Schools, classrooms, corridors and cafeterias in Berkeley are buzzing with excitement over the March 4 Day of Action in California. An idea born out of the Oct. 24 education conference at the UC Berkeley campus, Thursday’s rally has evolved into a statewide movement to protest budget cuts, fee hikes and furloughs in public education.
“We see the rally as an important first step that for the first time brings all of education together in one protest,” said Joan Berezin, who teaches Global Studies at Berkeley City College. “In the past we have fought group by group—K-12, community colleges, CSUs and UCs. That has often resulted in the politicians playing us off against each other. We want to make sure that we are all seen and heard--that the politicians all over California get the message that these cuts are not okay.”
Berkeley City College students plan to march throughout their building at noon Thursday and then take a bus or the BART over to the Civic Center in San Francisco, where a rally is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.
Berezin, who will speak at the rally, said many of the students who were organizing around the budget cuts had never done anything like that before.
“We hope that we are training a new generation of organizers and activists,” she said.
Over the last few months, BCC students and teachers have gone out to churches, unions, schools, farmers’ markets, BART stations and hospitals to educate the community about how the cuts were affecting public education.
Marc Lispi, who teaches English at Berkeley City College, said the rally in San Francisco was being held at 5 p.m. to give everybody a chance to participate.
“We could have pushed for the rally earlier in the day, but then that would have forced teachers and workers to either take the day off, call in sick or go on strike, none of which most people are willing to do,” he said. “And it would basically mean that most of K-12 would not attend. So it is in the evening, after school and after work to have the greatest turnout.”
Dozens of classes have been cut throughout the Peralta College district, part-time teachers, counselors and custodians laid off and bus routes slashed, making it difficult for students to get to college.
“This was by far the most crowded first weeks of classes ever, with some classes having 20 to 30 additional students because other sections had been cut,” Lispi said. “Many students just didn't get the classes they needed.”
The situation is just as bleak at UC Berkeley, which is planning its own rally at noon at Sproul Plaza. From there students will march to Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, where UC President Mark Yudof has his office.
“We expect pretty much anyone interested in keeping up with the issue of public education in California to be there,” said Sue Le Jue, a lecturer of physical education in Berkeley. “This is not just about UC, it’s about everyone. The state of California is funding money for prisons instead of education. There’s a lot at stake right now. We need transparency in the UC budget, a change in priorities at UC and in the entire state of education. You can’t keep building buildings and laying people off.”
A protest against an expansion of Durant Hall last Thursday turned violent when an angry crowd went into the streets and set trash cans ablaze, even breaking the glass windows of a sandwich shop.
UC Berkeley administration, faculty and students have condemned the incident, which led to two arrests.
“The real fight is in Sacramento,” said Nik Dixit, an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley and Policy Director of Cal Berkeley Democrats. “That’s where the budget cuts are being made, and that’s where solutions must be found. I personally believe that violent protesters are criminals and don’t represent the student population. We support non-violent protest. These protesters are delegitimizing the thousands of students who are speaking out every day.”
Dixit and other students are also gearing up for the rally. Students are expected to form picket lines at all the entrances on campus from 7 a.m. to noon.
Cathy Campbell, President of the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, said teachers from the Berkeley public elementary and middle schools will be leafleting at their school sites in the morning and gathering outside district headquarters at 2132 Martin Luther King Jr. Way around 3:30 p.m. to answer questions about the cuts.
Berkeley Unified School District has slashed $8 million over the last two years and is facing a $2.7 million deficit in the 2010-2011 fiscal year.
All teachers on temporary contracts have been released. Campbell said she was concerned about further cuts to the Berkeley Adult School, which lost $1.5 million last year.
Rally organizers said they were hopeful the protest would remain peaceful.
“At this point the biggest worry is the weather,” Berezin said. “We hope it will cooperate.”
Ray Barglow contributed reporting to this story
Some of Thursday’s events include:
East Bay-Oakland regional rally
• 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.—rally at Frank Ogawa Plaza (in front of Oakland City Hall, 14th and Broadway)
• March to the Ogawa Plaza Rally from:
-UC Berkeley: 12 p.m. Rally at Bancroft and Telegraph, followed by march
-Laney College: 11 a.m. rally, followed by march
-Fruitvale BART: assemble at 11 a.m., march at 11:30 a.m.
• Travel to San Francisco regional rally (See regional listing below)
San Francisco regional rally
• 1:30 p.m. rally at San Francisco Civic Center
• 5 p.m. rally at San Francisco Civic Center
For a complete list of events visit: this website