UC students across the state have answered violence from university police and the administration’s indefinite postponement of this week’s Board of Regents meeting with numerous peaceful demonstrations to demand greater student representation and protect the integrity of public education.
In San Francisco’s financial district, UC students joined other local movements on Wednesday to lobby the offices of several Regents and pitch tents in a Bank of America, resulting in the arrest of nearly 100 individuals, most of whom were UC Santa Cruz students. Hundreds of Berkeley, Davis and Merced students also took their concerns to the state capitol, calling lawmakers to prioritize education funding in this year’s budget and place taxes that would benefit the system on the 2012 ballot.
Most UC campuses are also holding actions, including major rallies yesterday at UCLA — where individuals erected 25 tents — and Davis, where 2,000 Aggies occupied a lecture hall overnight. Students at UCSB gathered to join the movement at the Arbor on Wednesday, ultimately marching to Cheadle Hall where an open mic allowed attendees to voice their concerns to campus administration.
Third-year UC Berkeley conservation and resource studies major Megan Escalona, who has been working with the Public Education Coalition group to organize campus protests, said law enforcement’s justification for stifling the encampments clashes with students’ right to utilize what they pay for.
“We were very aware that encampments, specifically tents, were not allowed because it is the Regents’ so-called private property, and that is exactly what we are protesting: the privatization of public education,” Escalona said. “We pay for the maintenance of these grounds — not to mention the salaries of the UCPD officers — and damn it, if we want to occupy our campus that we pay for, then we will.”
While Occupy Cal’s second eviction on Thursday morning was marked by peaceful cooperation and only two arrests, demonstrators challenged the order, leaving books in tents’ places during the day and reestablishing a settlement in Sproul Plaza by nightfall.
Shortly before protesters gathered for general assembly yesterday evening, students and faculty from UC Berkeley’s School of Architecture claimed an additional 30 feet above the plaza using balloons to suspend the tents in midair, brandishing a sign declaring the area “our space.”
Although administration offered students a compromise that would have allowed them to remain in the area for a 24-hour period once a week provided there are no tents or sleeping bags, Escalona said protesters rejected the terms as they would have undermined the movement’s techniques and ideology.
“This is our university, and people brought up examples of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks,” Escalona said. “They all broke the law, but they won and that was the most inspiring thing to me. We basically said, ‘Fuck you; we are going to do it anyway because this is our protest. We are protesting the administration and we are not going to allow you to dictate the conditions of our protest against you.’”
UC Berkeley microbial ecology professor Ignacio Chapela said continuous dismissal of student interests leaves incendiary retaliation as their sole lobbying tactic.
“I think we’ve seen enough over the years and I think this year it’s really obvious that the administration will not move unless there is very serious and unusual pressure,” Chapela said. “[The Regents] are hearing this and they are afraid. They realize that something will have to change if this keeps going the way it is.”
According to Office of the President spokesperson Dianne Klein, however, the threats that prompted the cancellation of the Regents’ meeting were not from student groups, and the decision is unrelated to the clash between student protesters and university police on the Berkeley campus last week.
“We had received credible information that other people who were not students were intent on violent confrontation,” Klein said. “Students and the public at large would be at risk. Their safety was a strong concern, so the meeting was postponed. We welcome students voicing their information; this wasn’t because of student protesters.”
Klein said a date has yet to be set but the postponed meeting will take place before the board’s next regularly-scheduled assembly in January.
The conduct of university officials during recent events has demonstrated a startling lack of empathy with student and faculty expression, fourth-year UC Berkeley gender and women’s studies and English major Kory Barrios said.
“One of my professors said something very interesting, which is that before, in other protests, faculty members would go up to the cops and say, ‘Arrest us’ or ‘You can’t hit our students’ and they acted as buffer,” Barrios said. “But last Wednesday, a lot of the faculty did the same exact thing and police did not respond in the same way. They didn’t give a shit, basically; they still beat professors up.”
According to Escalona, who was present during Occupy Cal’s initial police raid, police actions were characterized by an unnecessary use of violence and protesters did not physically provoke the police.
“Someone saw the officers approaching and everyone started to get ready,” Escalona said. “We formed the human chain, linking arms around the tents. They came in, gave us the order of dispersal and then the riot cops showed up with their shields and batons at the ready and just went to town.”
Many at Berkeley have called for the resignation of Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, who defended the ban on campus encampments and characterized demonstrators’ choice to link arms in resistance as “not non-violent civil disobedience” last Thursday in a campus-wide email. The chancellor sent a subsequent message explaining he was in Asia during the events and not fully aware of the situation, but did not extend an apology to injured faculty and students.
However, UC Berkeley integrative biology professor Tyrone Hayes said Birgeneau’s inept reaction has mobilized the campus’ faculty to stand in solidarity with students, strengthening the movement.
“I think there are many, many people here responding to how inappropriately the administration responded,” Hayes said. “The best thing that happened was it really made people realize that we all have to take part. One of the things I told my students is that whether or not you agree with the politics of the way things are going, things are going to change. Even if you don’t want to out and protest, if you completely ignore it things are going to change without your input.”
Barrios said professors’ dedication to student interests has been a poignant counter to administrative apathy.
“The first thing that came to my head was, ‘Holy fuck,’” Barrios said. “The second thing was a mixture of pride and outrage — outrage because of such systemic forms of power and violence by the state against people who are trying to express themselves but also pride that I kind of felt safe and felt spoken for, that my professors that I interact with every day were willing to put their bodies on the line for my benefit.”
It is of central importance that those throughout the university community engage in the dialogue about the future of the UC, Hayes said.
“My old professor used to have a joke: ‘Don’t let school get in the way of education,’ and that’s what this is really about here,” Hayes said. “This is our future. Even if you’re graduating now, what’s happening now will determine what’s available for your children when it’s time for them to go to college. You can walk away from it, but then don’t complain 10 years from now when you don’t like what it’s turned into.”
Staff writers Michael Dean and Yishian Yao contributed to this article.
To view photos from the Occupy Berkeley and Oakland movements, click here.