Public Comment

Learning on the March

By Michael Diehl
Thursday March 11, 2010 - 06:18:00 PM

I decided to join the student march from UC Berkeley down to Oakland's Frank Ogawa Plaza. From there I joined the contingent that went by the UC administration building in downtown Oakland on Franklin and continued to follow when they headed to what turned out to be highway entrance to 880 on 11th St., not knowing the intention was to march on the highway and to block traffic during rush hour at 5pm. 

I joined the march in solidarity as an ex-elementary/early childhood teacher and to educate students and others about the other cuts that are impacting the very poor in the state of California. As a community organizer for Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency working with others who like myself have directly experienced homelessness and economic destitution, I have been active in the campaign to protest to the Alameda county cuts to general assistance, leaving zero income after April for over 5000 people in the county that have been in many ways the direct result of the state's grabbing revenues from the county to balance the state budget. In that capacity I am still teaching in another fashion but more on the adult education level.  

One program threatened with closure by the state education cuts is the Berkeley Adult School. There as well as to Berkeley City College I have referred many of my clients to get their resumes done and to get basic computer skills so as to better be able to get back into the job market and to self-advocate. These cuts were protested in a separate march along University and downtown Shattuck with Berkeley school teachers but I decided to protest the cuts to the Adult School and to general assistance and Cal Works by joining the march from UC Berkeley into Oakland. 

It seems in much of the media coverage of the protest much focus was put on the action blocking traffic which was cast in a bad light and overshadowed the main march actions. I noticed that when the contingent that broke off from the rally at Frank Ogawa Plaza most put away the signs about the education cuts and instead several were carrying the black flag of anarchism and many wore either black or red scarves on their faces. Yes, many students joined this march but many also were not students. I think much of the media coverage of the action blocking traffic mainly used that action to castigate the whole student protest as was the case of the "riot" the Thursday night before on Telegraph.  

Many of the participants I recognized from such actions as the protest action a year ago protesting the shooting of Oscar Grant that resulted in property damage and a heavy police reaction from Laney College to downtown Oakland, as well as veterans of the UC Memorial tree sit protest. Many of them have a more radical agenda to more deeply transform society that is broader than that of the issue of the UC student fee hikes and the state cuts to education. Many of this group would be critical of the impact of car driving to the environment in a radical social critique akin to that of Critical Mass. They would have an agenda opposed to the neoliberal agenda of big corporate privatization, not just of education but of the public commons, and the bailing out of banks rather than of those who are losing their housing, who might even consider rent is theft. In many ways I feel at one with this radical social critique, whether or not blocking traffic on the highway was an effective tactic. But despite the attempt of talk radio host(s) to spin their action negatively, I think many, despite the inconvenience, called in supporting the action. 

Being 54 years old I was too slow to keep up with these direct action activists and pleaded my age to prevent being the victim of police abuse that many of them experienced on the highway and by a certain group from Oakland's Laney, such as one black student I saw rammed hard against the fence by an Oakland police officer, obviously it seems angry that over 150 very determined resolute and disciplined activists got past them unto the bridge in a well executed action.  

I sadly later saw a student who fell from the tree by the highway trying to escape from the police, who got badly injured. I watched from below the students being marched by the police down and off the highway and on to the bus to Santa Rita.  

I believe that as what Naomi Klein calls the implementation of the Shock Doctrine of privatization/structural readjustment promoted by economist Milton Friedman is advanced by his follower, our present Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger, in the coming months and probably years we will see a rise of social resistance to government cuts. These cause greater economic suffering and pain especially for the socially disadvantaged victims of the class war being waged against the poor and downsized working class of our region and throughout our state. For the most part I welcome this resistance to conditions that will result in greater homelessness and premature death which in my work I see way too much of already on the streets of Berkeley and Oakland. 

For me one of the biggest benefits of getting a college education is being able to learn from others from many culturally different backgrounds which since the passage of Prop. 9 and now under the state cuts is a diversity being lost, which quite sadly will result in growing racial and class division in our state.  

Create peace at home!