Veteran protesters seek to rejuvenate movement

Megan Messerly/Staff

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Maeve Henwood and Jeannie Baldzikowski, two 17-year-old UC Santa Cruz freshmen, boarded a bus with a handful of friends Wednesday afternoon to camp overnight on Koret Quad on the UC San Francisco Mission Bay campus. They had heard about the encampment in preparation for Thursday’s protests of the UC Board of Regents meeting from their professors and friends and made a quick decision to travel to San Francisco and stay overnight.

While they patrolled the edge of Koret Quad during their assigned shift to keep an eye out for possible raids by the campus police department, the early-morning hours afforded them the opportunity to ponder the motivation for the next day’s protest.

“It saddens me to see an education system go to pieces,” Henwood said, referring to the UC system’s spiraling tuition costs. “I like to think of education as a necessity. It should be a priority for the government, and I just don’t think it’s getting the attention or funding it deserves.”

Henwood and Baldzikowski were two among about 25 mostly UC student protesters who arrived at the Mission Bay campus on Wednesday afternoon to prepare for a protest planned for the regents meeting Thursday. The group set up half a dozen tents on Koret Quad’s grassy common that served both as overnight shelter as well as a symbol of last year’s university occupations.

On Nov. 15, 2011 — exactly one year prior to Thursday’s demonstrations — thousands gathered on Sproul Plaza a few days after UCPD used batons on students and professors to tear down Occupy Cal’s protest camp.

But despite periodic protests and disruptions of regents meetings since then, Occupy Cal has not re-emerged after the high-water mark of Nov. 15. Protest movements this year, like Students for a Democratic University, have eschewed permanent occupation encampments. An Occupy Cal event on Sproul Plaza following the regents meeting Thursday drew very few attendees, and an intended encampment last Friday did not last through the night.

Likewise, Mission Bay’s anti-regents protest was not a near-spontaneous gathering of thousands but the hard work of committed veterans struggling to maintain a broad base of support and draw new students like Henwood and Baldzikowski into a sustained protest movement.

The protesters were largely composed of UAW 2865 organizers from multiple UC campuses and veterans of Berkeley’s Occupy Cal and Occupy the Farm movements. They met to set up an overnight encampment and base of operations and to plan the next day’s protest actions, which intended to disrupt Thursday morning’s meeting of the UC Regents. The charter bus Henwood and Baldzikowski took to Mission Bay from UC Santa Cruz was paid for in part by the union, with a small group of only seven aboard for the trip.

Occupy Cal veteran and UC Berkeley alumnus Navid Shaghaghi said he regrets the way coordination and communication faded after they developed in 2011 between the protest movements at UC Berkeley and UC Davis, where police forces served to mobilize masses of students.

“We’re in a better position for action than ever before, but there’s this public perception that the moment has passed,” said UC Berkeley graduate student and longtime Occupy Cal veteran Ian Saxton. “How does Occupy evaluate its history and improve itself?”

For Saxton, the solution is to leverage the intellectual capital of the students involved in protest movements, like the group of UC Berkeley graduate students who recently released a detailed report criticizing the financial policies of the UC system.

One of the authors of the report, Charlie Eaton, is the UAW’s financial secretary and helped organize and coordinate Wednesday’s overnight encampment and Thursday’s demonstrations.

It’s better to have a group of “10 really committed people,” Saxton said, than a larger, unreliable one.

Contact Gautham Thomas at [email protected].