A UCLA student being tased last Wednesday for protesting the fee hikes.
From November 17-19, the University of California Board of Regents met to decide whether to raise University of California tuition 32%, to exceed $10,000 for the first time in history, including a $585 mid-year fee increase in January. They decided to approve both hikes, with Student Regent Jesse Bernal casting the only “No” vote.
On the front lines of the fight for public higher education in California, I have been part of a group of faculty, students, and union workers who are organizing against the cuts, which I wrote about on the day of our first system-wide walkout this year. When the UC Berkeley administration perceived unrest, the Chancellor sent out emails to redirect frustration away from administrators and Regents, and toward the California State Legislature. Yet students pushed back, first with the September 24 walkout, then with the November 18-20 strike, and now with the occupations sprouting up on campuses across the state.
Berkeley’s strike was advertised as three days of action: Walkout, Reclaim, and Escalate. There were tentative plans that if the Regents passed the fee increase, there would be a meeting to decide what “Escalate” means. Friday, it meant occupying Wheeler Hall, the largest lecture hall on campus, canceling 118 classes, pulling fire alarms across campus, and rerouting 3,800 students. The point where the action became less salient, however, was when negotiations ceased to focus around the demands of the students in the building, and began to concern their safety. Over a thousand students joined the picket lines and protest surrounding Wheeler Hall Friday, met by riot police and barricades.
Identifying as a cisgender white woman, I have lived with the privilege of relying on police for safety. Yet, last week, for the first time, I, and hundreds of other middle class students across the Universities of California saw police brutality. Thanks largely to my generation’s internet addiction, the videos and pictures of tasing, beating, and brutality went viral. J-Dilla’s “F— the Police” re-emerged as a student anthem. First to hit YouTube was a video of a UCLA police officer so intent on beating a student that he had to be restrained. Then, Yahoo posted a picture proving that UCPD’s denial of taser use was a lie. Throughout Friday, as UC Berkeley PD called in support from the Alameda County Sheriff’s department, the Berkeley PD, and Oakland PD, brutality videos continued to pour in.
This brutality is unacceptable, especially when student chants of “Whose University? Our university!,” “You’re sexy! You’re cute! Take off that riot suit!”, “Books, not batons,” “We’re not violent, how ’bout you?” and “Peaceful protest!” are met by riot police and violence. Students are acting out of desperation to stay in school, and education is a feminist issue. The protesters, occupiers, and outraged in California are no longer the all-white males of the Free Speech Movement of the 60′s. Present in the escalation planning for Berkeley were transfolk, undocumented students, undergraduate and graduate students, international students, students of color, men, and women, willing to put ourselves at risk to prevent the denial of education to thousands.
UC Ethnic Studies Professor Kevin Wayne delivered a speech at the 2009 Students of Color Conference at UC San Diego two weekends ago. First, he asked everyone to write down how they identify, and then explained the fee hikes. “If you wrote down “first-generation college student,” and the fee hikes pass, you can cross out “first” and write “last.”
To quote a homemade sign from the September 24 walkout, “UC me now- U won’t C me after 32%!”