December 13, 2009
In mid-November, student protests raged at University of California
(UC) in response to a drastic increase in student tuition. There were
building occupations at UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Davis and UC Santa
Cruz. Students took to the streets around campuses, stopping traffic,
and in some cases there were skirmishes with the police. Over 120 UC
students were arrested in the protests. The protesters were met with
police brutality on many campuses. UC students went face-to-face with
police in riot gear and there were reports of students being hit with
batons, tasered, pepper-sprayed and shot with rubber bullets. There
was a spirit of defiance among students in the UC system that was
like a breath of fresh air. And big questions got thrown up for
debate: What kind of society and what kind of system distorts
education in this way? Why did the police attack in this way? What
direction should the struggle take?
Tuition for the more than 220,000 UC students will be increased to
more than $10,000 per year, a 32 percent fee hike. This does not
include books, food and housing which can total up to an additional
$30,000. This new tuition is three times what it was 10 years ago and
many students will be forced to leave school. It will
disproportionately affect Blacks, Latinos and all students with
families of lower income. Many of these students are already
struggling to stay in school. One student said, "I work two jobs
already and I help support my family and I am barely making it now. I
will have to leave school by next year...." Another student said, "I
can only afford to swipe my card for one meal a day as it is. I will
not be able to afford a meal plan next quarter." At UCLA it is an
open secret that there are already homeless students living in their cars.
As we go to press, actions continue. On November 24, 200 students
occupied Mrak Hall, the administration building at UC Davis to demand
no criminal charges against 52 students arrested in a prior
occupation of Mrak. These charges were later dropped against all but
one student, who had been seriously brutalized by the police. At UC
Santa Barbara students, staff and faculty organized Fasting and
Fighting Against Tuition Increases from December 2-3 with a vigil,
music and poetry, and 27 hours of fasting. An Associated Students/UC
Police forum in Berkeley on December 1 was shut down by students who
read a statement saying: "Behind every fee increase, a line of riot
cops... The privatization of the UC System and the impoverishment of
student life... these can be maintained only by the police batons,
tasers, barricades and pepper spray. These are two faces of the same
thing..." On December 3, protesters interrupted a celebration of the
45th Anniversary of the Free Speech Movement UC Berkeleyone student
said, "There are serious issues with the university administration
repressing free speech. They didn't support it years ago and they're
not supporting it nowthat hypocrisy, we don't accept."
The continuing student resistance is important, and deserves broad
support. The following is edited from correspondence that Revolution
received following the initial wave of protest. It describes much of
what happened and the mood and thinking of the students involved.
On November 18, 500 angry students confronted Regents as they met to
decide on the fee hikes and budget cuts. The UC Board of Regents
(headed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger) is the group that makes
policy decisions for the entire UC system. Inside the meeting the
Regents cut off public comments and brought in police who arrested at
gunpoint students attending the meeting. They then declared their own
meeting an unlawful assembly and brought in police to arrest students
attending the meeting at gunpoint. Outside the building the
university police (UCPD) declared the protest an illegal assembly and
charged at protesters with clubs swinging. Fourteen were arrested. At
least three students were tasered; some were pepper-sprayed; others
were beaten with clubs. Legal observers and others said the police
attack was unprovoked.
For many students on all the campuses, this was their first
demonstration. And people were angry at the police beatings and their
intimidating show of force. There was shock at seeing the police
deliberately hurt students who were protesting peacefully. Some said
it looked like a police state. At UCLA, there was a lot of anger at
the police and at the administration when they initially denied that
students were tasered. The students responded by posting cell phone
video footage on YouTube. They made enlarged placards showing the
UCPD tasering and beating students which said: IS THIS NECESSARY?
The protesters had the support of many campus workers including
custodians and service workers. Some Spanish-speaking workers eagerly
bought copies of Revolution/Revolución newspaper and wanted to know
what was going on at other campuses. They condemned the police attack.
Buses arrived with students fresh from protests on their own campuses
(UC Santa Barbara, UC Berkeley, and UC San Diego) on November 18.
There was an all-night event called Crisis Fest 2009 held that night
and a tent city set up for students from other campuses which also
served as a base for the protests.
The students who organized this event saw the fee hikes linked to
broader issues. Crisis Fest produced a video
(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tI_X-DRvMYc) which included Mario
Savio's famous speech at the beginning of the Free Speech Movement at
UC Berkeley in the '60s urging students "to throw their bodies on the
gears of the machine." It also showed video of UC President Mark
Yudof stating: "In the 1980s, 17 percent of the state budget went to
higher education, the UC system, Cal state system and community
colleges. Three percent went to prisons. Today 7 percent goes to
higher education and 9% goes to prisons."
