Marching for Education — With an Occupy Twist


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Yesterday morning, students blocked entrance to the UC Santa Cruz campus, and a man driving a Ford Mustang ended up striking several people, plus one cyclist. And so, on that note, began March 1st, the National Day of Action in Defense of Education, the first in an admirable-but-apparently disorganized series of events this month protesting cuts to higher ed.

Yesterday, teachers, students, and activists throughout the country engaged in teach-ins, rallies, and walk-outs. On March 5th, protesters will gather at the state capitol in an event called “March in March.” Like the month of March, budget cuts, and puns, the March in March action is perennial — but this year should be different, for a few reasons.

For the first time, student governments representing all three levels of higher ed — the UCs, CSUs, and community colleges — have called for a march to the capitol on the same day. “Everyone knows the budget crisis isn’t going away,” said Joan Berezin, Global Studies program coordinator at Berkeley City College. “If new tax revenue isn’t generated, Governor Brown has made it clear cuts to education will be 5.2 billion. It’s not like the old days anymore. Everyone is getting cut.”

In February, California community colleges faced an unexpected $149 million shortfall when student fees fell $107 million below projections for the current fiscal year. In December 2011, another $100 million cut reduced California State University system-wide funding to only $2 billion — a 27 percent reduction from 2010. The University of California faces a $200 million state funding cut this year.

That said, Berezin admitted that overall, the march isn’t so organized — for example, days before the march, she realized the the buses that will take students to Sacramento still hadn’t been paid for. Larry McDaniel, Senator of the Berkeley City College student government, said, “I wish we had done more. We could have gotten the word out better, or gotten people more excited about this. That’s something the Student Governments have really struggled with: convincing people that going out there will actually make a difference” Lataih Weaver, a student at BCC, said she’s going, though she added, “It’s important to show support, but it probably won’t change anything.”

Occupy Education plans to occupy the capitol building after it closes for the day. Berezin said tactics like occupying the capitol may have made the student governments hesitant to advertise the event as much as they could have. Ron Pane, who is in charge of the building's security, told the Sacramento News and Review that there is a “policy” that people “don’t occupy the Capitol.” Guess occupying is out of question then, right? Hm.

Students who don't want to miss their school buses home will be gone long before any occupation. ReFund California is also offering buses to Sacramento, but its website says: “We are no longer providing any return transportation earlier than Tuesday.” So, be careful which bus you sign up for.

Meanwhile, a "99 Mile March" left Oakland yesterday, intending to make it to Sacramento by Monday. Good luck, guys. Right now, after about thirteen miles, they’re sleeping in Richmond. It’s probably more like a “99 mile or so march” but let’s not ruin the jingle.