Sunday, March 7, 2010

The March 4th resurgence of student protest

                   

      On march 4, 2010, there were demonstrations of students of all ages, campus workers and professors all over the country against the severe government cutbacks to education.  Led by campus closures and seizures of university offices in the University of California system as well as community colleges and high schools, students also demonstrated at Hunter College in New York and here in Colorado, at the State Capitol (Metro State and University of Colorado at Denver students joined other UC students in this protest).  These are beginnings, not yet involving everyone, but speaking for many more than the tens of thousands who began to come out (a CBS news report late May 4th speaks of millions of demonstrators across the country).  The stories I give below are from the University of California, but the protests were much more widespread.

        After the murders at Kent State in 1970 and against the war in Cambodia, there were similar, simultaneous demonstrations all over the country.  But this is a rare thing, unusual along several dimensions, which reflects the current crisis.

       The US was once a uniquely wealthy and powerful place, sustaining many of its citizens adequately and offering hope even to many blacks and Chicanos. It is no longer.   Two draining and losing occupations – with a drumbeat for a third major war against Iran (the reactionary Netanyahu government in Israel is currently being restrained by the US, but there may well be a showdown on this issue in the near future and whether Obama is tough enough to rein him in unfortunately remains to be seen – see Ray McGovern's knowledgeable and disturbing account here); complete financial collapse in the United States; the privatization of higher education, with students having to take out often staggering loans even to go through public colleges; enormous state cutbacks in education have all lead to the situation where millions of students, part-time and untenured faculty and workers face drastic tuition hikes or layoffs now or in the foreseeable future.

       There is another element in this decay, not often talked about and which needs to be emphasized in protests. The US still has the greatest University system in the world.  But it is now 26th in training its own citizens to go into mathematics and physics.  That is a pretty remarkable change.  It is caused by the general decline in education and  the emergence of Reaction on the authoritarian right (wrongly called conservatives, many of whom are rightly critical of these developments).  Even Darwin must be “countered” in some states, and of course, global warming “doesn’t exist.”  Elected representatives are often comically ignorant of the most basic facts in a way which might embarrass any but a fascist country. Yet the American future depends on funding higher education, on teaching the people who will innovate in the green economy and move toward a sustainable world, and on new, nonmilitary manufacturing within the United States.  

      Under sustained  provocation, a wonderful student protest movement has emerged, across the country, against the cutbacks.  It needs to speak even more self-consciously to the issue of America’s future.  It is near to connecting the issue of American aggressions to cutbacks.  But it does not yet see that the very energy in the movement for Obama in which so many students participated, the hope for peace, the rule of law and a green economy to counter global warming, is borne and must be borne by this new movement.  Even under the Democrats, the corporations and banks own the government.  The elite responds only to economic collapse (it destroyed the world economy and so needed TARP) and to pressure from below.  This new movement is a particularly promising vehicle to register such pressure.

         Below is a op-ed article from the Berkeley paper, the Daily Californian, from Nick Palmquist, one of the leaders of the movement in California.  It makes the point that long organizing occurred before the March 4 protests, and that this day was merely a moment in a larger protest movement, one convening conferences for future planning (March 27 in California) and supporting anti-war marches on March 20.  Palmquist thus explicitly connects the cutbacks to the horrors of war.  America is crippling its future and destroying a common good for citizens at home by engaging in  aggressions abroad (this is what I call in Must Global Politics Constrain Democracy? the anti-democratic feedback of foreign wars and interventions).  This is one of the costs of the war complex (and as he suggests, the prison-industrial complex): 

       “It costs an estimated $1 million to deploy a soldier to Afghanistan for a year and $49,000 to incarcerate a prisoner for a year in California. The state of California spends less than $10,000 to educate one K-12 student each year. The tradeoff is clear and unjustifiable.”

          Let me put Palmquist’s point another way: every soldier surged in Afghanistan takes up the funds for 100 public school students in California.  And as I have stressed here, Obama has sent 7 Blackwater/Xe mercenaries, at ten times the cost, for every 3 soldiers.  Sending one such mercenary probably sucks up the money for 1,000 k-12 students in California.  In a depression and in decline, America cannot afford crazed imperial adventures (alternately, under Bush-Cheney and Obama, America has already undermined itself dramatically as a world power and a decent place through its ongoing aggressions and occupations).

         Because they are so general and massive, these cutbacks have produced a movement across the country.  It is perhaps natural that Palmquist formulates his objection in the light of the money being sucked away.  But that leaves open the question of whether the wars are justified.  I doubt that he thinks so.  

