Revolution #218, November 28, 2010

UC Students Confront Attacks on Education

Enough Is Enough!

On Wednesday, November 17, University of California (UC) students and university workers came from around the state to a meeting of the UC Board of Regents in San Francisco to protest brutal attacks on public education in California. They were met with tear gas and—outrageously—a policeman drew his gun to threaten them. The next day, university regents voted to raise student tuition 8 percent—the fourth tuition increase for students in the University of California system in three years. Just last year, tuition went up 32 percent. Adding insult to injury, the regents also slashed the university budget.

The fact that a cop drew his gun on protesters made national news. Associated Press accounts, reprinted in papers across the country, simply channeled statements by campus police that the cop "had drawn his weapon to protect himself. He was very concerned about his safety." This was contradicted by many eyewitnesses. The official student newspaper at UC Berkeley, the Daily Californian, ran an article with an account from a protester that "the officer hit a student with his baton with such force that the baton bounced out of his hand. Facing the crowd, the officer panicked, pulled his gun and aimed it at students, according to Lara-Briseno."

In any event, the use of pepper spray, the arrest of 13 protesters, one for a felony, and threatening students with a gun, were not in any fundamental sense because a cop—who had been beating students with his baton—felt threatened.

The police violence was a completely unjust escalation of ongoing attempts to brutally intimidate, stop, and terrorize the students and their determined struggle to defend the right to education. In recent days, these attacks have ranged from the arrest of five students at UC Irvine for writing protest messages in chalk, to the stationing of UC police and county sheriffs outside student protest meetings and in the hallways of classroom buildings on campus. One young activist was stopped and harassed by police on the UC Berkeley campus for legally posting flyers with a picture of the cop with the drawn gun and the headline, "Pay your fee increase or I'll shoot you." Then he watched as the police tore down all the flyers. "This is intimidation and harassment," the student said. "They're trying to silence us. Yesterday that cop with the gun was scary. It reminded me of what happened in Oakland with Oscar Grant."

A Wave of Attacks on Education

A UC Berkeley student who was pepper sprayed and jabbed with a police baton gave voice to the motivation of many who were there when she told Revolution, "Education is a right. It's a basic tenet of a healthy society. The university is being privatized. We are losing something very precious right now. People need to be able to understand the world they live in, they need to be able to understand the differences around them so they don't become misdirected or prejudiced."

But that is not the logic of the capitalist system—where education is not a right.

Tuition has been going up for years at UC schools, but since the financial crisis in 2008, students have been subjected to a relentless series of fee hikes, cuts in staff, resources and services, and cuts in classes with progressive departments in the liberal arts have been first on the chopping block. The University of California system has long been considered the "crown jewel" of public education in the United States—an institution open to anyone who meets the academic requirements. Now, education quality and accessibility are being radically restructured. Enrollment of Black and Latino students is dropping at many UC campuses and students of all backgrounds are "paying more for less," burdened by massive debt as they go out into a world of unemployment. And similar drastic slashing of spending on public higher education is going on across the country, from Louisiana to New Jersey.

People are being told they have to accept all this because the State of California has a budget deficit of $25 billion. In addition to slashing public education, the budget deficit has led to a wide range of drastic attacks ranging from the temporary layoff of 200,000 workers in November, to cuts in Medicaid payments that endanger the most baseline medical care for the poor.

The current economic crisis has sharpened and intensified what has been true for over 100 years—all over the world, capitalism-imperialism is grinding up lives and thrusting people into ever more vulnerable positions. In the imperialist countries in Europe and in the U.S., this has taken the form of massive slashing and/or "privatization" of essential social services, education, and the public sector generally.

But for the last year, students in California's public university system have refused to accept that this is just the way it has to be. There have been major protests and building occupations. And the protests against attacks on education have intersected with other important student activism in California. Early this year, hundreds of students at UC San Diego were part of protests against racist incidents on campus. And there was a hunger strike during finals last year at UC Berkeley protesting the budget cuts and Arizona's fascist law against immigrants, SB1070. At each point students have been met by repression and brutality from the police.

When a cop drew his gun to threaten student protesters at the recent UC Regents meeting, he was in essence the armed enforcer of a capitalist system which cannot and will not tolerate any challenge to the major changes that are being imposed on education.

Student activists at Berkeley have responded to the tuition raise and the police brutality and intimidation they faced at the regents meeting with more resistance. As this goes to press students at UC Berkeley just did a "snake march" through campus, decorating the ground and buildings with chalk messages against police brutality and budget cuts as they went. Their flyer said "$822 tuition increase? Bigger exec salaries? UCPD officer pointing guns at students then ripping down flyers of pictures of the incident? ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!"

"And, despite the good intentions of many teachers, the educational system is a bitter insult for many youth and a means of regimentation and indoctrination overall.  While, particularly in some 'elite' schools, there is some encouragement for students to think in 'non-conformist' ways—so long as, in the end, this still conforms to the fundamental needs and interests of the system—on the whole, instead of really enabling people to learn about the world and to pursue the truth wherever it leads, with a spirit of critical thinking and scientific curiosity, education is crafted and twisted to serve the commandments of capital, to justify and perpetuate the oppressive relations in society and the world as a whole, and to reinforce the dominating position of the already powerful.  And despite the creative impulses and efforts of many, the dominant culture too is corrupted and molded to lower, not raise, people's sights, to extol and promote the ways of thinking, and of acting, that keep this system going and keep people believing that nothing better is possible."

—from "The Revolution We Need... The Leadership We Have" by the RCP, USA

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