Occupy Cal moves ahead

Occupy Cal encourages support, looks forward to May First Day of Action

Sean Goebel/File
Thousands of students came out on November 15th, 2011 to listen to Robert Reich speak and to participate in the Occupy Cal general assembly. (Sean Goebel/File)

Welcome to the open university.

This message is offered to passersby on Sproul Plaza as students and local activists gather every now and then for impromptu outdoor lectures presented by Occupy Cal instead of UC Berkeley.

Occupy Cal made national headlines when the establishment of its camp on November 9 was met with alleged police violence and several arrests. Six days later, thousands of onlookers flocked to Sproul Plaza to hear UC Berkeley public policy professor and former U. S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich speak about the need for the state legislature to address the decrease in state funding for public education in California.

Since then, support for Occupy Cal has dwindled, but members of the movement have taken measures to establish it as a fixture on campus.

UC Berkeley senior and Occupy Cal member Navid Shaghaghi said the group loses support during breaks from school, but he believes Occupy Cal’s action in solidarity with the worldwide May Day General Strike on May 1 will carry support for it through the summer and into the fall semester.

“A victory as a result of our action will bring people in, but most of all we need to teach them how to be activists,” Shaghaghi said. “That’s what will make the movement a part of the people.”

Most recently, members of Occupy Cal ran in last week’s ASUC general election under the party name Students for a Democratic University.

According to James Chang, SDU candidate for ASUC executive vice president, the main focus of SDU is democratizing the university, which means putting decision-making power in the hands of students, faculty and staff instead of the administration.

“We want to create a student union that advocates for access to education both on campus and off campus,” Chang said.

The university response to Occupy Cal has been varied — although Chancellor Robert Birgeneau was on an outreach trip in Asia, he sent out an email to the campus community a day after the events of November 9 justifying the UCPD use of force.

However, after returning to the United States a few days later, Birgeneau sent another email stating that the university “cannot condone excessive use of force against any members of our community” and announced that all UC Berkeley students arrested on November 9 would be granted amnesty from action under the Student Code of Conduct.

“We share the aspirations of the Occupy movement for a better America,” Birgeneau said in the November 14 email. “I am confident that as a campus community we will find a peaceful and productive way forward.”