Day of action, rally in Sacramento planned for March

About 70 people representing teachers’ and workers’ unions and Occupy movements from around northern California gathered into a cramped conference room in Berkeley Saturday afternoon to discuss ways of combining individual Occupy movements into one larger movement next year.

The meeting took place at the offices of United Auto Workers Local 2865 — a union that represents thousands of graduate student instructors, readers and tutors — where those present voted to hold a statewide day of action on March 1 and a rally in Sacramento March 5.

Organizers called for members from various community college, university and city Occupy movements to organize local mobilization activities on March 1 in anticipation for a rally at and subsequent occupation of the state capitol building on March 5.

“These actions won’t stop all the budget cuts,” said Andy Libson, a member of a union representing educators in San Francisco. “But they will be the beginning of a marshaling  of our side to show that we are not going to take it anymore.”

For Occupy Cal, this means another set of rallies, teach-outs and large scale general assemblies that have been characteristic of the movement since it began over one month ago. It is also another opportunity for protesters to voice concerns about declining state funding and increased tuition before the UC Board of Regents meets in March.

But because Saturday’s meeting brought together several previously independent movements and issues, several attendees at the meeting expressed a need to join efforts in calling for reform to the state’s education system in order to avoid additional cuts.

“It’s really important to go to Sacramento together because what we are all facing is interconnected,” said UC Berkeley junior Eden Foley. “The university budget cuts and rising unemployment are all affected by the same issues and it’s not just affecting students. We have to listen to that and show the state who we are.”

By taking their concerns to Sacramento in large numbers, organizers said their call to action could be the start of a new movement to transform public education and bring it back into the hands of students, faculty and staff.

Many in the room echoed this sentiment, some of whom came from community colleges, hoping to bring a movement that has now caught wind at many of the state’s public four-year institutions to a system that has also seen drastic budget reductions in recent years.

“I see students sleeping in class because they have to work 40 hour weeks to pay for classes at San Mateo,” said Dan Kaplan, a professor at San Mateo Community College and executive secretary of American Federation of Teachers Local 1493.

Because community college students do not live on campus and many work long hours, Kaplan said the Occupy movement has failed to gain momentum in the system, but added that the planned day of action and subsequent rally in March will prompt many teachers to hold teach-outs about the problems facing higher education in California.

Kaplan said he plans to hold a teach out on the structure of income and wealth in the United States.

“The emphasis is to create a broader social understanding in America,” he said.

Because the events for March are still in the initial planning the stages, organizers will meet again Dec. 17 to discuss establishing working groups for outreach and communication.

Amruta Trivedi is the lead academics and administration reporter.