United States: Photo essay -- Students occupy Berkeley university building to protest fee hikes

Story and photos by David Bacon

Berkeley, California -- November 20, 2009 -- Students occupied Wheeler Hall on the University of California campus in Berkeley, protesting against a decision by university regents to raise tuition fees by 32%, bringing them to US$10,302 per year for undergraduates.

At the beginning of the occupation the students made several demands, including the reinstatement of 38 laid-off custodial workers, and amnesty for protesting students.

The hall was surrounded by hundreds of supporting students, faculty members, campus workers and community members. The day before the occupation, two university unions -- the University Professional and Technical Employees and the Coalition of University Employees -- together with students and members of campus faculty mounted a campus-wide strike.

After a day of occupation, students voluntarily left the building, and were cited for misdemeanor trespass. On other University of California campuses, including at Los Angeles, Santa Cruz and Davis, students also occupied buildings and in some cases were arrested. Puck Lo, a student at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, and one of those occupying Wheeler Hall, told the LA Times that the protests were taking place during a period in which students also had to study for coming final exams. "This strike is really inconvenient", she said. "But this seems the honourable thing to do for future students."

[For more articles and images by David Bacon, see http://dbacon.igc.org. See also Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants  (Beacon Press, 2008). Recipient: C.L.R. James Award, best book of 2007-2008, http://www.beacon.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=2002, and the photodocumentary on indigenous migration to the US Communities Without Borders (Cornell University/ILR Press, 2006), http://www.cornellpress.cornell.edu/cup_detail.taf?ti_id=4575. See also The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (University of California, 2004), http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/9989.html.]

Staff and students strike at UC campuses

Ian Steinman, Melissa Cornelius and James Illingworth from University of California Santa Cruz report on a three-day strike in the UC system that begins today -- and a library occupation at Santa Cruz that forced administrators to back down.

November 18, 2009 -- Socialist Worker -- A three-day strike and protest by students, staff and faculty will begin today at campuses in the University of California system against a proposed 32 per cent fee hike for students and continuing attacks on campus unions.

Members of the University Professional and Technical Employees union at UC schools are timing their second strike of the semester -- this time, a two-day walkout -- to stand with the broader movement against cuts and fee hikes, and to demand a fair contract for members.

Meanwhile, students, staff and faculty across the state will be taking action in solidarity with a mass protest planned against the UC Regents meeting at UCLA--the demonstrators hope to prevent the meeting from imposing the outrageous increases.

These actions were planned at the 800-strong October 24 conference at UC Berkeley, where activists from UC campuses, the California State University system, community colleges and pre-K through 12th grade public education voted for a statewide strike and day of action on March 4 to defend public education.

Although this week's strike is centered in the UC system, activists from San Francisco State and the City College of San Francisco, as well as other campuses, have planned solidarity events. The California Faculty Association is also planning an action at CSU-Long Beach to oppose cuts.

On the eve of these protests, around 250 students took over the Science and Engineering Library at UC Santa Cruz on the evening of November 13. The 24-hour "study-in" to protest restricted library hours was the largest building occupation yet in the growing movement to defend public education.

Due to the ongoing budget crisis, the library on campus was scheduled to close at 5 pm on Friday and remain closed all day Saturday, denying students the opportunity to study in the run-up to final exams. In protest, activists organised an inspiring example of mass action and democratic decision making, and successfully kept the library open until Saturday evening.

The library sit-in emerged from a period of feverish student activism against the budget cuts. On September 24, the first day of classes at UC Santa Cruz, hundreds of students and workers took part in a statewide strike and walkout against the furloughs and pay cuts imposed on faculty and staff.

That same day, a group of about 20 students occupied the Graduate Student Commons on campus and remained barricaded inside for a week. A couple weeks later, another group of activists organised a second building occupation, although this action lasted just a few hours. Hundreds of students, faculty and staff have taken part in general assembly meetings in recent weeks to discuss the way forward for the movement.

The library occupation at Santa Cruz was inspired by an action at UC Berkeley in October, in which more than 100 students took over a campus library to protest reduced opening hours.

The Berkeley action took place at a time when the two building occupations at Santa Cruz had raised some important questions for activists: Should our actions have specific demands? Are "militant" tactics such as occupations and sit-ins the only way to build the movement? How can we reach beyond the committed core of activists and bring new people into action? Should we organise in secret, or be as open as possible?

