With skulls painted on their faces, approximately 60 faculty, staff and student demonstrators led a “funeral procession” to UC Santa Cruz Executive Vice Chancellor David Kliger’s modest Santa Cruz home on Monday, Nov. 2 to protest student fee hikes, employee salary reductions and furlough days.
This symbolic move played on UC President Mark Yudof’s recent statement to The New York Times, in which he said that being president of the University of California is “like being manager of a cemetery; there are many people under you, but no one is listening.”
Despite Yudof’s clarification that his comment was not meant to equate UC students and faculty with cadavers, 100 protesters marched on Oct. 24 to Yudof’s home in Oakland Hills with tombstones and a coffin, items similar to those brought to Kliger’s home.
In the most recent march, protesters simultaneously honored the Day of the Dead, a holiday celebrated by Latin Americans to remember deceased loved ones. Many of the service workers impacted by the campus cutbacks are of Mexican descent, so celebrating the holiday added another dimension to the demonstration.
The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Students (AFSCME) and a small group of students and workers coordinated the event.
One of the coordinators, a UCSC student who asked to remain anonymous, described how the holiday and the demonstration were unified.
“We are mourning the loss of jobs and the loss of accessible, affordable higher education and celebrating the strength of our struggle,” said Janet Bradley.*
A number of unions attended the event including the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), a broad national union which has a branch for teaching assistants on the UCSC campus, AFSCME, a local service union, and the Coalition of University Employees (CUE), a clerical workers union.
These protestors voiced their opposition to furlough days, mandatory unpaid days off.
A theme among the speakers and those leading the protest was unity. One speaker, a custodian at UCSC who faces a 15 percent cut in hours until February, began a chant reiterating the message: “Students and workers untied for justice!”
The demonstrators crossed the Bay and High St. crosswalks, but once they reached the main stretch of Bay St., they flooded into the right lane chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets!”
Yolanda Lopez, a custodian at Stevenson and one of the many UCSC workers affected by the pay and hour reductions, discussed her reasons for participating.
“We are sending a symbolic message to Mr. Kliger that he needs to change the attitude toward workers and students,” Lopez said, as she marched on Nobel St. “It’s hurting the community.”
Much of the legislation disputed by protesters is the result of decisions made at the state level, rather than the UC level. For this reason Kliger believes that the protest was directed at the wrong target.
“I have a job here. If they want to protest my job, they should do it [at UCSC],” Kliger said. “But I am not my job. I am a person, and coming to my home is inappropriate.”
Neighbors curiously peeked their heads out from their homes as the chanting crowd snaked its way through the streets, trailed by two city police cars.
Around 6 p.m., UCSC Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Felicia McGinty notified Kliger that the protest was approaching his home. Five minutes before the protesters arrived, Kliger arrived home on his bike and was greeted by police officers who asked whether he would like to address the demonstrators. He spoke to the crowd for 10 minutes.
Following Kliger’s address, demonstrators questioned him about the UC’s Commission on the Future, which was listed in the UCSC event calendar as open only to staff and faculty, despite the fact that students were, in fact, allowed to attend.
One participant in the demonstration expressed disappointment with the effectiveness of the protest, especially in regard to the content of the dialogue. Others in the crowd noted that they thought Kliger may have become an unfair scapegoat of the UCSC budget crisis.
“I don’t think that Kliger is hiding money. He’s just the man who had to make the cuts,” said Devin Cormia, a third-year Merrill student. “We’re not in this mess because of him.”
Cormia also said that Kliger’s wife, Rachel, became upset and asked the crowd to leave them out of the protests.
“The crowd laughed at that,” Cormia said.
Soon after this interaction, Kliger and his wife went inside.
As the procession came to an end, demonstrators delivered a coffin and other funeral procession memorabilia and placed signs in the Kliger’s yard. The police took the items left. The crowd dissipated soon after.
“I wasn’t annoyed initially,” Kliger said. “But I was when I saw their reaction to my neighbors and my wife.”
One neighbor said she sympathized with the demonstration but was hesitant about supporting a march to Kliger’s home.
“I feel like it [was] too invasive,” said UCSC alumna April Welsh. “There are other avenues besides going to someone’s home.”
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of sources