      The Iraq war, as everyone now knows, was based on lies by the Bush administration, propagated by leading Democrats like Hilary Clinton, and by the corrupt corporate media (I have spoken of this, more aptly, as the war complex, including for the media  generals as “expert commentators” who had secret war contracts – recall the Times’ expose on General Barry McCaffery -  and think tank “experts” who bellow for war,  and excluding anyone who knew about the issue and was not suborned – the lies were evident then, the ratio of pro-war commentators to those who had questions (not anti-War people like Chomsky or me or hundreds of others) on CNN, MSNBC et al over two weeks was roughly 200 to 3).  The Iraq war was an aggression, barred by international law – Article 2, Section 4 of the United Nations Charter, fought for by the United States represented by Robert L. Jackson (a Nuremburg prosecutor, later a Supreme Court Justice), bars the unprovoked attack on one state (Germany or Japan) upon another.  According to the Supremacy Clause, Article 6, section 2 of the Constitution, treaties signed by the United States are the highest law of the land.  The international crime for which we prosecuted the Nuremberg and Tokyo war criminals is the crime that the United States committed in Iraq.  To sacrifice the wellbeing (the lives and health of Americans who fight) in such enterprises is bad enough; to add to this bringing down the economy for all, undercutting the rule of law,  cutting back education, and sabotaging America’s future as a decent place is far worse.  Hopefully, this movement, in joining with and perhaps reenergizing the peace movement, will soon make these connections explicitly.

      At UCLA, students who sat in at the administration building with demands for reversing the cutbacks, commented on some striking and unique features of this movement.  In the 1970s, I was involved in campaigns against racism toward campus workers both at Harvard and at the University of Denver.  These often involved a sizeable number of students and had some active participation as well as widespread support among workers.  But union leaders were often an obstacle.   Since that time, the Cold War has ended; the Soviet bloc vanished; union leaders are no longer suborned to the ideology of anti-communism in which protest from below is stigmatized as anti-American.  One result of this was the enormous participation of workers and unions in the protests leading up to the Iraq War.

      For instance, I spoke at separate meetings in Denver to immigrant custodians and medical workers in the SEIU (the Service Employees International Unioin - the nation’s largest and at the time, most vigorous union) against the War.  Union leaders were integral to this.  Most union leaders, as many others, saw the war as against the interests of workers and often, a horror. 

      Before I spoke at the SEIU meeting, one of the women who leads the union said this is a war of the rich people (“por los ricos”) and not for us.  I added some things in my eccentric Spanish, but there was no one among the several hundred in the room, after she spoke, who was for the war.  There wasn’t a pro-war person among the medical workers, either.

       In California, on March 4, unions like the SEIU and the teachers (the AFT) supported the demonstrations.  These rallies united students, workers and professors.  This is a powerful kind of unity.  It could lead over time to the kind of citizen movement which can press the elite, democratically, to cease illegal, immoral and counterproductive wars and tyrannical – anti-common good – cutbacks.  We not only have a “democracy” which rewards AIG and permits foreclosures and job losses; we have one which cripples the American future – against Obama’s promises – and on behalf of predatory banks, attacks ordinary students, workers and faculty.  Whose regime is this? is precisely the question that all of us need to ask.

       In addition, the sit-in from UCLA comments on the uniting of people of all races.  It speaks of a kind of ecstatic enthusiasm at the breaking down of these barriers which run through American life.  This too was a great struggle in the anti-Vietnam war movement. That movement led the struggle for open admissions at San Francisco State – then a six week daily battle with the police – and as the article says, mobilized thousands of black San Francisco high school students in support.  But there were relatively few black students on campus (the civil rights movement, rebellions in American cities, and protest movements on campus had barely opened the Universities).  Today, there are often many more and a much broader unity. This, too, is a wonderful feature of these new protests (interesting that it makes a strike bulletin, but not the mainstream press): 

      “At noon we converged in the center of campus with workers from AFSCME, SETC, AFT, UPTE, and other students and faculty. After the rally, over 300 of us went into the main administration building where we voiced a list of demands to the administration."

       "This space was the most integrated and diverse many of us had ever seen on campus. There were Chicano, African American, Asian, white and Middle Eastern students fighting together; there were professors, lecturers, service workers and community members standing in solidarity.”

       Racism has also been an issue in recent protests at the University of California at San Diego.  There is hope that this can become a much more unified, and anti-racist movement – one that sees that a decent education for every person, one committed to decency and the search for truth, bars abuse, and in America especially racist abuse of any student, faculty member or worker. 

       In addition, the movement was deeply international in insight.  Protestors got up and spoke about their experiences, what they and their families hope to achieve, in a broad perspective:

        “At one point a megaphone was passed around to anyone who wished to speak and tell their story of why they were fighting for the university. Several people talked about being first-generation students and many were afraid they would also be the last generation in their families to go to school. One woman talked about how her Latin American studies class inspired her to think about struggles in Guatemala and Chile, and how they are related to what’s going on here. Another woman talked about her mother who had come to America from Mexico to give her daughter a better future. Some talked about the financial crisis that has devastated America and the world at large. Others condemned a federal budget that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Afterwards, people read poetry, played music and danced.”

