Hundreds of students gathered in the MU on Thursday to draw awareness to the fee hikes and mismanagement of the UC administration.
The protest was part of the March 4 Day of Action, a nationwide series of rallies for K-12 and higher education funding. In California, thousands of students, faculty and families gathered at the capitol to discuss with legislators and voters the importance of financially prioritizing education across the state.
Those who attended said the rally was peaceful and organized, and they believed it reached a wide audience in an effective way. At UC Davis, students, union members and faculty joined instead to strike against the UC regents, for what they say is an organizational issue, as opposed to a state issue.
‘No business as usual’
Nearly 400 students began the UC Davis strike by marching through campus and pulling fire alarms, drawing the attention of students, faculty, the UC Davis Fire Department and UC Davis Police officers.
Many of those protestors wore signs, t-shirts and flags showing their opposition and disapproval of what they believe is a corrupt UC system.
“I believe that even if UC got more funding from the state, they wouldn’t spend it on students,” said Cynthia Degnan, a graduate student in the English department. “They would spend it on privatizing our university.”
Fire alarms were pulled in Storer, Chemistry, Olson, Kerr, Wellman and Hart Halls, as well as at Shields Library and the MU, forcing all those inside to evacuate. No suspects have been identified yet.
“It was a symbolic gesture to show that education cannot continue under these circumstances,” Degnan said of the alarms.
Some students inside the buildings said the false alarms were counterproductive to the message of education.
“It was completely and totally disrespectful that they pulled those alarms,” said Maggie Mello, a senior history major who evacuated Olson Hall. “We pay $100 a day to learn without disruption here, and I have a right to be in class. It was petty and irrational.”
Protestors also blocked the MU bus terminal causing traffic jams and severely late buses, said Greg Strecker, a junior political science major and Unitrans dispatcher.
“Most of the buses could not get through and ran late,” he said. “I know a lot of people who were late to school. One guy missed his midterm. I agree with a lot of [the protestors’] ideas, but we are here for an education and we already paid for it.”
Those involved maintained that the action was necessary to call attention to the situation.
“No business as usual,” said Sergio Blanco, a senior political science major at the bus terminal strike.
As the rally progressed down Howard Way toward Russell Boulevard, many more students began to join the group of protestors. The group sat in intersections and blocked Russell Boulevard and La Rue Road as they made their way toward Interstate 80.
“I think we all know where we’re headed,” said Laura Mitchell, a senior sociology-organizational studies major, who led much of the strike. “It’s a little bit bigger and a little bit more obtrusive than where we’re at right now.”
Those involved were pleased with the way the march was able to rally support and draw attention, said protestor Brian Ramirez-Corona at the intersection of Howard and Russell.
“I’m really proud of our students,” Ramirez-Corona said. “We just got so many people to come out to this intersection, and I think it’s really going to make a statement to the UC regents.”
An arrest brings silence to the rally
Tensions escalated when protestors tried to push past shoulder-to-shoulder lines of 120 officers from 10 law enforcement agencies.
Officers in full tactical gear fired pepper balls at the ground in front of the protestors. At one point, police used batons to beat back a throng of students pushing forward.
“They started shoving and hitting people and I started screaming and crying, and I never cry,” said Christine Hopper, a junior sociology major. “I was yelling ‘stop’ and they were still shoving and hitting everyone.”
Police maintained they took the measures necessary to keep protestors and those on the interstate safe.
“When you go out and endanger lives by trying to shut down the freeway, you need a better plan,” said Marvin Williford, a public information representative for the Solano County CHP. “Someone could have gotten hurt or killed. When a person faces a car at 65 miles per hour, that person loses.”
Mitchell was arrested on suspicion of inciting a riot and resisting arrest. She was dragged from the group of protestors into a law enforcement vehicle. Protestors left the scene after police agreed to cite and release Mitchell instead of taking her to jail.
“It was so shocking the way they carried Laura off,” Hopper said. “We all just stopped everything we were doing because if we kept pushing, we didn’t know what would happen to Laura. We’re a collective and we didn’t want to leave anyone behind.”
Some police had stun guns, but a UC Davis police spokesperson said they were not used by any officers, despite what many students reported hearing and seeing. Although the CHP officers carried stun guns, none were actually fired, Williford said.
“One [protestor] whacked a CHP officer with his bicycle, and the CHP officer pointed the taser at the protestor, but did not fire it,” Williford said.
Protestors encountered three separate lines of police on Old Davis Road and pushed through the first two. At the second line, about 100 yards from the I-80 on-ramp, police began firing pepper balls at the ground. At the last line, Mitchell was arrested and protestors stopped pushing against police.
The calm before the strike
Prior to the rally and strike, many professors sent out e-mails and devoted class time to teaching students about the issues being protested.
Some professors and instructors cited the UCLA Faculty Association report, which found that in the past 13 years, senior management grew by 118 percent. The number of faculty, meanwhile, increased by 24 percent and the number of students who enrolled in a UC school increased 39 percent.
The rally was initially intended to be a day of “Connecting the Elements” on campus, bringing together music from DJs at KDVS, silk screening and bike repairs at the MU and on the quad.
The next steps
On Friday, a group of about 15 protestors gathered in a circle in the MU to discuss the protest and the next steps in spreading awareness of the cause they were protesting last Thursday. The group agreed that the momentum of the protest should be carried through the following months, and to hold public information sessions next week.
ASUCD president-elect Jack Zwald delivered a message to media and students regarding Thursday’s protest and the caution he hopes students involved in such protests will take in the future.
“My gravest concern in all of this discourse is the insurance of safety of all involved,” Zwald said. “Both sides need to act rationally; we need restraint from all parties.”
LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at email@example.com.
Clarification – March 9, 2010: A quote in Monday’s article suggested that Cynthia Degnan was providing an explanation for the fire alarms that were pulled on campus. In fact, Degnan says she was only suggesting one possible rationale for the pulling of the fire alarms and was not speaking on behalf of anyone who pulled them.