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Friday, March 5, 2010

Friday, March 5, 2010

March 4th At UCLA

By Tobias Higbie

Students, staff, faculty and community members participated in multi-focal protests on the UCLA campus on March 4th. The day's events began at 7:30am with picket lines at several entrances to campus and ended with a late afternoon rally and march that brought K-12 teachers, students and other supporters of public education to the campus. Campus police were well behaved.

A diverse group of students began marching around and through classroom buildings at 11:15am urging fellow students to walk out and join the protest. One protester pulled a sound system strapped to his bike trailer booming out music. By 11:45 this group had grown to about 100 and marched toward the Bruin Plaza rally.

A separate rally organized by MEChA was gathering steam near the undergraduate library. For a moment it looked like the two groups would join together as cheers of solidarity went up. But that was not to be. From what I saw, the MEChA rally drew 100-150 students, and like the other group they marched throughout north campus, finally dispersing around 2pm.

The noon-hour rally on Bruin Plaza drew hundreds of students, union members, lecturers, librarians and a faculty. The Daily Bruin reported the size of the crowd as 300. I would say it was well over 500 at its peak, shrinking as union members headed back to their jobs. In a bizarre twist, two men from the LaRouche organization had set up their literature table in the middle of the plaza before the protest began. During the rally they carried signs depicting President Obama with a Hitler mustache, and there were a few tense moments as others tried to block those signs with Day of Action picket signs.

At the close of the rally, a large group marched up the hill toward main part of campus. They entered the Murphy Administration building without police resistance and went directly to the Chancellor's office. I arrived as the tail end of this march entered Murphy Hall. There were a number of union members, a handful of faculty, and many, many students (Daily Bruin reported 300). After much chanting and a musical/dance performance by students from the World Arts and Cultures program, one of the organizers announced that students were sitting in and had delivered demands to the Chancellor. Participants in the sit-in made themselves comfortable on the floor, and re-branded the women's bathroom in the corridor a "gender neutral" facility.

For the next hour or so, students and staff took turns with the bullhorn. It was a diverse group: Latina/o, Asian, black and white. The overwhelming majority appeared to be students, along with perhaps 10 non-student union members & staff. Some told their personal stories of how the fee hike would hurt them or prevent their younger siblings from attending the UC. Others gave their own political analysis of the budget situation, or spoke about how activism in the past had brought about positive changes on campus (e.g., ethnic studies). Regular updates from protests around the state and country were read to the assembly. Two students arrived with petitions for the California Democracy Act, took a turn at the bullhorn, and then collected signatures. Another student sang a Mexican folk song, receiving much applause. The mood was upbeat but serious. Although this was not billed as a "Teach In," it had the feel of participatory education. I would estimate at least 70 people were present for this part of the Sit In.

At some point, student leaders emerged from the Chancellor's office to report on their meeting with a Vice Chancellor. The report was that the Chancellor would not meet with students, and didn't need to give a reason why (here I'm paraphrasing the students' words).

At 3pm there was a formal Teach-In in front of the undergraduate library, attended by about 150 people. When that ended, many participants marched back over to Murphy Hall to join the Sit In. When I visited Sit In at about 4:30pm there were still at least 50 people sitting down in the corridor, 4 UCPD guarding the door to the chancellor's office, and a few NLG legal observers. As Bob Samuels reports, at 4:30pm a second rally drew K-12 educators to the campus, and they too marched up the hill to join the sit in. However, by this time UCPD were blocking entrance to the building. After some time, according to a Twitter post last night, organizers cleared the Sit-In and joined the rally outside Murphy Hall to end the Day of Action.

UC police were notably low key. No riot gear. No provocative confrontations or weaponry (that I saw). An article in the Daily Bruin quotes the police spokeswoman saying UCPD had met with the NLG in recent days to discuss their protest policies.

Finally, I would say the organizers pulled off a very successful day of protest that dominated the main areas of campus for most of the day, and made the budget crisis very visible. Where September and November seemed like one-time, do-or-die events, March 4 feels like the beginning of something. The students here at UCLA better organized now, even if they are not quite united. They are linking their struggle nationally across college campuses, and out into the community via K-12 teachers and students. These nascent coalitions may be the best way to turn around the politics of privatization at the state and national levels.


gilhoch said...

and where were the tenured faculty?

Toby Higbie said...

Tenure system faculty were present, but not in great numbers, it's true. I have three thoughts about this.

First, information about this day of action was not as centralized as the previous actions. As late as Tuesday colleagues were telling me they had no specifics on the Day of Action. Part of the reason for this is that students were communicating on Facebook, and I think relatively fewer faculty use that platform. I use it as little as possible, but if you go to the relevant groups there you'll see plenty of communication leading up to the 4th.

Second, the lack of official student government support, I think, made faculty wary of participating (perhaps for good reason, perhaps not). The grad student gov't endorsed only the night before. The lack of official undergrad support was also seen in the separate MEChA rally. Endorsement by student gov't and student of color organizations might have increased faculty participation.

Finally, faculty at UCLA who might get involved lack an organization. The Faculty Association, as far as I can tell, is mostly concerned with protecting those in or close to retirement (a completely reasonable approach for those in or near retirement). The Senate appears to be an appendage of management (I'm happy to be proven wrong on this). The UC-AFT (appropriately) is primarily focused on the interests of lecturers and librarians. All of this means that there are few if any spaces (other than email) for potentially supportive faculty to mold some kind of collective opinion.

Bob Samuels said...

Just to clarify things. We did reach out to about 100 senate faculty, and only a few expressed interests in joining our activities. It would be great if someone would suggest a strategy for getting the faculty at UCLA more involved. UC-AFT feels that by protecting the jobs of lecturers, we are also protecting the current working conditions of senate faculty. Several UCLA faculty did attend the events, and a few did participate actively.

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