The study-in seems to have answered many of these questions. Students had been planning and publicising the event for several weeks, and had managed to create a buzz on campus. By November 13, almost 900 people had responded to the event's Facebook page, and thousands more had seen flyers posted on campus. Plus, by choosing the Science and Engineering Library, the organisers attempted to reach out to a section of the campus population -- science students -- who had previously not been very active in the movement. Finally, organisers gave the event a clear and achievable goal -- keeping the library open so that students could use it to study.

Throughout the action, students were democratic and inclusive. By contrast, campus authorities tried everything in their power to prevent the event from happening--including lies, broken promises, threats and intimidation.

On the day of the study-in, dozens of students began to gather at the library entrance some two hours before its scheduled closing time. To their surprise, university authorities demanded that everyone entering the building after 3 pm would have to hand over their ID. This raised concerns about potential administrative repression, given that some student activists are already facing disciplinary procedures related to previous actions on campus. The group as a whole decided to reject this condition for entering the library.

After more than an hour of tense discussions between activists and administrators, an agreement emerged. People entering the library would show their IDs and sign a list of names to be maintained in the joint custody of a librarian and a student activist. The list would be handed over to students and destroyed once they left the library.

As closing time approached, dozens of students crowded into the library entrance, waiting for the administration to sign a statement formalizing the agreement. At the last minute, campus authorities went back on their word and stated that a copy of the list would remain with the head librarian, thus threatening student activists with future reprisals.

When the growing crowd of students heard about the administration's behaviour, the response was unanimous. The whole body of 150 students marched into the library, chanting "Whose university? Our university!" and "Whose books? Our books!". More students poured in behind them, bringing the total number in the library to more than 200. The campus authorities looked on helplessly.

A second confrontation began a couple hours later. The administration locked the library doors, preventing students who had left to get food from re-entering the building. Students on the inside immediately called an emergency assembly, and more than 100 signaled their willingness to engage in direct action to open the doors. A heated exchange followed in which the administration refused to open the doors unless all students left at midnight -- even though it had already acknowledged the action would continue until 5 pm the next day.

Faced with a demonstration of student resolve, however, the administration gave in and accepted a proposal in which the students as a whole would decide whether or not to stay overnight. Amid cheers, chants and an infectious feeling of triumph, the doors were unlocked and another wave of 50 students poured in. Soon, 300 students were occupying the library, and the administration was forced to concede defeat. The study-in continued through to the next day, as originally planned.

Crucially, many of those who participated were working-class students who genuinely wanted to use the library to study for coursework and final exams. These people represent new forces being drawn into the movement for the first time.

The action was successful not only in achieving its stated objectives, but more importantly in mobilising and radicalising a broad new layer of students. It brought together the more radical wing of the movement and a large group of students who were new to activism, and represented a meaningful escalation of the political consciousness of the student body.

By meeting students where they were willing to go, both in action and politics, and then involving them in confrontations with the administration from which they emerged morally and practically victorious, the occupation pointed the way forward for future actions at UC Santa Cruz.

What you can do

Many of the week's activities are listed on the UC Solidarity web site. Students, staff, faculty and instructors in the UC system can sign a petition showing their support for the strike. For more on the October 24 organising conference at UC Berkeley and the call for a March 4 strike and day of action for UC campuses, the California State University system, community colleges and pre-K through 12th grade public education, see the California Campaign to Save Public Education web site.

[Socialist Worker is the newspaper of the US International Socialist Organization.]


Struggle heats up in California

November 20, 2009 -- Socialist Worker -- Todd Chretien reports on protests at UCLA and campuses across the University of California system during three days of strikes and actions by students and staff.

Nearly 2000 students from University of California campuses -- including Berkeley, Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Riverside, Irvine and San Diego -- converged on UCLA's campus November 19 to confront the UC Board of Regents as it voted to increase tuition by 32 per cent next school year.

Several hundred students surrounded the Regents' meeting, chanting, "UC Regents, I see racists!" and "Lay off Yudof," referring to UC President Mark Yudof. Workers and students disrupted the meeting, and 14 people were arrested, as large numbers of police lined up to defend the regents.

California Highway Patrol officers were even brought on campus for crowd control. Three Black students were reportedly Tasered in altercations with campus police.

