UC student organizers work to broaden support for the March 4 Strike and Day of Action
Exactly one month later, several hundred people gathered on the Berkeley campus for the Mobilizing Conference to Save Public Education. According to the invitation, the purpose of the conference was "to democratically decide on a statewide action plan capable of winning this struggle, which will define the future of public education in this state, particularly for the working-class and communities of color."
After an intense day of discussion, the body voted to establish March 4 as a "statewide strike and day of action." Though it remains unclear how the different interests would come together (the call left demands and tactics open for debate), the message was clear: to save public education, diverse groups need to stand together cohesively.
Tensions escalated dramatically in November when the regents approved a 32 percent fee increase. At UCLA, where the regents held the meeting, an estimated 2,000 students gathered in demonstration and protest.
UC Berkeley student Isaac Miller told the Guardian, "I think we left there feeling like even though the fee increase went through, this is a long-term fight. It was really empowering to connect to students from all over the UC community."
Meanwhile, a three-day protest at UC Berkeley culminated in a day-long occupation of Wheeler Hall on Nov. 20. As the protesters outside multiplied in support of the occupiers, they expressed solidarity with their causes as well as anger at the fee hike.
Callie Maidhof, a graduate student and spokesperson for the occupiers, said at the time, "One of the reasons behind this particular action is that students realized that not only is the state an unreliable partner, so is the administration. The only thing students can do at this point is reach out to each other."
Maidhof was referring to a frequently repeated refrain from the regents and Yudof: "The state is an unreliable partner." They argue that their hands are tied by the budget shortfall and the UC system has to figure out ways to sustain itself apart from increasingly erratic state funding. "The message is if the state fixes the budget, all our problems will be over," said Mike Rotkin, mayor of Santa Cruz and a former lecturer at UC Santa Cruz.
So when a Jan. 21 San Francisco Chronicle article ("Regents to Back UC Students' Protest at Capitol") reported that the regents and Yudof agreed to stand alongside the students in Sacramento on the March 4 Day of Action, many were shocked and angered. "This is a complete turn-around for them," Palmquist said. "They were never in support of our efforts. But now they feel threatened and they also feel like they can capitalize on them."
In an open-letter response, several unions wrote back: "This is a cynical publicity stunt, and we do not buy it."
Victor Sanchez, president of the UC Students Association (UCSA), said the article misrepresented what Yudof and the Regents said. "The regents and Yudof agreed to participate with students on a separate March 1 day of activism, not March 4," he said. Calls and e-mail to Yudof's office to confirm were unreturned at press time.
Sanchez explained that the March 1 activities are the culmination of UCSA's annual Student Lobbying Conference, which takes place in Sacramento from Feb. 28–March 1. Its actions focus primarily on lobbying the Legislature. That approach is more in tune with the administration's message that the problem lies in Sacramento.
UCSA's demands include increasing funding for higher education by $1 billion, creating alternative sources of revenue through comprehensive prison reform, preserving the California grant program, and passing Assembly Bill 656.