        “It was an ecstatic experience, and for many of us, it was our first time taking such direct action at UCLA.”

          The protestors were troubled by the kind of capitalism that now reigns in America and the world, one which rewards speculators and brings down even the middle class.  As a candidate, Obama did represent a hope for America.  As President, so far, he does not (or given the decent stimulus package, not enough).  The protestors raise a question which will be with us as long as capitalism remains and which it would be good if the elite were forced to take account of:

       “We feel that actions like this and those around California today reflect a growing worldwide resistance to an economic system bent on generating profits for the few, regardless of the well-being of the vast majority of people. As students, we are only one small part of a much larger struggle. We know that a public university is what is necessary for a society that values social justice. And we recognize that a financialized university becomes the training ground for corporate executives, investment bankers, military and political strategists and others who hold a stake in the existing global power structures.”

       Being in movements, seeing the way the University and the culture react (in this unusual case, the University of California President expressed solidarity about the cutbacks with the demonstrators), students come to realize quickly some of the basic questions about to what extent we are a democracy, about how this social structure works.  Such movements educate people, as Lenin once said of the 1905 Russian Revolution, with the speed of the locomotive (perhaps we should now say the speed of light).  Many think that protests are simply disruptive to learning.  That can certainly be true.  But they can also inspire understandings and questions that can motivate insight,   They can prompt both social and political change and, for individuals, long study.  

       The authorities often attack such protests, and arrest or sanction students.  But the fact is that such protests now will sustain even administrators (at least make their jobs tolerable with regard to cutbacks that they might conceivably be able to justify to themselves) and are themselves, often, a profound educational experience.         

      In California, as Nick Palmquist says, the movement extends to the public schools, to k-12 education.  This too is democratic solidarity of a new sort.  Such unity was pioneered the San Francisco State strike but not developed both because it was then more difficult and because a large part of the student movement – that which resulted in the Weathermen – mistakenly thought that most Americans were corrupt, and did not hope to produce a broad, or common good seeking alliance of protest against American war-making.  As we have seen in the Bush period, we are still paying the price for that failure. It would have been of benefit to America and the world if that movement had gone much farther.  At least the second Iraq war might have been headed off, the regime of torture deterred, manufacturing might still be an American pursuit, and the like.

       These demonstrations offer hope.  It is such democratic movements – and the concessions to their protests from the elite, in this case requiring the turning around of a great ship currently careening into darkness – which will make peace, democracy, the rule of law, green manufacturing and a sustainable global economy a serious possibility.

Statement from UCLA Sit-In

March 6, 2010 · 

Via UC Strike

Here is a statement some students put out who were inside the Murphy Hall Sit-in, describing what it was like and why they were there:

From Some Participants in the Sit-in at Murphy Hall, apprx. 3:45 pm

This morning, at least a hundred students marched through classrooms and buildings at UCLA, expressing their outrage over fee hikes, reductions to worker hours, the exclusion of people of color from the university and the economic crisis that has destroyed the lives of millions.

At noon we converged in the center of campus with workers from AFSCME, SETC, AFT, UPTE, and other students and faculty. After the rally, over 300 of us went into the main administration building where we voiced a list of demands to the administration.

This space was the most integrated and diverse many of us had ever seen on campus. There were Chicano, African American, Asian, white and Middle Eastern students fighting together; there were professors, lecturers, service workers and community members standing in solidarity.

At one point a megaphone was passed around to anyone who wished to speak and tell their story of why they were fighting for the university. Several people talked about being first-generation students and many were afraid they would also be the last generation in their families to go to school. One woman talked about how her Latin American studies class inspired her to think about struggles in Guatemala and Chile, and how they are related to what’s going on here. Another woman talked about her mother who had come to America from Mexico to give her daughter a better future. Some talked about the financial crisis that has devastated America and the world at large. Others condemned a federal budget that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Afterwards, people read poetry, played music and danced.

It was an ecstatic experience, and for many of us, it was our first time taking such direct action at UCLA.

We feel that actions like this and those around California today reflect a growing worldwide resistance to an economic system bent on generating profits for the few, regardless of the well-being of the vast majority of people. As students, we are only one small part of a much larger struggle. We know that a public university is what is necessary for a society that values social justice. And we recognize that a financialized university becomes the training ground for corporate executives, investment bankers, military and political strategists and others who hold a stake in the existing global power structures.

Worker, student, faculty solidarity at UCLA. Solidarity with you and your struggles and with struggles around the world.