After the regents voted for the fee hike, students held a die-in, blocking the busy intersection of Wilshire and Westwood for several minutes. But protests began earlier in the day, even before the sun came up, when around 30 students occupied Campbell Hall with a banner reading, "In solidarity with university occupations everywhere."

The action came in the middle of a three-day system-wide protest, anchored around a strike by members of the University Professional and Technical Employees union at UCLA and UC Berkeley, which was supported by Coalition of University Employees union members and others.

On November 18, around 500 students, faculty and staff blockaded the main entrances to UC Santa Cruz, and more than 150 students occupied Kresge Town Hall in solidarity with the actions in LA. On November 19, more than 250 occupied the Clark Kerr administration building.

At UC Berkeley, two busloads of students from the UC Davis campus joined over 2000 Berkeley students, staff and faculty at a rally and march to send off a bus caravan to join the protests at UCLA. Later in the day, some 200 students occupied a building at UC Davis, and police were threatening mass arrests late November 19 night.

At Berkeley, in an ominous development, police have charged a student for "incitement to riot", which could be a felony charge -- and they moved aggressively to break up an attempted occupation of the Engineering Library. Police also threatened students with arrest if they erected a tent city in historic Sproul Plaza, the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement during the 1960s.

The police even shut down a planned teach-in in the Bear's Lair, a campus café -- on the grounds that the students were not authorized to use the cafeteria for the purposes of an educational event.

In response, students on the strike planning committee have issued an emergency call for a rally and march to the UC police department on November 20 to oppose police intimidation.

Action also spread beyond the UCs, as around 100 students at San Francisco State University occupied the administration building for the afternoon, disrupting campus business. Nearby, more than 500 students at City College of San Francisco marched through the campus before confronting the vice chancellor to demand that the administration support the call for a March 4 statewide strike to defend public education.

The regents' vote is certainly a defeat for the movement to defend public education. But the statewide response shows that the movement is growing--and points to a large mobilisation for the March 4 statewide strike and day of action to defend public education.

P.O. Box 40009
San Francisco, CA 94140
Email: theorganizer@earthlink.net
Website: www.socialistorganizer.org

(Please forward widely!; please excuse duplicate postings)


1) Introduction: Summary of Nov. 17-20 Actions in Defense of Public Education

2) Rally Against UC Repression on Monday, Nov. 23 @ UC Berkeley!

3) Videos, Photos and Articles on Nov. 17-20 Campus Protest Actions

4) Letter from UC Berkeley AFT President Denouncing the UCB Administration

5) How to Win this Struggle: Strike on March 4 to Defend Public Education!


Last week's protests in defense of public education have captured the attention of the whole country. A quick summary balance sheet of the November 17-20 actions: Given the last-minute organizing, the turnout at all campuses was very significant, testifying to the deep anger: 2,000+ at UC Berkeley, 2000 at UCLA, 500+ at UCSC, 200+ at UC Davis, 80 at CCSF, 150 at SFSU, 100+ at Fresno State, etc. The energy at the protests was extremely high, and people understood that this struggle was not going to be won this week.

What next? The most immediate step is to organize against the massive police repression deployed and win amnesty for all the protesters throughout the state. See below for information about the Rally Against UC Repression Monday at UC Berkeley.
Most important, it is necessary to seize the moment and channel the momentum and energy into a mass democratic movement by students, workers and faculty on every school, in every sector of public education.

Our main task remains to channel this anger and momentum into an effective statewide strike on March 4. We must immediately begin discussion with the trade unions and student organizations to get them to strike on March 4. We must move immediately to set up Strike Committees at each school. We need to build the December 5 regional meetings (San Jose, Central Valley, and LA) and get as many organizations -- unions in particular -- to sign onto the March 4 call. The fact that UTLA, the LA teachers' union, has adopted the March 4 call is a huge development. Likewise, there is now talk of trying to organize to make March 4 a national day of action. -- E.B.


Rally Against UC Repression on Monday, Nov. 23 @ UC Berkeley!

Why is the UC administration repressing those who are fighting to defend public education?
Last Friday dozens of students and workers were brutalized by the police, with the complicity of the UC administration. Come rally in support of the victims. This is not just about police brutality; it is an important step toward deepening the struggle against the fee hikes, cuts and layoffs.

