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‘No cuts, no fees, education must be free!’

Published Mar 16, 2012 10:33 PM
WW photo: Judy Greensapn

Outraged by cuts in funding and the tripling of tuition at community colleges and state universities, students, faculty and other educators held protests throughout California on March 1. The local actions culminated four days later in a statewide demonstration in Sacramento and a brief sit-in, led by Occupy for Education forces, in the Capitol rotunda.

More than 50 people had marched the 99 miles from Oakland’s Oscar Grant Plaza, the center for Occupy Oakland, holding rallies in several cities along the way. Demanding full funding for grades K-12 as well as higher education, they joined with thousands of students and education activists from all over California in Sacramento’s Southside Park on March 5.

Many came from student government organizations to participate in the “March for March” protest. Occupy for Education, a statewide coalition of college students, faculty and union activists, brought the strong demands of the 99% to this protest.

Chanting “No cuts, no fees, education must be free!” the marchers blocked traffic and drew attention to the education crisis in California. A late-morning rally was held on the west steps of the Capitol. Speaker after speaker urged people to support the “millionaires’ tax” initiative that unions and other organizations are trying to place on the ballot.

A politician who addressed the crowd was soundly booed and heckled when he expressed support for Gov. Jerry Brown’s attempt to get funds for education by raising taxes on the 99%. The students and their supporters made it clear that working people and students should not bear the brunt of this economic crisis. “Banks got bailed out, schools got sold out” was the strong message brought to the State House.

Following the rally, hundreds of Occupy for Education activists, union members and other supporters stood on line for more than an hour to enter the Capitol. Despite a large police presence, protesters were able to occupy the Capitol rotunda and adjacent hallways for several hours.

Occupy organizers held a General Assembly by turning on the “people’s microphone,” the only sound system that can’t be taken away by the state, and organized the crowd to formulate demands. After small group discussions and several “mic checks,” protesters decided on six demands, including pass the millionaires’ tax, cancel all student debt, fully fund all levels of public education, and full and equal access to education for undocumented students. Discussions were also held to decide on a long list of future actions.

Meanwhile, hundreds of local and state police mobilized to intimidate activists rallying outside the building. They took away protesters’ signs, allegedly because the “rally permit” had expired. Inside the Capitol, after most people had left and the building was officially closed at 6 p.m., 78 education activists were arrested.

Occupy for Education activists in Northern California are already organizing to continue this struggle. The next meeting will be held at noon on March 17 at 2070 Allston Way in downtown Berkeley. n