Year after year, semester after semester, UC Berkeley students join together with their fellow Californians to challenge budget cuts and tuition increases and all of the factors they see as an erosion of public higher education in the state. On Thursday, they are again expected to converge on campus. But this demonstration — which includes a noon rally on Sproul Plaza, takes some on a “99-mile March for Public Education and Social Justice” and culminates in a day of action at the state Capitol on March 5 — is anything but routine and offers a scarce moment for all stakeholders to be heard.
We support the student strike at UC Berkeley, the march to Sacramento and the subsequent day of action.
Skeptics must not discount the power and attention that the simple act of peacefully and lawfully marching to Sacramento can achieve. In directly pointing a finger at those legislators and politicians with the most power to reinvest in education rather than the university and campus administrators who have little, the movement continues its long-overdue shift toward relevance. All participants must speak to the state senators and assembly members who see education as a budget item, not the chancellors and administrators who need to deal with the financial realities imposed upon them.
Student engagement and a diversity among protesters is paramount. Because the issues spotlighted throughout these demonstrations affect all UC Berkeley students, they should all make an effort to get involved in some way. Only when a wide array of ideas are expressed do infeasible ones get pushed to the fringe. From the noon rally on Sproul to the procession toward Sacramento and the day of action there, students should make sure that all actions remain representative of the interests everyone shares by taking the time to be there.
Chancellor Robert Birgeneau should himself support the march and day of action. While it is unreasonable to expect the campus’s leader to join the march all the way to Sacramento, his appearance at some point along the way would be an invaluable symbol and help garner more attention from politicians and the media alike. He has extolled protesters to direct their anger at the Capitol, and now that they are, it is imperative he stand behind the tactics he encouraged. Other administrators, too — from UC Berkeley and other schools — should make time to be present on Sproul, during the march or on the day of action.
Leaders from the administration aren’t enough, though. Those from the student body cannot be absent, either. While every UC Berkeley student is a leader in their own right, we hope to see people like ASUC President Vishalli Loomba and External Affairs Vice President Joey Freeman involve themselves, as Freeman did at a Sacramento rally last semester. The campus’s institutionalized student leadership must continue to lend its presence at protests, as it has in the past, and work with activist leaders to maximize exposure for their shared plight.
Indeed, it requires representatives from all parts of our campus, university and statewide community to make the upcoming demonstrations meaningful. In the coming days, they must all continue to organize and prepare to ensure an effective, safe and legal series of protests. And while occupying the Capitol building is a possible avenue for protesters to express their demands, they should not consider it their end goal or de facto strategy. It is impossible to predict the best course of action without knowing the facts on the ground. However, an occupation for the sake of occupation is empty — the act must possess a promise of results other than disruption and ultimately advance something greater than a display of disobedience.
These demonstrations must maintain a precise and concrete message. Demanding that the state democratize the UC Regents, for example, neither attacks the core issues that face higher education in our state nor provides a solution for fixing them. But a chorus that sings the driving need for a reversal of fee hikes and budget cuts represents an ideal every Californian can understand and should support.
From the most lofty administrator to the least involved student, we are all Californians with a stake in higher education. This is our university. This is our state. The protests planned on campus and across our state this week present a rare chance to unite in a singular purpose and remind lawmakers that they have forgotten to serve us. Do not waste the opportunity.