12 p.m. rally on Sproul Plaza, UC Berkeley
1:30 p.m. gathering at the Oakland Courthouse
661 Washington Ave (near 12th st. BART), Oakland, Room: 112, Time: 2 p.m.
The students, faculty and workers of this campus spoke on Friday, and our voices were heard around the world. We must stand in solidarity with those charged unfairly, and it must play a central role in how we move this movement forward.

The charges against 3 of the occupiers (those arrested early in the day) are for FELONY BURGLARY. The irony of the situation should be mentioned; that we are being charged with burglary (though we burglarized nothing) while the administration is stealing all of our futures. We would really appreciate any and all support.

p.s. The charges for the rest of the occupiers is misdemeanor trespassing, and that court date will occur December 23.

Videos, Photos and Articles on Nov. 17-20 Campus Protest Actions

Here below are the best, most detailed, most graphic videos, photos, and articles available online so far concerning the Nov. 20 (and earlier) actions at UCB, and UCLA, UCD, UCSC, SF State, and CSU Fresno. (Many other schools also held actions; please send out reports/links!). Let's use this growing momentum to deepen and broaden local actions and build up to a statewide strike of all public education on March 4!

Nov. 20 at UC Berkeley:

Video of Police Brutality at UCB http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOI5l2_RghQ
KTVU -- Very good TV coverage -- Strong Images of Police Brutality http://www.ktvu.com/news/21674608/detail.html
The Daily Cal -- Good Article and Footage of Protest/Chanting in Rain http://www.dailycal.org/article/107612/wheeler_hall_occupation_ends_pea…
San Francisco Chronicle - Good article http://www2.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/11/20/BA611ANSAB…
The Daily Cal- Great Photo Slideshow http://www.dailycal.org/mediabox.php?id=415&type=slideshow
NYTimes http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/21/us/21tuition.html?ref=us
Indybay.org coverage http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/11/20/18629379.php

Nov 18-20 Protests Throughout the State:

UCLA Video Coverage (Check out poll: 79% of public are against fee hike!): http://abclocal.go.com/kabc/story?section=news/local/los_angeles&id=712…
UCLA Indymedia Coverage: http://la.indymedia.org/archives/display_by_id.php?feature_id=1906
CSU Fresno Library Study In: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/11/20/18629688.php
UCSC Occupation of Kerr Hall: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2009/11/20/18629398.php
UC Davis Protests after 52 Arrested: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JsX5oPkqjnk
UC Davis - Good Student TV coverage of Occupation http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yWBa20tygk0
SF State Nov. 18 Action - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=718K2LT5vU4

Letter from UC Berkeley AFT President Denouncing the UCB Administration

Subject: Re: Wheeler Hall Protest Ended Peacefully
From: kkestrel@berkeley.edu
Date: Sat, November 21, 2009 11:49 am
To: "Robert J. Birgeneau, Chancellor"
Dear Chancellor Birgeneau,
I would like to respectfully disagree with your statement that "[t]aking over our classroom buildings is not a productive way in which to advance our shared interests in gaining support for public higher education."
When I think of the time and effort that students, staff, and faculty have spent over years trying to bring their grievances and constructive suggestions for remedies to UC administrators, and the way in which their concerns have been ignored and sidelined, I think that an action such as the student occupation of Wheeler Hall is highly productive if, as it seems to have done, it brings awareness of UC's dire situation to the general public, and exposes the incompetence, non-transparency, and
cronyism which characterize the UC administration's decisions.
In April 2005, you called a meeting of leaders of all the campus unions in the conference room in California Hall. We shared our concerns and hopes with you, and at the end of the meeting you said you had found the session productive and planned to do it again every year. To my knowledge, you have never followed up on that plan. You have occasionally met instead with representatives of single unions, and have heard student concerns only in public fora in which your office carefully controls the flow of events. This has not established the relationship of trust which seemed possible after that April 2005 meeting. The result is all too obvious. When you ask all of us to go forward together, we see that as disingenuous, even a co-optation and dilution of all the organizing we have done and the sacrifices we have made in recent years.
In the minds of many of our campus community members, the administrators of the University of California are taking over far more than a building. You are turning the public's greatest educational asset into a huge research park increasingly controlled by private interests. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Woody Guthrie sang that "Some will rob you with a six-gun/Some with a fountain pen." The students who occupied Wheeler Hall used no weapons except the power of their convictions and willingness to take the consequences of their actions. You and your administrative colleagues, on the other hand, most assuredly continue to wield your "fountain pens" in a cynical, hypocritical, and greedy way as you use your power to bypass the intent of the charterers of the University of California and the formulators of the Master Plan for Higher Education.

