Thousands gathered at the Capitol, on campuses and in the streets — more specifically the freeways — across the state last Thursday. Students, parents, educators and administrators from K-12 public schools, California community colleges, California State University (CSU) campuses and the University of California united to protest cuts to California public education.
UC Berkeley students Meegan Brooks, a fourth-year political science major and Eden Amans, a first-year English major, said they made the trip from their campus to the Capitol to join the group of 2,000 advocating for public education alongside the California Faculty Association.
“We’re really just showing support,” Amans said. “That’s what’s really going to get the most attention — the fact that all of us are here from all over and we’re all united in this one cause.”
The actions at the Capitol and on individual campuses garnered the attention of national media like “Saturday Night Live,” the San Francisco Chronicle, and CNN.
UC Davis specifically was criticized for extreme actions taken by protesters on campus. An estimated 300 protesters attempted to march onto Interstate 80 after gathering on the UC Davis campus. More than 120 campus, city, county and highway patrol law enforcement officers resorted to the use of force in an attempt to halt the crowd’s progress onto the highway. Officers wielded batons and fired pepper balls at the advancing crowd. They arrested one student.
On campus, protesters pulled fire alarms, disrupting classes and library patrons.
Julia Ann Easley, senior public information representative for the UCD News Service, said March 4’s events were extraordinary for the Davis campus.
“For the most part, our campus protesters are peaceful and law-abiding,” she said.
Easley, who has served on the UCD campus for more than 12 years, said the administration’s primary concern on March 4 was student and community safety.
“It’s the first time I’ve known students to try to lock up the interstate,” she said. “It made my heart sink out of the danger.”
Although rumors of violence and disruptive behavior at UC Santa Cruz circulated on Thursday, it has been determined that the protest was nonviolent, and reports by the administration of destructive behavior were misinformed. The rear windshield of a single car was broken when the vehicle attempted to forcibly cross the picket line, and, contrary to initial reports from the UCSC administration, thus far no police reports have been filed indicating the use or presence of weapons at the demonstration.
In Sacramento, representatives from the California Faculty Association and members of the legislature and state Senate addressed the crowd on the north steps of the Capitol building. Assemblyman Alberto Torrico was one of several politicians to speak at the podium, but he was the only one scheduled to do so.
Torrico focused on promoting Assembly Bill 656, an oil severance tax that would fund public education. Torrico, who authored this bill, is an advocate for higher education.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg also spoke, and applauded the protesters’ actions as a means of protecting California’s economic future.
“If we are going to create jobs, if we’re going to improve our economy, if we’re going to have a better budget, the last thing in the world to do is to cut public education,” he said.
Reid Milburn, president and regional senator representing Sacramento for the Student Senate of California Community Colleges (SSCCC), also addressed the crowd at the Capitol. Reid and members of the SSCCC are organizing a second march on the Capitol for March 22, and expect around 8,000 participants from across the state.
“I highly encourage any and all UC students — and any students or educational supporters from across the state — to join us,” she said in an e-mail to City on a Hill Press. “It is about time students stood up and helped California understand that the first priority in a fiscal crisis such as the recession should be to educate its people.”
Steinberg encouraged students on March 4 to continue their involvement in actions like the March 22 rally.
“You have already made a huge difference,” he said. “You have already changed the debate, but there is a long way to go. Let this be the beginning, and let this — once again, because of your activism, your advocacy, your stubborn unwillingness to take no for an answer — let this be the year that we begin restoring the California dream of public education.”