In a day marked by large crowds and violence between protesters and police, UC Berkeley students and community members established an Occupy Cal encampment on Sproul Plaza, despite it going directly against campus policy.
The encampment, approved in a nearly unanimous general assembly vote by the protest’s participants, was formed to show solidarity with the national Occupy movement but focused on the increased privatization of the UC system, according to Amanda Armstrong, a UC Berkeley head steward for UAW Local 2865 — a union representing graduate student instructors — and organizer of the event.
“What we are doing is opposing that,” Armstrong said.
Many graduate students began the day of action by holding discussion sections on Upper Sproul Plaza to show support for maintaining the affordability of the UC system.
“I would have taught out in any class — I think fighting for public education is very important as our right,” said department of sociology graduate student instructor Sarah Anne Minkin. “It’s very important to be a part of this movement, for me, as a human being it’s also important and it’s also important as a teacher for the students to be a part of it as well.”
At the height of the day’s events over 1,000 people swarmed the plaza, bearing signs that read, among other things, “Education is a debt sentence,” and chanting “No cuts, no fees, education must be free.”
After marching to the local Bank of America branch on Telegraph Avenue — resulting in the branch shutting down for the day — protesters reconvened in a general assembly to establish the Occupy Cal encampment.
“We, the UC Berkeley general assembly, hereby establish an encampment on the UC Berkeley campus in order to … help the university become what it always should have been: open and free to all,” according to a proposal adopted by the protesters. “We disagree with the idea that this university and this land are the property of the UC Regents, the vast majority of whom hail from the 1 percent.”
UCPD responded to the general assembly’s decision to establish the encampment by confiscating tents and maintaining a barricade to prevent protesters from entering Sproul Hall.
After issuing a dispersal order around 3:30 p.m., police used batons against protesters who began moving into their barricade, resulting in seven arrests, as well as injuries to protesters’ arms, heads and stomachs. One protester was sent to the campus Tang Center.
Many protesters called the police’s violent tactics “excessive” and “unneccesarily forceful.”
“Any use of force against an encampment is illegitimate,” Armstrong said. “All the violence the police perpetrated is the responsibility of the administration.”
Harry Le Grande, campus vice chancellor for student affairs, said the police were acting to enforce the campus policy.
“I think we all know that they know that tents were not allowed,” said UCPD Police Chief Mitch Celaya. “The individuals on the front lines made a conscious decision to obstruct the officers from doing what they had to do.”
Le Grande presented the Occupy Cal movement with a proposal — later denied by a vote of the general assembly — that allowed protesters to stay on Upper Sproul Plaza 24/7 for a week but without sleeping bags or tents.
When protesters failed to remove the encampment, police raided the movement for a second time at about 9:30 p.m., violently clashing with protesters who formed a wall around the remaining tents. As of press time, the day’s events had resulted in 39 arrests. The police issued another dispersal order after the second clash.
Yet protesters said the event was largely successful in bringing awareness to the inherent inequalities in an increasingly privatized public education system.
“Because tuition is rising, education now belongs to the greedy,” said UC Berkeley senior Naomi Santacruz. “Inequality arises from people unable to get an education.”
Members of the movement plan to take their demands to the UC Board of Regents at its meeting next week.
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