On March 1, students and supporters of the Occupy Education movement gathered at universities across the nation to protest tuition hikes and call for state reform. On March 5, thousands of student protestors from higher education institutions in California gathered in Sacramento with a similar message.
Jeb Purucker, a UC Santa Cruz literature graduate student, emphasized the global nature of the movement.
“Protesters were gathering in London and people were getting tear-gassed in Quebec while we were out in the rain on Thursday,” Purucker said.
On March 1, the UCSC campus was shut down at 4:00 a.m. as close to 250 students gathered to listen to speakers and take part in a “Tent University” staffed by activists and faculty. A wide variety of issues were discussed and opinions expressed, but most protesters agreed on the basics.
“I’m here because the state of our education is currently in a crisis and I believe the people in power are not fit to address it,” said Chris Cuadrado, a fourth year Latin American and Latino studies major and emcee of the tarp-covered truck that served as a stage for student and faculty speakers. “I believe it is essential for us to come together and decide what our response is to that crisis.”
Protesters gathered peacefully for the majority of the day. At 8:30 a.m. a Ford Mustang attempted to breach the blockade at the base of campus, knocking over students. No one was seriously injured.
A larger protest occured in Sacramento on March 5. Four busloads of UCSC students took part. Activists, union representatives and students marched to the State Capitol, carrying signs and banners bearing slogans condemning recent budget cuts and actions of the UC regents.
Thousands of people gathered on the steps of the Capitol to listen to speakers including Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and civil rights activist Van Jones, as well as several student representatives. The speakers advocated new taxes and in favor of further budget cuts.
“We’re here today because the California dream is in danger. We’re here today because we have more than tripled the cost of higher education in this state in the last decade and more than doubled it in the last five years. We’re here today to say enough is enough,” said Newsom. “We built the envy of higher education for the world 50-plus years ago … It’s time to reconcile our proud past.”
After speakers left protesters entered the Capitol. Around 2 p.m., a general assembly was organized by several hundred protesters, as they discussed the changes they’d like to see. These were later formalized in a list of demands.
Most filtered slowly out of the building as the night went on, but 68 were arrested for refusing to leave after a dispersal order was issued. They were released later that night and slept in a Sacramento Church until morning, when buses from their respective cities and universities took them home.
John Kenny, a UC Berkeley environmental engineering grad student, was impressed with the turnout.
“I came to this General Assembly because I like how this is some kind of democratic process where we can come up with what we want to do,” said Kenny. “I was impressed by the number of people [who] were here earlier.”
Others like Mike Rotkin, UCSC Community Studies field study coordinator, said celebration was premature.
“All of your lives for the next few decades are going to be determined by a raging crisis at the world level in the economy,” said Rotkin as he stood in the rain and addressed the crowd from the truck on March 1. “There aren’t gonna be any rising wages and rising benefits for you. Your lives are gonna be about fighting for the scraps you have and trying to figure out a way to build some power in this country, so your children have a future.”