A May Day “funeral” in Long Beach

May 10, 2012

TONY, A California State University (CSU) Dominguez student, didn't let the constant presence of Long Beach Police Department surveillance put a damper on his May Day.

Tony, who marched along with more than 150 Occupy Long Beach participants and allies, repeatedly waved and said, "Hi, mom!," towards a Long Beach Police Department helicopter which followed the contingent throughout its march. "What else can you do?" he asked while laughing. "It's ridiculous. You would think we were trying to rob the Queen Mary or something. Whatever, I'm having fun out here. We need to change this society."

Though Occupy Long Beach's march and rally was much smaller in size when compared to its kin to the north in downtown Los Angeles, economic inequality and immigrant rights were the main focus of its marches, mirroring LA's main themes for the day.

Strategic stops along the march route in front of banks such as Citibank and Wells Fargo led to familiar chants of "Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!" The march also stopped outside of the city's Federal Building, which houses the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office. After the march concluded, a rally was held at City Hall. CSU Long Beach students who biked over from campus and met up with Occupy protesters held signs challenging rising tuition fees and less class offerings in the CSU system.

Meanwhile, across town, more than 150 Long Beach City College (LBCC) students and faculty gathered at a "funeral" on campus. The mock "Death of Education" rally was replete with pallbearers, black clothing, eulogies, tombstones and a casket-led funeral procession.

The symbolic death was a tribute of sorts to the 55 classified staff laid off the week prior by the college's Board of Trustees. The positions targeted include instructional aides and custodians. The board also decided to ax hours and pay for 96 other positions. Students at the rally also protested the soon-to-be summer fee hike from $36 to $46 per unit.

Community colleges such as LBCC have seen their enrollment numbers swell recently due to the continued rising costs of attending the state's public universities.

Ironically, May Day wasn't just a day for fightbacks against austerity in Long Beach. While Occupiers were still congregating downtown, the same day, the Long Beach Unified Board of Education unanimously voted to end the district's Head Start program. The program will end in the 2013-14 academic year and save the district $225,000 annually, according to a Press-Telegram report.

Like their counterparts at LBCC, the Board of Education also took aim at janitors. The body voted to "reassign" 22 lead custodians in the district to "basic" custodians.

The savage cuts being laid at the doorstep of the district's workers, parents and students will continue. LBUSD officials claim they must cut an additional $20 million from the district's $700 million budget to remain solvent.

Clearly, not everyone is buying in. Joe Boyd, executive director of the Teachers Association of Long Beach, told the Press-Telegram that LBUSD is dropping Head Start as a ploy to justify further attacks against the union's collective bargaining rights.

Last year, LBUSD teachers suffered 500 layoffs and endured five furlough days. According to LBUSD officials, unless teachers agree to proposed caps placed on district contributions to employee health care, more furloughs and layoffs are on the way.
Michael Brown, Long Beach, Calif.

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