If cuts could sting, there was lots of pain in Berkeley, Thursday, as Occupy Oakland teamed up with Occupy Cal for a march from Cal to downtown Oakland to protest cuts in services, classes, and increased tuition. Our students want you to know.
Perhaps the teaming is more than a passing fancy (this is at least the second such team effort), as two of the major U.S. occupies see advantages in pairing.
Student protests calling for reduced tuition and taxes on millionaires were staged Thursday in seven U.S. cities, and students will stage walkouts in Boston and Philadelphia this week, organized by Occupy Education, a coalition of 80 occupy, labor, and community groups, to launch a week of action around the nation.
Maybe there's something about coeds that tames the beast in the wild men of Oakland. On the last two marches starring the new team, I've met nothing but ingratiating young people. As Osha Neumann wrote in the Planet recently, these are our youth, our political legacies, and we can be proud.
I had the same feeling. But both of the OO/OC marches I've been on were peaceful.
As one protestor commented, "we're always peaceful, when we're not being beaten by Oakland Police."
Demonstrators insist the police provoke the fights, while even initial supporters of OO, have turned away from the violence, and the movement itself.
As I learned Feb. 19 on the first OO/OC pairing, Oakland police tactics are taking their toll on the movement. As many as 400 have been permanently banned from Frank Ogawa Plaza, and hundreds of others have appeared in mug-shot binders police use to identify "troublemakers."
One protestor told me he wears a mask all day, and was also in disguise.
After the Feb.19 march at Cal, protestors had to walk back with fellow protestors to Oakland in a group, fearing OPD might find them alone.
By the time we had reached Alcatraz and Telegraph, losing our Berkeley Police escorts at the Oakland/Berkeley border, there was a festive air in the air.
The festive mood dimmed briefly when an irate motorist stepped out of his car and allegedly, "just poked a marcher in the mouth," after words were reportedly exchanged. According to on-lookers, the poker's car license number was 6H2l 814.
As the march slowed traffic to a crawl, some motorists honked and waved their approval, while others nursed cases of road rage.
A pro-Allende socialist rallying song was broadcast from a van, and marchers chanted "when they say fees go up, we say fight that," and "we are the students, the mighty students, fighting for justice." What a concept! And there were 150 of the mighty
The idea of mighty students seemed not too far from the mark, since students have always been America's future.
Don't tell these protesters they're running out of steam. "We shut down four banks for several hours this week," one boasted.
But things are not going well for our students. They are facing joblessness, massive student debt, loss of the American dream, and worst of all loss of faith in the system they had hoped to join.
Students were joined by four university unions, a handful of faculty and graduate students, and a dozen elders.
The march moved swiftly, arriving at Ogawa Plaza two hours after leaving Cal, where speakers addressed such issues as abortion (threatened by Republicans), minority under-enrollment at Cal, and government disregard for illiteracy while planning to imprison illiterate felons.
Still, the theme for the day was lowering college fees by taxing millionaires.
One speaker recommended making friends on the march, and I can second that. These were people worth knowing.
Soon the march split into two components; marchers headed for Sacramento in four 20 miles a day segments, arriving in Sacramento Sunday. Night one: Richmond; night two, Vallejo; night three, Vacaville; and final night U.C. Davis, then on to Sacramento.
Some of the 75 marchers wondered what they were getting into, but I assured them 20 miles was no big deal, while admitting I would be missing that march.
I had to cover the OO action at Morgan Stanley, nearby. This Occupy 50 member contingent was to submit 3,000 petitions to Morgan Stanley, seeking debt relief from a bond deal, which was bankrupting (1.65 million yearly) the Peralta Community College District, which includes Merritt and Laney colleges.
According to leaders of this action, Morgan Stanley was soaking the financially beleaguered Peralta school district, and killing our economy, which relies on education. One Laney instructor said four of his students were in shelters, because the student financial aid office was so decimated by budget cuts they could not deliver student's financial aid checks.
But the petitions went undelivered, when phone calls to Morgan Stanley were not answered. Grim-faced, the leaders huddled together for a quick strategy session. "they won't respond now, but we'll be back, and they will respond to us then."
The leader seemed confident Morgan Stanley would eventually receive the petitions, many of them detailing personal student hardships Morgan Stanley has allegedly spawned. According to the petitions, MS "could restore at least 320 classes and vital student services."
Caught up in the moment, I told the leader that "I once applied to teach at Laney, and would like to think I would have been on the protest lines with them”
"But you have joined us,” the leader said. He shook my hand.
I'm such a sap. That hand shake meant a lot to me.
Meanwhile, back in Berkeley, Berkeley High Students teamed up with Occupy Cal with their own occupy event, on the steps of city hall, reportedly 200 students strong, protesting high school budget cuts.
After covering the Oakland action to the end, I was back in time to talk to Berkeley High's principal about his students' protest, which he estimated at "several hundred."
If this is the start of a national trend among highschoolers, Berkeley is cutting edge.
"You must be proud,'" I said.
"I'm very proud of our students" the principal enthused.,
He explained that the high school protest was developed in conjunction with three different Berkeley High courses. Occupy Cal had advised the students. One OC student attended the high school protest, according to the principal, on a day when Occupy ruled.
Sometimes good things happen when our Off-beat reporter goes off his South side beat.