Student Protesters Gear Up for Oct. 24 Conference at UC Berkeley

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday October 01, 2009 - 05:27:00 PM
Students gathered in Lower Sproul Plaza Wednesday evening to plan for an Oct. 24 conference at UC Berkeley regarding the university's budget cuts, furloughs and fee hikes.
Riya Bhattacharjee
Students gathered in Lower Sproul Plaza Wednesday evening to plan for an Oct. 24 conference at UC Berkeley regarding the university's budget cuts, furloughs and fee hikes.

About 200 students gathered in Lower Sproul Plaza Wednesday evening to discuss the upcoming Oct. 24 mobilizing conference at UC Berkeley, potentially the next big event planned in protest of the university’s budget cuts, furloughs and fee hikes. 

Various student groups who took part in the Sept. 24 faculty and student walkout in the 10-campus UC system organized Wednesday’s general assembly in front of Eshelman Hall for students to brainstorm ideas for future protests or other forms of action. 

A group of UC Berkeley students moderating the meeting described it as “an open forum for all groups to come together,” calling the walkout the “first time faculty, staff and students had come together in a show of solidarity.” 

Later that night, students met to form three committees—the general assembly committee, an Oct. 24 committee and a peace committee which would ensure that all future protests were non-violent. 

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and Executive Vice-Chancellor and Provost George W. Breslauer sent an e-mail to faculty, staff, students and members of the campus community thanking them for the “orderly, peaceful and effective way in which the Sept. 24 budget protest actions were held on and around campus.” 

The letter acknowledged that although a large number of people took part in the day’s actions, there was minimal disruption to university operations and classes. 

“Berkeley is proud of being the home of the Free Speech Movement and yesterday’s protests exemplified the best of our tradition of effective civil action,” the letter said. “Your actions have sent a clear and important message to our legislators and to the California public that the State’s disinvestment in public higher education must stop. We hope that we can build on these actions together to continue to inform the public and the State legislature that cuts to the University of California undermine our state’s future and that it is in the interests of all of the people of our great State of California to reinvest 

in public higher education.” 

UC Berkeley is facing a 20 percent cut—about $637 million—in its budget for the 2009-10 fiscal year as part of the budget agreement between the legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The university’s current budget is $2.6 billion. 

Birgeneau announced Thursday that UC Berkeley had hired Bain & Company to help identify ways the campus could increase efficiency and cut costs. 

Representatives from CalSERVE, the Solidarity Alliance, the Associated Students of the University of California, AFSCME and other Bay Area colleges and organizations spoke at the meeting, promising support for the conference. 

Although many proposals were tossed around—ranging from benefit concerts to statewide strikes to rallying outside California Hall in an attempt to shut it down—most students stressed it was important to focus on the conference. 

Ten minutes into the meeting, students from the Oct. 24 committee handed out invitations to the conference. The slip of paper said that all “UC, CSU, CC and K-12 students, workers, and teachers were invited to the all day conference which would seek to “democratically decide on a state-wide action plan capable of winning this struggle,” which would define the future of public education. 

“Why is this important?” asked Eric Blanc, a student at City College of San Francisco who is a member of the Oct. 24 committee. “Because we have a huge opportunity, a historic moment to win this statewide struggle.” 

Organizers are trying to get the word out by various means, including Facebook, and through campus student groups throughout California. 

Blanc announced to cheers from the audience that the San Francisco Labor Council had endorsed the conference. 

Students also revealed the movement’s two main goals—to defend public education and reform the structure of the UC system—and six demands, including no student fee increases; no layoffs or furloughs; no paycuts to workers earning less than $40,000 a year; full disclosure of the budget; the halt of efforts to privatize California public education; and the election of UC regents by students, faculty and staff. 

“[Sept.] 24th was beautiful,” said Maricruz Manzanarez, representing the UC custodians union Local 3299. “It never happened before at UC Berkeley. We hope the numbers increase by the day. It’s time for Birgeneau to come out of the bushes and talk to us and make the right decision.” 

Union members handed out petitions which asked the university to stop laying off custodial staff and furloughs. 

A member of the university’s Professional and Technical Employees Union, who did not want to use her name for fear of retribution, said her union had been without a contract for 15 months because of the budget cuts. 

Students also emphasized the need for a coordinating committee which would play an important role in any imminent protests.