Respectfully yours,

Kathryn A. Klar
Lecturer in Celtic Studies
6303 Dwinelle Hall

642-4484 (message only; no office phone due to budget cuts)

K-12 education in California public schools.

A.B. (1971), M.A. (1973), Ph.D. (1977). All from the Department of
Linguistics, UC Berkeley.
Lecturer at Berkeley since 1980.
President, UC-AFT Local 1474 (Lecturers and Librarians)


How to Win this Struggle: Strike on March 4 to Defend Public Education!
Statement by The Organizer Newspaper

Momentum is building. The will to resist the destruction of public education has been expressed in the inspiring September 24 walkouts, the massive October 24 Statewide Mobilizing Conference at UC Berkeley of over 800 activists, and the November 18-20 UC and CSU actions across the state.

These are great first steps. But what will it take to win this struggle?
We in Socialist Organizer are convinced that nothing short of a statewide strike of UC, CSU, CC, Adult Education and Pre-K-12 students, workers, and faculty will be enough to stop the cuts, layoffs, and fee hikes -- and roll back the racial segregation of public education.

No school can function without teachers, students, and workers. We make these institutions run -- and we can and must shut them down until our demands are met.

March 4, 2010 was chosen by the October 24 Statewide Mobilizing Conference to be a statewide Strike and Day of Action. We must begin organizing now to win as many students, teachers, workers, and their unions as possible to strike on this day. Here's what it will take.
Stop "Lobbying" the Democrats

We must convince our peers, co-workers and organizations that "lobbying" the Democrats is a dead-end. What have been the results of this strategy? Cuts, cuts, and more cuts -- by both the Republicans and Democrats, parties funded and controlled by the ruling rich. Sacramento and the bureaucrats will only cede to our demands if we force them.

Parallel to this, UC President Yudof and the other bureaucrats try to wash their hands of any responsibility for the cuts -- they tell us that instead of organizing on campuses we should "go pressure Sacramento." But the UC currently has enough money in reserve funds and executive salaries to prevent any cuts! And if the CSU, CC, and K-12 administrators were serious about defending education, they would do everything possible to promote -- rather than prevent -- a strike on March 4.

Organize the Majority
People are ready to fight back, but we have not yet involved the majority in this struggle. People are overwhelmingly opposed to the cuts -- but too many think that nothing can be done or that there "is no alternative" to the cuts.

We must explain that this is a crisis of priorities not a "budget crisis" -- and that this struggle is winnable. We must build a broad, inclusive, mass democratic movement, open to all individuals and organizations that want to fight the cuts. General Assemblies should be organized at all schools. We must involve and champion the demands of students and workers of color, who have been the most affected by the crisis.
Build Student-Worker-Teacher Unity Across the State

The ruling class relies on the strategy of "divide and conquer." They will pit UCs against the other sectors of public education, workers against students, and unions against other unions. We must begin to build unity among students, workers, teachers and their organizations; unity among the different regions of California; and unity with other public sector organizations and community groups.
Students have for the moment taken the lead in this struggle, but a real strike is not possible without tapping into the power of the workers (including teachers) and their trade unions. Workers can literally shut down any institution just by refusing to work -- that's real power.

We must do everything possible to organize rank-and-file workers and union activists to push their unions to strike on March 4. Organizing a strike among workers won't be easy: There exist many reactionary laws preventing strikes, and most of the labor leaders are tied to the Democrats and the power structure. But given the depth of the crisis, a strike is both possible and necessary.

Start Organizing for March 4 Now!

While the protests this fall have been important, most have been organized with only a few weeks' notice. None have been real strikes of all workers and students. To build toward such a huge strike takes time - and there is no time to lose. Every school and workplace should immediately set up March 4 strike committees to start publicizing, organizing, and mobilizing.

March 4 can be an historic turning point not just for the fight in public education, but for the broader struggle in defense of public services, for immigrants' rights, for single-payer healthcare, against the wars, and beyond.
* All out for a strike on March 4!
* Stop the fee hikes, cuts, layoffs, and segregation of public education!
* Tax the rich!