UC Berkeley—where the idea of the March 4 Day of Action incubated last October—erupted into a riot of noise and colors Thursday afternoon, when more than 1,000 people marched from Sproul Plaza to Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland.
Students, faculty, staff and workers protested the budget cuts, fee hikes and furloughs in public education, chanting slogans, waving signs and playing loud music as they walked down Telegraph Avenue.
Interstate-880 in downtown Oakland was temporarily shut down when a small group broke off from the marchers and a little after 5 p.m. walked into the highway where they were chased away by police in riot gear. The California Highway Patrol said lanes was reopened around 5:30 p.m., but the incident backed up traffic in all directions.
In Berkeley, rally organizers estimated the crowd to be around 2,500, although the Berkeley Police Department said it was closer to 1,000.
The crowd crossed safely into Oakland around 1:30 p.m., and Berkeley police reported that the march to the border had been peaceful.
The day started with picketers stationed at every entrance on campus, which some students said had essentially shut down the university. However, later in the morning students went about their daily activities—attending classes, going to the gym and strolling about with friends, unmindful of the action going on at the entrance of Sproul Plaza on Telegraph Avenue and Bancroft Way.
“I see so many students in the library, in classrooms—they are missing out on an opportunity,” public high school student Raphael Cardenas said to the crowd from a makeshift stage assembled at that intersection.
A few Latino students got up to do a symbolic dance not far away from the Subway shop that had its windows smashed a week ago when a dance party on the Berkeley campus turned violent, causing two students to get arrested.
Marika Goodrich, one of the two who were arrested by Berkeley police for initiating a riot, assaulting an officer and resisting arrest, recalled the incident.
“Thursday night I went to this dance party and I was unjustly arrested on Telegraph and Dwight,” said Goodrich, a senior in American Studies. “I was struck by a baton which caused my nose to bleed. I was struck all over my body when I was only exercising my right to free speech. My experience was intensely painful and angry. But I am not the first they have attempted to silence and I will not be the last. Every bone in my body is a sign of their attempts to silence us. But we are not afraid ... Man, today we are not going to be silenced. We are fighting for the future.”
“Take a look around you—ages, colors, gender,” said Nancy Kato, assistant registrar at Boalt Hall, told the crowd. “All of us are united as workers, students and community members. Our movement is national and international.”
Students spoke of emails and letters of encouragement trickling in from their peers and supporters in Moscow, Brazil and Mexico.
“They are going after public schools because they want our youth to join their wars and fill their prisons,” Kato said. “We will not let the university or the bureaucracy or the police intimidate us. Tax the rich and the big businesses!”
Owen, an exchange student at UC Berkeley from Singapore who did not want to give his last name, stood on the curb filming as the march kicked off.
“We don’t see this in Singapore,” he said. “It’s illegal there. I am just a bit shocked by the magnitude of the whole protest. I am not sure if it’s good or bad, it’s just a channel to vent all your frustrations I guess.”
As the marchers walked down Telegraph, store owners and passers-by stopped to take pictures and cheer them on. Students at Willard Middle School clapped and waved from their balcony and came out to hug their classmates, who had received permission from their parents to join the rally.
A group of protesters stopped in the middle of Telegraph and Dwight Way for an impromptu dance party under a massive black banner, with Daft Punk and Cut Copy blaring in the background.
“I think this is a different type of rally than what Berkeley has seen,” said Marika Aiyer, one of the students who took part in the Wheeler Hall occupation last November. “A lot of students have walked out of classes—I think a real effort was made this time. But we let that energy flow out naturally. Nobody was forced to do anything.”
Aiyer said that students had started planning the event at an education conference on Oct. 24 last year and mobilized through Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites. Students from UC Santa Cruz, UC San Diego, and the California State Universities including San Francisco State also took part in the Day of Action, with violence breaking out in some cases.
Mario Medina, a third year transfer student at UC Berkeley, was one of the students leading the march.
“I am marching because I want to go to law school, because I want my one-year-old niece to have a chance at education,” he said. “Right now, these cuts are affecting me financially. My rent, food, tuition, everything.”
Latin American Studies sophomore Edgar Quiroz-Medrano held an “End Racism at UC” poster next to Medina. “The UC system is made up of an overwhelming majority of white administrators which leaves only a few administrators of color,” he said. “This needs to change.”
Although an AC Transit bus blocking the entire width of Telegraph at Ward Street momentarily stopped the march from progressing, it was finally moved to make way for the protesters.
AFSCME organizer Maricruz Manzanarez said that union workers had not gone on strike.
“They are taking part during lunch break, but everyone is talking about it,” she said.
Paper mache dolls, puppets and other handiwork dotted the march, making bold statements about the cuts.
UC President Mark Yudof, whose office at the Frank Ogawa Plaza was the destination for Thursday’s marchers, released a statement supporting a peaceful protest.
My heart and my support are with everybody and anybody who wants to stand up for public education,” Yudof said. “I salute those who are making themselves heard today in a peaceful manner on behalf of a great cause.”
Our public institutions, from kindergarten to the doctoral level, have shaped our nation’s course and are an essential piece of the American fabric. Here at UC, through the Master Plan for Higher Education, we have created a model emulated throughout the world. It’s time that model started receiving the support it deserves in the place of its birth.” California currently faces a $20 billion budget shortfall which has resulted in millions of dollars being slashed from public education statewide.
Yudof went on to quote his predecessor Clark Kerr, who he said believed “higher education should never be regarded as a cost, but rather as an investment.”
“The university is an investment, not only in an individual’s well being, but also in the public good,” Yudof said. “Public education drives a society’s ability to progress and to prosper. This state’s great public universities hold the key to our economic and social growth and are deserving of support by all Californians.”
Berkeley public school teachers, who once again face the threat of pink slips this year, rallied in front of Old City Hall, which is also the Berkeley Unified School District headquarters.
Alma Owens,a teacher at Martin Luther King Middle School, and Angela Barra, a Berkeley High parent, stood on the sidewalk holding a sign saying “education is needed for a democracy.” Paula Phillips, president of the Berkeley classified employees’ union, said that the cuts to Berkeley Unified had resulted in layoffs of classified workers for each of the past three years. “And an extreme workload for those who continue to work for the district,” she said.
Raymond Barglow contributed reporting to this story.