Posted December 16, 2009
On October 24th, students, workers, faculty, and staff of California schools gathered in a statewide meeting to decide the future of their movement. This movement, built on the history of protracted struggle and the recent upsurge in resistance to budget cuts and tuition hikes, called for a three day strike starting on November 18th and continuing until November 20th to protest the regents meeting at which a thirty-two percent tuition hike was going to be proposed. This three day strike has continued since the 18th with a various number of actions including building occupations to keep library spaces open, sit-in occupations at campus buildings resembling actions of the 1960s to create and open and free space for grassroots education and learning, demonstrations against police brutality, and demonstrations against the administration.
These actions started mostly on UC campuses, but spread throughout the state and inspired students around the country. The students and workers in California have achieved success in both maintaining unity while respecting political differences, as well as focusing on and building for a mass movement. They have provided a lot of lessons on how we, as students and workers, can achieve serious concrete victories. After the first week of occupations, universities began to leave libraries open twenty-four hours – as they had been in the past during finals – deciding not to risk occupations. Students still occupied these buildings, however, and made them into free spaces during those occupations.
One of the most significant actions since the 18th and the end of the three day strike happened on the campus of UC Berkeley. Students at UC Berkeley occupied Wheeler hall for the second time. In an event called Open University, they pledged to keep the doors open and to make the hall into a free and open democratic space for students. They held workshops, social events, discussions, speakers, and occupied the building without incident until December 11th when the occupation was shut down by police in the early morning as they locked the doors behind them and arrested students, most of whom were sleeping or studying for finals. This occurred the morning of the 11th when Boots Riley, the well known hip-hop artist and member of the band aptly named The Coup, was scheduled to perform that night. Sixty-six arrests were made; many were released with citations, while eight were held for arraignment. Three of these eight are now out with two having their charges dropped.
Students continued to organize and held the concert anyways. The events of that morning were still sharp in many of their minds. Some of the students that were arrested spoke to the crowd of 150 that gathered. The five-day long occupation (December 7th – December 11th) may bring back memories of 1960s sit-ins that achieved very much the same goals.
On December 9th, Students at San Francisco State University occupied the business building on their campus attempting to achieve the same goals as the UC Berkeley Students. These students were met with force by the university administration as a video on their website demonstrates.
At the statewide meeting on October 24th, the assembly voted to endorse March 4th as a statewide day of action to defend public education. As students were planning the final details of Open University and the SFSU occupation, regional coordinating committees met the weekend of December 5th to begin organizing for March 4th. These coordinating committees decided that to support making March 4th a national day of action, but what they were unaware of was that people across the country, inspired by the recent actions in California, had already begun preliminary work towards that national call.
On December 14th, the California Coordinating Committee released a call for March 4th to be a National Day of Action to Defend Public Education. Today, on December 16th, an ad-hoc body comprised of students, workers, and other activists released the nationally organized call for a national day of action on March 4th to defend education. This body consisted of students who participated in the New School occupations, students and workers from across the country, student activists from ongoing campaigns in North Carolina, Chicago, Milwaukee, and various other locations (see the endorsers list for a better picture). Students and workers are beginning to unite across the country to fight back against budget cuts and demand a better world.
Is March 4th going to be a turning point? That is a question that no one can answer concretely until March 5th. But what is clear is that we have a long history of struggle to learn from. This history is not taught in public schools, and barely taught in higher education. The weekend, the 8 hour work day, employee healthcare, pensions, retirements, and a various collection of other benefits that we all aim to have one day are victories won in struggle. As students, we must understand this long history of resistance. March 4th will play a role in the history of student movement, just as the past month’s actions in California have, just as the student activism of the 1960s had. The extent of the significance of these actions is yet to be determined, but what is clearer, now more than ever, is their context. The greatest contribution that California has given us – besides a model of organizing – is a concrete understanding of the context of future actions.
This economic system has exposed its own contradictions, as it has always done, and California has shown us that not only can we fight back – but we must. California has provided us with a response, with an answer. This answer rings throughout history, a history that is not simply static, but wholly dynamic. We are the agents of history. Every action we take forms the mold of history. Every time we stand up and demand justice, we change the face of society. Every time we join together, united in common cause and in the spirit of solidarity, we recognize that yes, we are the makers of history and yes, we can be more powerful than Wall Street, Washington, or the Pentagon. If we understand this, we can – and will – begin to not only demand a better world, but to organize and fight for it, and in turn, make it into a reality.
For students and education workers (everyone from service jobs to professor) this struggle continues on March 4th. All out for March 4th!