A meeting and lunch were held Saturday at Berkeley City College as a follow-up to an early November meeting at which several hundred representatives of California schools gathered to organize against cutbacks to public education.
Participants agreed that even though the protest has the breadth of a social movement and draws support from every sector of education from pre-kindergarten through the university, and including adult education, it has not yet achieved the depth of a social movement in terms of numbers and unity.
Participants reported that successful organizing has been going on at their local campuses. They also reported that energy for fighting the cuts has somewhat ebbed as the school term winds down and students concentrate on their studies.
Organizer Joan Berezin, Global Studies Program coordinator at BCC, said she is hopeful that the movement will grow in the new year, and she sees unity as the key to success.
“Each sector of public education is kept in its own little box,” Berezin said, “and then often one sector is pitted against the other, scrambling for meager funds. If we want to fight the cuts in education, we need to bridge the divide.” The current plan, she said, is to “organize an all-education march, from kindergarten through university, from 5-year-olds to grandmothers, on March 4, 2010, in Sacramento and Los Angeles.”
“Most people have little idea the way the cutbacks have affected students,” said Kristy Morrison, a participant at both BCC meetings and a teacher at San Francisco’s Galileo High School. She cited her own experience as an example: “I have 46 students in one class, 41 in another. Parents are losing their jobs, grades are going down—students don’t see that they are valued at all. I tell them ‘education is power,’ but I feel like I’m lying to them. Even if they work hard, they won’t be able to afford a four-year college. In the past, many students from low-income families could begin inexpensively at a community college and then transfer to a four-year college. But now even that pathway is blocked.”
One of the issues debated by organizers was the appropriate target for protest actions. At the University of California, research into university finances by UC professors has shown that the administration has much better alternatives available than cutting classes and staff and raising fees. Hence, the organizers argued that when UC President Mark Yudof counseled the protestors to take their complaints to Sacramento, he was deflecting attention from the poor quality of leadership that his own administration has provided.
In California’s community college system, on the other hand, some of the protest organizers said there is not much administrative/bureaucratic “fat” that can be removed in order to restore funding for valid educational purposes. For example, no one in the community college system receives an income comparable to those of the high-paid administrators at UC. Nicky Gonzalez Yuen, a teacher at De Anza College and a Peralta Community College Trustee, who was present at the BCC lunch, said, “Nothing is going to really change until we change the state budgeting process and we do away with minority decision making in the Legislature. Until that happens, we are screwed.”
Berezin didn’t disregard the need for major changes of this kind, but said current focus is on the statewide actions planned for March 4.
“Local actions just don’t get the coverage, they don’t get the clout,” she said. “We need a massive education demonstration.”
“If we do not fight, you will not even recognize community colleges five years from now,” said BCC Multimedia Arts co-chair Joe Doyle.