March 2 actions for schools

March 15, 2011

Alex Schmaus rounds up reports from the March 2 day of action for public education.

STUDENTS, TEACHERS, school staff and their supporters organized actions across California on March 2 in defense of public education.

Gridlock is setting in again in Sacramento as the state legislature struggles with its annual budget deficit, which is estimated at $26 billion this year. Republicans oppose Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to call a June 7 special election in order to ask California voters if they want to extend for five years $12 billion in (mostly regressive) temporary tax increases enacted a few years ago.

If Republicans succeed in blocking the special election, this raises the possibility that Brown will follow through on his threat to impose an "all-cuts" budget to close the $26 billion gap.

While the prospect of such a draconian "solution" to this year's budget crisis is frightening, it has also served to steel the determination of activist students, teachers and their supporters around the state to not concede defeat without a fight.

Here are some of the actions that took place on March 2:

Students march against cuts and privatization at San Francisco State University on March 2nd
Students march against cuts and privatization at San Francisco State University on March 2nd (Labor Video Project |

At San Francisco State University, 300 to 400 students, faculty and staff participated in a day of action that included a morning picket line at the main entrance to campus, a spirited Noon rally inside the Cesar Chavez Student Center, and a two-mile march to the Ocean Campus of the City College of San Francisco (CCSF).

Many of those who participated were excited by resistance movements on the other side of the country and around the world, such as CCSF student Melody Fitzgerald, who said, "I'm here today because I'm upset that the budget cuts on education have persisted year after year and if we don't stand up against this, no one will. I've also been inspired lately by the protests and revolts in Tunisia, Egypt and Madison, and seeing the working class rise up."

Some 200 people participated in separate rally and teach-in at City College of San Francisco Mission Campus.

Across the San Francisco Bay in Oakland, schools across the city participated in a day of action organized by the Oakland Education Association (OEA). At elementary schools, young students marched with signs through neighborhoods demanding an end to budget cuts.

Middle and high schools held rallies before and after school. Many schools participated in "disaster drills"--mock drills during the school day to highlight the education disaster that faces the district.

Ending the day of protest at the California State Building, OEA President Betty Olson-Jones spoke to a rally about the need for systemic solutions to the crisis in education funding. Other speakers, including principals, elected officials and students, emphasized the need to pressure the state to fund education.

At Laney College in downtown Oakland, 100 students participated in a spirited rally and march on the Peralta College district office a half mile away. The vice chancellor came out to speak with police and was spotted by protesters, who surrounded him and began an impromptu question-and-answer session with a megaphone.

Protesters demanded to speak with the chancellor himself, and eventually, both the chancellor and president of Laney College showed up. The protesters demanded to be let inside the district office to ask their questions and list their demands with the administration present to respond.

Eventually, they were let in by the chancellor, who argued that the students' time would be better spent protesting at the state Capitol building in Sacramento.

A few miles north in Berkeley, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers (BFT) and the Berkeley Council of Classified Employees (BCCE) sponsored a convergence march from all school sites to the district offices.

The theme was "Ask me why I am seeing red." Some 200 teachers, staff, students and parents participated in the action. Ten students, from grades 3 through 12, spoke at the rally about how the education cuts affect their lives and the need to tax the rich and corporations in order to stop the cuts.

Further to the east, Castro Valley High School students organized a successful speak-out. Sponsored by the leadership class and Students Taking Action Against Cuts, students wore red (for public ed) and started off the lunchtime event with speeches calling for funding sports, keeping college affordable and blasting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

After the prepared speeches, students from all walks of life were invited to speak from the heart. Athletes, cheerleaders, drama students, musicians and more all shared. Nearly every group affected by the cuts either had representation in the speakers or signed letters to the governor.

In the south, students and campus workers participated in a 200-plus rally at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). Joining the action were members of campus unions, including service workers from AFSCME Local 3299, university professional and technical employees in CWA Local 9119, faculty and librarians from UC AFT Local 1990, and the State Employees Trades Council.

The action was themed "Save the UC! Chop from the Top." Rally speakers called out the glaring difference between the interests of UC students and workers and those of the regents--for instance, the $1.6 billion in compensation received by UC management in 2009 and the $6 million in executive pay increases that were awarded on the same day student fees were raised by 8 percent.

Organizers also made connections to the global fightback against austerity. Graduate student Jason Ball said, "We've been building this fight against the cuts for two years. Wisconsin and Egypt has shown us the way. We need to duplicate that here. We have to hold Gov. Brown's feet to the fire, but it is also a federal issue. Tax money spent on one day of U.S. wars would pay for the entire UC budget shortfall."

At the California State University in Los Angeles, about 75 students marched through campus chanting, "We need a priority switch. Fund the schools, tax the rich!"

In San Diego, about 200 San Diego City College students held a campus rally and march to the governor's San Diego office against a 38 percent increase in community college fees.

The proposed fee increases would add about $300 per year for a typical full-time community college student, according to the San Diego Union Tribune.

Demonstrators took up the chant "Money for jobs and education, not for war and incarceration!" making the connection between the greater amount of funding the state shells out for prisons, while it divests from higher education.

As the students marched down the main street in downtown toward the governor's office, taking over two traffic lanes, the chant "They say cut back, we say fight back" filled the air.

Norissa Gastelum, a UC San Diego alumna and current City College student, told the rally, "I barely made it out [of UC San Diego] with $30,000 in debt...These austerity measures are going to keep on happening. At any moment, we could stop it. We, all together...we have what they don't want us to know--we have the numbers, and at any moment, we could shut this shit down.

"We have to remember, we can't look to the top. We have to look to our brothers and sisters standing next to us, and that's how we will build a world that serves us instead of the ruling class."

There were more actions and events on March 2, large and small, up and down the state--in Silicon Valley, at Cañada College, De Anza College and San Jose State University; in Central California, at UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz; and in Southern California, at UC Riverside, UC Irvine and Los Angeles City College.

Adam Balogh, Dana Blanchard, Rick Greenblatt, Emma Leathley, Diana Macasa, Jessie Muldoon and John Osmand contributed to this article.

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