Organizers of Crisis Fest issued a list of demands in the spirit of
the French student protests in 1968, saying: "Our demands are not
impossible for us to realize, but they are impossible for this
university to realize without collapsing."
Some of the demands were:
The fulfillment and radicalization of the University's promise:
absolute, free education for all, regardless of so called
"qualification" test scores, race, gender, or orientation.1
The designation of the entire university as a "Free Speech zone."
Budgetary and investment transparency.
The removal of all ROTC and all military from Student Activities
Office at UCLA and the open of their offices for student organizing
The rejection of the role the university plays in funding the war
machine, developing technologies of destruction and breeding the
The expression of solidarity and support for students internationally
and in the U.S. who are occupying their schools and fighting the
commodification of education.
The encouragement of popular struggle among students and workers who
are fighting to include meaning and autonomy in their lives.
Solidarity with all struggles against capitalism, patriarchy and racism.
The Occupation and Renaming of Campbell Hall Now Carter-Huggins Hall
At 12:30 a.m. Thursday morning, a group of students from UCLA and
other campuses occupied Campbell Hall, the first building takeover at
UCLA in decades. They chained and barricaded doors and renamed the
building Carter-Huggins Hall after two Black Panthers, Bunchy Carter
and John Huggins, who were murdered there in 1969 by members of the
A handwritten statement from the occupiers of Carter-Huggins Hall said:
"We know the crisis is systematicit reaches beyond the Regents, the
criminal budget cuts in Sacramento, beyond the economic crisis, to
the very foundations of our society. But we also know that the
enormity of the problem is just as often an excuse for doing nothing.
We choose to fight back, to resist where we find ourselves, the place
where we live and work, our university."
The occupation was controversial, as students discussed and debated
the purpose of the occupation and why actions like these are needed.
Campbell Hall is the home of the Academic Advancement Program which
assists students from lower economic backgrounds, including many
students of color, with tutoring, mentoring and other support
services. The Asian Studies and Native American Studies programs are
also located there. While some students supported the occupation
others opposed the occupation because it interfered with tutoring and
scheduled activities that were helping students. Others said they
supported the occupation, but thought the target was wrong because
the students are all on the same side, and it would have been more
effective if it had targeted the administration building.
One of the questions posed by renaming the building after the Black
Panthers was how you look at revolution and serving the people versus
trying to make it to the top inside the system. One student told
Revolution: "A lot of people go to college to make money and to enter
into the lifestyle that has been set up for them. These are pathways
in life that we have been expected or pressured to follow.... For us
this (occupation) represents a break from an underlying philosophy of
education and a way to live your life and see the world. A lot of us
see huge problems with capitalism.... I think capitalism in general
takes the wonder out of life by placing everything in a utilitarian
frame where everything has a practical use. It has to have a
practical use like a commodity. Everything is put into terms of a
commodity that is worth a certain amount on a scale of value. For a
lot of us it takes away what is wondrous and joyful in this world and
what provides mystery in this world. In an artistic sense it [the
occupation] was a beautiful thing.... This was everybody's first time
doing an occupation and there were logistical considerations to
choosing this building.... There was some political significance
which some people really missed. Two Black Panthers were killed here.
We had a huge banner naming the building after the Black Panthers. It
was extremely artistic."
On Thursday November 19, the Regents announced their decision to
approve the fee increase to an angry crowd of over 2,000 students
from the all over the state. There was a spirit of resistance, and
students who definitely did not want business as usual at UCLA. A
defiant march took off into the city around the campus and students
sat in at the intersection of Wilshire and Westwood (one of the
busiest intersections in the country) completely halting traffic as
UCPD threatened them with arrest.
In a tense stand-off with police that lasted several hours, the
building where the Regents were meeting, was surrounded by students
chanting, "No Hikes, No Fees, Education should be Free!" On the other
side of the building there was a "block-in" as protesters sat in the
street and blocked vans transporting regents. When they finally
brought UC president Yudof out of the building they tasered students
to clear the way.
In this mix of all this there was debate and struggle over the
message and call from the Revolutionary Communist Party: "The
Revolution We Need… The Leadership We Have." The sentiment expressed
in the banner "The Capitalist System is a Disaster, A Better World is
Possible, Revolution is the Solution" resonated with some students.
