Statewide Protests March Forward

Calls for Californians' Investment In Public Education Echo Across State on Day of Action

Photo: Student activists have been moving throughout campus buildings as part of an effort to inform others about the statewide March 4 rallies for state investment in education.
Evan Walbridge/Photo
Student activists have been moving throughout campus buildings as part of an effort to inform others about the statewide March 4 rallies for state investment in education.

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Analysis: March 4th Event

Assistant University News Editor Mihir Zaveri speaks with Javier Panzar about the protest events that will take place on March 4th.

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Across the state of California, students, teachers, professors and unions will demonstrate today in order to convince lawmakers and the public to invest in public education.

In the past six months, UC Berkeley has been an important hub of activism against state divestment in the UC system, as well as public education in general. Today's statewide day of action marks the first time a statewide day of protest will incorporate people from across California in support of the broader cause of public education, from Kindergarten through doctoral program.

In addition to rallies at other university campuses, community colleges and cities throughout the state, the day's events include a rally on the steps of the state Capitol in Sacramento and a protest in front of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office in San Diego.

"(March 4) is the moment where everybody understands the importance of the idea of a public education," said Kevin Wehr, an assistant professor of sociology at Sacramento State University who has been helping to organize the rally in Sacramento. "We have gotten to the crisis point and people are finally paying attention."

The lack of a singular authority coordinating events has meant that various groups will be taking different approaches toward reaching their respective goals. But one area of agreement is the need to "defend" public education.

Involving the largest possible number of people in the day's events is key to changing the priorities of the state, said Nick Palmquist, a UC Berkeley senior involved in organizing a march from the UC Berkeley campus to Downtown Oakland.

"No matter what the end goal is, we are going to need to have a lot of mass support," he said. "We are not going to be able to succeed without an approach that takes all different groups into consideration and gets them to act together."

March 4 was chosen as the date for mass activism by nearly 600 students and teachers from across the state who gathered at a conference in UC Berkeley's Pauley Ballroom. Conference attendants said they sought to determine the best way to harness momentum stemming from the Sept. 24 UC systemwide walkout when about 5,000 people demonstrated at UC Berkeley.

Activists will aim today to extend demonstrations beyond higher education. Several Bay Area school districts will participate.

Schools within the Oakland Unified School District are holding "Disaster Drills" intended to symbolize the "state of emergency" afflicting public education, according to the school district's Web site.

"We just want to make sure that everyone is picketing, has signs and is using it as a time to do teach-ins," said Betty Olson-Jones, president of the Oakland Education Association. "I'm just looking at it like a tapestry for

everyone to find a way to participate in it."

Organizers said the involvement of all sectors of public education is vital and reflects the interconnected nature of primary and higher education.

"You've got to have a multi-front movement," Wehr said. "Today's underfunded K-12 student is tomorrow's underprepared college student."

According to Crystal Sudnal-Bernier, a member of the San Diego State University March 4 Committee, the lack of centralized authority has made organizing more difficult, especially in areas that lack an established culture of activism.

"It's hard to explain what (March 4) is because it's not anything that you can touch, see, feel; it's not an organization," Sudnal-Bernier said. "You can't call them up and ask them, there is no brochure. It's a mobilization of students."

Organizers said they are committed to keeping the day's events peaceful after previous protests­-including last week's occupation of Durant Hall-escalated into violence.

"We are all firm in that we want a mass peaceful movement," Palmquist said. "There is too much randomness decided how to act now, we can only be prepared to act when it happens."


Javier Panzar covers higher education. Contact him at [email protected]

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