The growing 99 percent

Student and faculty groups take to the streets, adding to the Occupy movement


In recent weeks, the Bay Area has been roiled by anger and frustration with how the rich have grown richer while the rest of us endure underemployment, foreclosures, and deep cuts to public education and services, peaking with the Nov. 2 Oakland General Strike that drew more than 10,000 people into the streets to demand economic justice.

The Occupy Wall Street movement — and its many local manifestations, including OccupySF and Occupy Oakland — has been the main vehicle for those populist passions for the last two months, with the support of the labor movement. But now, student and faculty groups from California's three public university systems are about to get involved in the fight in a big way.

Student and labor groups allied with the ReFund California coalition are planning a week of action for Nov. 9-16, culminating that final day in demonstrations outside the California State University Board of Trustees meeting in Fullerton and University of California Board of Trustees meeting at the UCSF campus in San Francisco's Mission Bay.

Those protests aim to connect the problem of deep cuts and tuition hikes in the public university systems with the larger issue of wealthy individuals and corporations that haven't been paying their fair share. The coalition wants the boards to pledge support for a five-point action plan that includes taxes on the wealthy, removing commercial property from Prop. 13 caps on property taxes, restoration of cuts to higher education, a sales tax on Wall Street financial transactions, and pressuring banks to reduce mortgage debt on underwater homes.

Charlie Eaton, a ReFund California organizer from United Auto Workers Local 2865, which represents teaching assistants at UC, notes that many UC and CSU board members also sit on the boards of major banks and corporations that have contributed to the current financial crisis and which have been in the crosshairs of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

"It's really a club of California's corporate elites," Eaton said. "It's about saying to these folks: if you aren't willing to actively support paying your fair share, or at least get out of the way, we can't let it be business as usual at the Wall Street institutions that you help run."



He said there's a direct connection between the actions of these corporate boards and lack of resources in California for public education and services, so it's only right that these powerful board members — from Regent Richard Blum, the investment banker husband of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, to Trustee Bill Hauck, former head of the California Business Roundtable — support the needs of the 99 percent.

"We'll be there to call on them to sign the pledge," Eaton said of the Nov. 16 meetings. "And if they aren't prepared to make that pledge, we're headed to the Financial District to make sure there is no business as usual for these corporations."

That day of action will echo the last ReFund California protest in San Francisco, the Sept. 29 "Make Banks Pay" march through the Financial District that was one of the first high-profile demonstrations involving OccupySF. The march was several hundred strong, targeting major financial institutions including a Chase Bank branch on Market Street that was occupied by protesters, resulting in six arrests.

When we asked Eaton whether the Occupy movement would lend its energy and numbers to these ReFund California protests, he said, "We're embedded in the Occupy movement, so it's not quite right to say it's something the Occupy movement might help with...I think the Occupy Wall Street movement shows we can make them pay."