Police attack SFSU occupation

December 11, 2009

Alex Fu and Siddharth Patel report from San Francisco on a building occupation at SFSU that ended in a police assault and dozens of arrests.

IN THE early morning hours of December 10, police in full riot gear attacked a peaceful building occupation at San Francisco State University (SFSU) that was organized to protest budget cuts, furloughs for faculty and fee hikes.

The police broke into the business administration building through a window and proceeded to clear it with guns drawn, endangering the safety of all the activists. Officers forced open doors from the inside and violently shoved aside students picketing the entrances on the outside, throwing some to the ground. In all, 28 students were cited and released, on charges ranging from traffic citations, to failure to disperse, to trespass.

Clearly, the SFSU administration decided to both ignore the grievances of students and collude with police to violently remove them.

The occupation of the building began early Wednesday morning. About 20 students barricaded themselves inside, declaring an end to "business as usual" and presenting a list of demands. Hundreds of students came out to hold pickets at each of the building's entrances throughout the day.

SFSU students linked arms and encircled the occupied business administration building
SFSU students linked arms and encircled the occupied business administration building (Labor Video Project)

At the high point of the action, over 300 students formed a human chain that circled the building. Cash-strapped students found ways to donate blankets, food and drinks to both the occupiers and those picketing outside. Members of the community, faculty and staff came out to show support, and protest organizers from City College of San Francisco, University of California Berkeley and University of California Santa Cruz came to campus to participate in the solidarity actions.

Back at UC Berkeley, just over two weeks after 40 students occupied Wheeler Hall on the UC Berkeley campus, the building has been occupied again, this time by a larger group of students proclaiming an "open university."

The occupation began on December 7 at around 2:30 p.m. when students took over the main auditorium in Wheeler and the entrance lobby, decorating both with banners and signs declaring the building to be liberated space. An extensive schedule of teach-ins, study sessions and other events have been planned, and on Friday night, Boots Riley of The Coup is scheduled to perform.

What you can do

Support the peaceful occupiers by calling the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Dr. J.E. Saffold at 415-338-2032 and demanding that all charges be dropped and no disciplinary action be taken against the protesters.

As a result of the drastic cuts to basic services throughout the UC system, the semester at UC Berkeley has been cut short by a week. This final week has been renamed a "reading/review/recitation week"--or more commonly, a "dead week."

The protesters at Wheeler have called for students and workers to reclaim the week as a "live week" in a show of defiance to the administration, and as tangible proof that our universities can be run in the interests of all, and not just those of corporate fat cats and self-serving administrators.

The SFSU occupation took place in the midst of registration for spring classes, as more and more class sections have been cut and fees are increasing. The idea that galvanized the very frustrated student population is the idea that if they take our classes, we'll take their buildings.

"I came out because I support my friends who are a part of this," said student Keri-Ann Oddman. "I'm probably going to get dropped from financial aid, and I'm basically done with it. It's either action now, or they're going to walk all over us."

When some of the occupiers were released from detention, they spoke out. "Today, we saw an increased excitement and involvement in student activism," said senior Aaron Salazar. "And that is what gave a lot of us our endurance to carry on. From here, we need to take those people that showed up and plug them into organizations, so that this energy can grow and materialize into a victory for workers around the state."

Freshman Napaquetzalli Martinez added: "The most inspiring part of the occupation was that it was part of the larger working-class struggle, not only about the cuts at our school."

THE OCCUPATION was an important indicator of the campus mood as organizers move toward a day of strikes and protests to defend public education, set for next March 4, and to involve not the UC and CSU system campuses, but teachers, parents and students in pre-K through 12th grade education. At SFSU, mini-General Assemblies were held at each entry point to the occupied building, where ideas for March 4 were discussed.

The administration at SFSU has demonstrated that it has no desire to engage with students about even the most basic demands, such as restoring a several-thousand-dollar budget for the Ethnic Studies Student Resource and Empowerment Center. The shameful fact is that many of these administrators enjoyed big raises on top of their large salaries and perk-packages over the past few years, even as classes have been cut, faculty and workers laid off, and fees hiked.

One important criticism of the occupation has come from faculty and students involved in the campus movement--the action was organized in secret by a small group of activists, and intentionally excluding other leading campus activists. The result was that the number of occupiers was small, and outside support had to be put together hastily. This only made it easier for the police to break up the occupation.

Secondly, the occupation was organized on the same day as a planned SFSU General Assembly--and actually caused its cancellation. Dozens of students, faculty and staff had been planning for the general assembly as the next step in building a democratic, united movement on campus.

Building the General Assembly is still an urgent task--the next one will take place on Wednesday, December 16 (postponed from the previous week). A united, democratic effort is the best hope of building for mobilizing students, faculty and staff to strike and shut down SFSU's campus on March 4--and of moving beyond to get the budget cuts taken back.

Nick Kardahji contributed to this article.

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