Students stand in solidarity against Proposition 209

Levy Yun/Staff
A coalition organized by BAMN protested a hearing about Proposition 209 in San Francisco.

SAN FRANCISCO — Middle school, high school and college students — including some from UC Berkeley — united in protest Monday as the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed a lawsuit against Proposition 209.

Dozens of students bearing signs in front of the courthouse voiced their opposition to the 1996 bill — which bars public institutions from using affirmative action in admissions decisions — as the court considered arguments in favor of repealing the proposition.

The group of protesters included members of several UC Berkeley student groups such as MEChA, a national student organization formed to stimulate pride in Chicano culture and history, the Black Student Union and the student political party CalSERVE. Several students from UCLA’s Afrikan Student Union also participated in the protests, as well as students from Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School and Oakland’s Skyline High School.

“Just as the Supreme Court repealed Brown v. Board of Education, we believe that this is the court’s chance to rectify past wrongs,” said Salih Muhammad, chair of UC Berkeley’s Black Student Union.

About 40 students met on Lower Sproul Plaza around 8 a.m. Monday morning to travel together to the San Francisco courthouse where judges were presented the lawsuit, filed by the activist group BAMN. Dressed in black, the students walked in two lines to the Downtown Berkeley BART station. As part of their protest, the group passed through the station’s emergency exit without paying.

Three people were detained for fare evasion at the Civic Center BART Station, according to BART Police Lt. David Chlebowski. But Muhammad said no students affiliated with his group were detained.

The same morning, a bus approved and commissioned by the ASUC Senate last Wednesday to transport students to the courthouse left with only three people aboard at 9 a.m. but brought several more students back to campus, according to CalSERVE Senator Sydney Fang. The senate allocated almost $400 to support the Day of Action.

“The Senate should investigate this situation, and make sure that the number of students reached by any funded item is significant so as not to waste student fees,” said SQUELCH! Senator Noah Ickowitz in an email.

Fang said the bus was meant to carry students with disabilities and students unwilling to participate in the BART protest, although the bill passed Wednesday approving funds for the bus made no such distinction.

Once in San Francisco, protesters gathered outside the courthouse, chanting and holding signs decrying the proposition.

“We are not going to stop until we win,” said  Yvette Felarca, a national organizer for BAMN and a teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School who brought members of the school’s “I Have A Dream” club to join in the protest. “We will expect nothing less than full integration and equality.”

UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau also spoke out against the proposition Monday, personally pledging his support for overturning the act.

“Whether we like it or not, racial disparities remain a reality in Californian society,” he said in a statement. “The playing field will really only be level when Prop. 209 is repealed.”

But despite the backlash against the proposition, BAMN national chair Shanta Driver — who represented the activist group in Monday’s hearing — said the chances of the judges’ ruling in BAMN’s favor is unlikely.

“We had blockheads as judges,” said George Washington, another attorney representing BAMN. “Today is the beginning, not the end, and we’re fighting.”

Muhammad said whether student groups would work with BAMN on this issue in the future was still unclear. However, regardless of the outcome of the lawsuit, he said student groups in favor of overturning the proposition would likely organize teach-ins and other activities to build awareness of the issue.

“The court case is not an end-all with us,” he said.

Damian Ortellado is the lead higher education reporter.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the senate allocated $400 to only buses. In fact, the money went to buses and other supplies for the Day of Action.