Published on Friday, March 5, 2010 by The Daily Californian (UC Berkeley)

Building a Student Movement, Starting Today

by Nick Palmquist

Today our newspapers will be dominated by the headlines that March 4 was a historic day for public education. They will say that never before have so many people from all the sectors of education mobilized across the state and country.

They are right that March 4 should be remembered for all of these things. Unfortunately, the real history-making day will have been misquoted. It is our actions and decisions on March 5 that will truly mark just how determined we are to transform our broken education system.

March 4 alone will not guarantee an end to the budget cuts. To fight them, we must start connecting public education with other societal issues, namely the runaway spending on the wars, prisons and banks. This is not because we wish to take on all the issues plaguing our society but because these issues are intruding into our campuses and wallets, whether we want them to or not.

It costs an estimated $1 million to deploy a soldier to Afghanistan for a year and $49,000 to incarcerate a prisoner for a year in California. The state of California spends less than $10,000 to educate one K-12 student each year. The tradeoff is clear and unjustifiable.

Participating in and organizing for the March 20 anti-war protest in San Francisco would be a good start to contesting these misplaced priorities.

Successfully connecting these issues will also mean building more deeply the links we have been making with the other sectors of public education beyond the University of California.

On simply moral grounds we ought to stand in solidarity with K-12 because our brothers, sisters, sons and daughters are facing cuts and lost opportunities much worse than our own. Public school budgets for K-12 campuses rely much more on state funds (which roughly constitute 13 percent of the UC budget) and so they are more susceptible to cuts.

Also, a well-funded K-12 system will raise the quality of our universities and do much to address the terrible underrepresentation of students of colors in the UC system. Furthermore, uniting with other sectors will support us in our own fight.

For example, during the 1968-69 strike at San Francisco State University that shutdown their campus for nearly five months, the Black Student Union was able to mobilize as many as 2,000 high schoolers to support the strike because the youth knew that the college students were fighting for their university as well. If we want support, we must earn it by reaching out to the other sectors.

To truly look forward, though, we must reaffirm what has brought us this far. March 4 was the product of persistent grassroots mobilizing and organizing. Such grassroots organizing brought us the initial spark on the university campuses as well as the Oct. 24 statewide conference of students, workers, and activists that called for the actions and strikes on March 4. From that conference many local organizing committees were organized that built up the March 4 events.

We must continue this grassroots organizing as it is the best method to build the mass movement we need. It is the only way ensure that the politicians and UC Board of Regents follow through with their promised commitments to affordable and accessible public education.

So I encourage you to start talking to your friends and coworkers about how to get more involved.

If you live in the Bay Area, bring yourselves and your friends to the Regional Mobilizing Conference that will be held at Laney Community College in Oakland on March 27. From there, we can coordinate and organize for the fight back that will, by necessity, be a long one.

All over the country, predictions are that the budget deficits will continue at the same destructive levels for many years if nothing changes. We can change that, but only collectively.

Then, when we are successful, history will remember just how important a day March 5 was.

© 2010 The Daily Californian

Nick Palmquist is a UC Berkeley student and a planner of the March 4 protest.

Daily Cal: UCLA, UC Irvine Demonstrations Marked by Focus on Immigrants, Undocumented Students

By Sarah Springfield
Contributing Writer
Friday, March 5, 2010

LOS ANGELES-Immigration issues figured prominently in student protests staged at UCLA and UC Irvine Thursday.

A walkout on the UCLA campus was sparsely attended, but a rally that began at noon drew about 400 students and union members to Bruin Plaza near the main entrance to the campus. Though the demonstration addressed current budget challenges on campus, the majority of speakers at the rally referenced racially-charged incidents at UC San Diego and acts of vandalism at UC Davis as major causes for concern and catalysts to greater action.

“In L.A., the public schools are 75 percent Latino and 10 percent black,” said Adam Lerman, a organizer for affirmative action group By Any Means Necessary, at the protest. “We are in the middle of one of the most diverse cities in the country, and the campus needs to reflect that. L.A. is powder keg waiting to explode.”

Speakers said UC policies during the economic recession have limited the campus’s diversity. Amid chants of “Si, se puede,” activists called for greater acceptance of immigrant and undocumented students at the campus.

Afterward, the crowd broke up into smaller groups that continued to make their own way through campus, beating drums, dancing and chanting slogans.

According to UCLA spokesperson Phil Hampton, 200 students and union members then made their way to Murphy Hall, an administrative building which houses Chancellor Gene Block’s office. The demonstrators congregated in the hallway outside his office, urging him to accept demands, which Hampton said included changes to admissions procedures and a rolling back of student fee increases, worker furloughs and lay-offs.

 

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