Broadly, there were many students who were trying to think outside of
the framework of the current system, questioning the viability of
capitalism, and relating the fee hikes and education to broader
issues like prisons and the war. And there was a certain openness to
radical change and revolution.
Together with this, there was debate among the students over the role
and need for leadership. Some of the students, including those who
were involved in the most determined actions, believe in leaderless
movements. Another student said he saw the need for leadership to
make the revolution, but raised that leaders go bad and it was the
communist party structure that seemed to be the downfall of communist
countries because it gave too much power to a small group.
Others felt like one young Latina who said: "If we all just project
our anger and you overthrow someone and you do not have an effective
system of government after the revolution we would end up in chaos.
We would end up where we came from, if not worse. We have to have
leaders who are not going to be in it for the purpose of themselves
but for the benefit of the people as a whole, the benefit of humanity
as a whole not just a Black person, a white person , a Latino person
but for humanity as a whole because we are all human. These races are
things that have been socially constructed. So if we could organize
and have a plan that would overthrow the true oppressor, I do think
it would change things and I think it would be a solution . I am
always telling my friends 'Que viva la Revolución' Let the revolution live!"
UC Berkeley (UCB)
Wednesday, the first day of the strike, there was a rally of over
2,000 students, followed by a march through the city of Berkeley.
Then, early Friday morning, 40 students took over Wheeler Hall, one
of the largest and well-known class room buildings. They demanded the
university rescind its decision to raise fees 32 percent and
reinstate 38 custodians who had been laid off due to budget problems.
When word got out that students had taken over a building, supporters
gathered outside. By evening over 2,000 supporters were outside the
building. As negotiations were going on with those students inside
the building, the UCPD joined by Berkeley police and the Alameda
County Sheriff TAC squad began to mass. Barricades were put up to
keep supporters away from the building. Then the police attacked with
batons, pepper spray, and in one instance a rubber bullet. All of
this was filmed by local TV stations that have continued to play this
footage of the attack over and over.
One woman said the police struck her with a baton and broke her hand
as she was holding onto a barricade. Another woman was hit in the
face by a baton. The TV news interviewed a student with a large red
welt on his stomach; he had been shot by a rubber bullet after being
punched by a baton. One student described seeing a woman get hit on
the head causing a big gash and another got trampled by police
pushing the metal barricades into students.
The university police stormed Wheeler Hall and cleared out the
occupiers; they released the 40 students after citing them for
misdemeanor trespass. By Saturday, there began to be some public
outcry against the level of attack on the students. Monday, the UCB
administration called for an "investigation" into whether or not
excessive force had been used against the students.
There is a history of the UCB administration responding in this way
to any kind of disruption. The students step out even a little, and
there is a disproportionate response. The administration seems to
want to be sure that a student movement that has any teeth is crushed
before it can get off the ground. But the first response on the part
of the students has not been to back off, but to continue the fight.
Many students sense the struggle around education is connected to
much deeper issues. Some spoke to the similarities between the
violence of the baton-wielding cops at Cal and the photos in
Revolution #170 of police beating up a Black man and the victims of
American warplanes in Iraq. "Yeah, for a long time I really didn't
think democracy was real in this country but I never really
considered it a dictatorship based on rule by force. But when you
really think about it, it is a dictatorship."
Another said, "It's so weird how you see thousands of students,
workers, and faculty demonstrating against the cuts and fee increases
while a tiny handful of guys protected by hundreds of cops have the
power to make the decisions that count." Someone else agreed the fee
increases were connected to much bigger issues: people losing their
homes and jobs from the economic meltdown and even the war. "Obama is
talking about sending in thousands of troops to kill more people in
Afghanistan. He's not talking about cuts. It's fucked."
An announcement of the anniversary of the occupation of Alcatraz by
Native Americans also highlighted some of these connections. One
student said that it was so refreshing to hear someone call the U.S.
"monstrous." While there was an openness in the charged atmosphere
and a sense among many that it would take some kind of revolution to
really change things, a number of people commented that it was hard
to imagine that revolution was possible. Several thought communism
has been tried and failed, though a number of students pointed out
that they definitely thought it would be a good idea if people could
live cooperatively in a society that took care of people's needs. One
student said as he took the paper and flyers: "I'm so glad you're
raising this. I never thought people were talking seriously about
this in this country. We do need a revolution."
Throughout this past week, the revolutionaries have been out among
the students with "The Revolution We Need… The Leadership We Have."
