Editor’s note: City news writer Sarah Hansel attended Wednesday’s protest on the UC Berkeley campus. Here is her account of the movement against the regents’ decision to raise student fees.
I have to admit, my trip down to Berkeley to take part in the protests against the UC Regents’ proposed 32 percent student fee increase was initially more out of curiosity than solidarity. Like most students, I said I was against the fee increases – but I knew next to nothing about the background and complexity of the situation. Mostly, I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. And my only class that day had been cancelled.
What I found in Berkeley was a crowd of thousands, holding signs and chanting – an obviously informed and dedicated group of students, alumni, teachers and workers.
At noon, everyone gathered on the main plaza for the rally. The picket lines had been active since 5 that morning, but the protestors seemed as energetic as ever. While the organizers of the rally arranged themselves and their signs on the Mario Savio steps to Sproul Hall, more and more people arrived in the plaza.
It was impossible to tell whether the crowd had shown up out of support or curiosity, like me, but the numbers were nevertheless impressive.
The chants of “Whose university? Our university!” grew louder, and suddenly I found myself in the middle of a huge crowd of people, when moments before I had been standing with hesitation at the edge.
The energy of the crowd was certainly infectious, and I found myself joining in the chanting, but the speakers who spoke at the rally were by no means pressing their opinions on anyone. Despite the random people passing out socialist newspapers or shouting about the end of the world – this was Berkeley, after all – I felt like the atmosphere of the rally was educated and reasonable, if a little pissed off.
There were several speakers at the rally – international students and local students (a few from UC Davis), professors, clerical workers, gardeners and more. Some speeches were angry and emotional, as in the case of a Muslim student mother who feared she could no longer afford to both attend UC Berkeley and feed her family, and some were smart and rational. One of my favorites was UC Berkeley linguistics professor George Lakoff, who spoke of a tangible way regents could remedy the situation – that being by supporting an initiative for a ballot measure that would repeal California’s required two thirds legislative approval to pass any state budget legislation.
It seemed as though everyone had a different story about how the fee hikes would affect them, but one common sentiment was that the current UC leadership is highly flawed. Several signs said things like “Lay off Yudof” or “Chop from the Top.” One speaker asserted that the UC in fact has enough money reserved to remedy the budget situation, saying, “We don’t have a budget crisis, we have a leadership crisis.”
Even if everyone had a slightly different take on the situation, there was an incredible feeling of solidarity at the rally. The most important thing I took away from it was that whether you are a student, professor or worker at the University of California, this is still your university. And whether or not you ultimately agree with the fee hikes, it is important to be informed about the situation.
SARAH HANSEL can be reached at email@example.com.