Wednesday, around 500 students, faculty and staff blockaded the main entrances to UC Santa Cruz, and more than 150 students occupied Kresge Town Hall in solidarity with the actions in LA. On Thursday, over 250 occupied the Clark Kerr administration building.

At UC Berkeley, two busloads of students from the UC Davis campus joined over 2,000 Berkeley students, staff and faculty at a rally and march to send off a bus caravan to join the protests at UCLA. Later in the day, some 200 students occupied a building at UC Davis, and police were threatening mass arrests late Thursday night.

At Berkeley, in an ominous development, police have charged a student for "incitement to riot," which could be a felony charge--and they moved aggressively to break up an attempted occupation of the Engineering Library. Police also threatened students with arrest if they erected a tent city in historic Sproul Plaza, the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement during the 1960s.

What you can do

Many of the week's activities are listed on the UC Solidarity Web site. Students, staff, faculty and instructors in the UC system can sign a petition showing their support for the strike.

For more on the October 24 organizing conference at UC Berkeley and the call for a March 4 strike and day of action for UC campuses, the California State University system, community colleges, and pre-K through 12th grade public education, see the California Campaign to Save Public Education Web site.

The police even shut down a planned teach-in in the Bear's Lair, a campus café--on the grounds that the students were not authorized to use the cafeteria for the purposes of an educational event.

In response, students on the strike planning committee have issued an emergency call for a rally and march to the UC police department on Friday to oppose police intimidation.

Action also spread beyond the UCs, as around 100 students at San Francisco State University occupied the administration building for the afternoon, disrupting campus business. Nearby, over 500 students at City College of San Francisco marched through the campus before confronting the vice chancellor to demand that the administration support the call for a March 4 statewide strike to defend public education.

The Regents' vote is certainly a defeat for the movement to defend public education. But the statewide response shows that the movement is growing--and points to a large mobilization for the March 4 statewide strike and day of action to defend public education.

John Osmond contributed to this article.

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