Questions came up about whether revolution is possible since this
system has existed for many years and it seems too difficult to
change it. Others had questions about the socialist experience and
whether some group would come to power and then rule in the same way
as the system that was overthrown.
One student said, "Yes, I do agree that the media lies about almost
everything, but then why did communism fail where it was tried?" He
said that he had never before heard that socialist revolution was
truly liberating and was intrigued that Bob Avakian, a former student
at Cal himself, had gone deeply into the achievements, but also the
shortcomings of socialism and how much this had to do with both
making and continuing the revolution to communism.
Over the weekend, the faculty began circulating a letter condemning
the violence on the part of the police and demanding an investigation.
On Monday about 60 people marched from Oakland downtown to the
courthouse where three people arrested during Friday's occupation
were to be arraigned on felony burglary charges. More people gathered
in the next hour. Someone came out and announced that charges had
been dropped, but perhaps new charges could be filed. Then they
marched through downtown Oakland to the police station where the 40
occupiers were being arraigned. As they marched, the Black masses
wanted to know what this was about and were shocked to learn that the
police had attacked these people. And they showed their support for
the students and hatred for the police (www.youtube.com/watch?v=FbeboETl2UY).
While at the courthouse, a group of students got to talking. One
freshman who had been in the occupation said his parents disapprove
of him getting arrested and that he was looking forward to an
interesting Thanksgiving dinner. Another student said he has been
involved in the protests and wants to step up his activity but is
really conflicted because his parents oppose his being involved and
they are immigrants who have sacrificed for him to attend college. At
the same time he says he wants to participate for the future of all
students because it is the right thing to do. A Chicano student said
he felt that whatever happened to them was worth it; they were
involved in something really important. The students have a sense
that something big has begun. And now that the normalcy of the
everyday has been broken, they are really interested in talking about
big societal questions. And they are outraged at the police
brutality. One woman said she would take a thousand baton strikes for
the cause. This is the spirit of the students, a lot of anger and defiance.
1. The mainstream media has given prominent play to Yudof's claims
that promised small increases in financial aid will cover tuition for
students with family incomes of up to $70,000 a year, and that
financial aid will cover as much as half of the tuition for students
from families earning between $70,000 and $120,000 a year, with some
minimal financial aid for students from families earning up to
$180,000 a year. Yudof claims that the increases are "really more of
an upper-middle class issue." These claims are both false and
ideologically reactionary. They have been refuted by students who
have spoken out widely about how the tuition increases will drive
them out of school. An article at the website of the American
Federation of Teachers at UC Berkeley itemized the actual costs of a
UC education and concluded that the tuition increases will "price
attendance at a UC out of the reach of not only low-income students
and their families, but beyond the reach of the vast majority of
working families, including even many upper-middle income families."
("Why We Must Stop the Fee Increases," by Mike Rotkin). On an
ideological level, Yudof's (false) claim that the tuition increases
are "an upper-middle class issue" has been taken up and amplified
with a vengeance by reactionary populist forces who are filling their
blogosphere with rants of outrage at the idea that education is a
right, and attack the protesting students as "spoiled brats [who]
want the beleaguered taxpayers of California to continue to over
subsidize their education." In the context of all this, the demand
and spirit of "free education for all" is important and most welcome.
2. Los Angeles Black Panther Party (BPP) leader Bunchy Carter, and
John Huggins another Black Panther Party member were assassinated
at a Black Student Union meeting at Campbell Hall on January 17, 1969
in the midst of a confrontation with a group called the US
organization. These murders were orchestrated by the FBI. In 1976, in
the context of seeking to assuage public outrage at FBI repression
during the '60s, and in the midst of conflict within the ruling class
over the role of the FBI, a U.S. Senate investigation (the "Church
Commission Report") officially acknowledged a "covert FBI program to
destroy the Black Panther Party." The Church Report documented that
"high officials of the FBI desired to promote violent confrontations
between BPP members and members of other groups." And that the FBI
forged and sent "anonymous letters and caricatures to BPP members
ridiculing the local and national BPP leadership" for the purpose of
setting up violent attacks on the Panthers. The Church Report
officially revealed that this operation "resulted in the killing of
four BPP members [including Carter and Huggins] by members of US and
in numerous beatings and shootings." (Source: "Supplementary Detailed
Staff Reports On Intelligence Activities and the Rights Of Americans,
Book III, Final Report Of the Select Committee To Study Governmental
Operations With Respect To Intelligence Activities," April 23, 1976,
Section: "The FBI's Covert Action Program To Destroy The Black Panther Party").