Newly inaugurated California Governor Jerry Brown began his rule by announcing a $12 billion cut to services, with $1.4 billon coming from higher education. This new round of cuts creates an opportune situation to build for a March 2 statewide day of action for public education in California, and to include disenfranchised members from the community in the struggle for public services — education, pay, pensions, healthcare, an end to police brutality and repression of students and impoverished workers. Brown’s cuts follow an 8 percent fee increase for University of California (UC) students, which led to protests at the UC Regents meeting at UC San Francisco on November 17. Protesters piled police barricades in a heap and stormed the meeting building, causing police to use pepper-spray. UCPD Office Kemper pulled a gun on unarmed students after he got separated from his squad.
Now, students are facing repression from both the state and the UC system, all because we refuse to accept the myth of “shared sacrifice” that the state likes to use to legitimize austerity. The claim is that “everyone needs to make sacrifices” so that the state can function. The implicit message conveyed through Officer Kemper’s use of force is that students must pay their fees, or the police will shoot. Police repression is nothing new — these displays of force are aimed frighten new activists from involvement in the struggle.
The recent round of student repression includes student conduct charges against a UC Santa Cruz student who was arrested after charging and entering the building at the UCSF protest, two misdemeanor charges against a UC Berkeley student who allegedly assaulted a police officer by stomping on his head and chest (even though a video only shows the student’s head, and his shoes fell off in the maelstrom), a felony charge against a student from UC Merced who allegedly removed Officer Kemper’s baton (aforementioned) and beat him over the head with it (although there is a video that shows Kemper dislodged his own baton and sent it flying through the air), and student conduct charges against students at UC Riverside for chalking up the school with anti-budget cuts propaganda.
I spoke with a student organizer from London recently who told me that the protests in the UK are successful because students are working closely with other disenfranchised members of the community — laid off or underpaid workers are going to organizing meetings with students and sharing their personal stories, and students are responding with rich fervor and anger. Here at UC Berkeley, Chancellor Birgeneau recently announced the layoff of 150 employees. Ultimately, those are the people we need to reach out to build struggles akin to those in other parts of the world.
Students have an increasing amount of financial pressure to deal with, and many are being empowered by the actions of committed activists who are finding new ways to reach out to these newly disillusioned members of the university and beyond. In order to keep the movement going, activists need to see the victories that have come out of the struggle in the last two years, and be able to take advantage of the fact that there is a liberal in office to show students that both dominant political parties don’t give a shit about public education or services. The only way to organize against austerity effectively is to continue to organize outside of the administration to create a base of radical activists who are devoted to the fight against our repressive system.
There are hundreds of committed activists working on the Berkeley campus, and thousands worldwide. We have reached a new period in the struggle; we need to keep it positive and creative in order to build this base of committed individuals — from students, to workers, to community members, in order to empower people as a whole to take control of our situation. Fuck a slice — we want the whole cake.
For more info, check mobilizeberkeley.com.