Conference at UC Berkeley Discusses Statewide Action for Public Education

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Approximately 600 people from across California came to UC Berkeley today for a conference aimed at organizing statewide action to reverse the effects of state budget cuts to public education.

Students, workers, faculty and union members from different sectors of the state public education system voiced their demands and concerns Saturday, hoping to form a united stand, which organizers and attendees said is crucial to accomplishing their goals of increasing public investment in public education and reversing the effects of state budget cuts in areas of education such as the UC system.

"We're trying to come up with a statewide position in terms of action as a whole," said conference coordinator Nuha Masri, a UC Berkeley junior. "We are not expecting to be able to solve all the problems and demands that people have, we just try to come up and unite as a whole that is approved by everyone."

Among the students who came from afar was UC Student Regent Designate Jesse Cheng, who drove up from UC Irvine Friday night and slept in his car.

"I'm responsible for bringing the student perspective to the board so I am here to get a feel for what students are saying, to take that in and absorb it," Cheng said.

Cheng, who sits on the UC Board of Regents but does not vote, said he was encouraged by the turnout.

"Hopefully more students will be educated and empowered to get involved, no matter the means."

The conference opened up with representatives from areas of public education ranging from kindergarten to higher education greeting each other before an open forum was held for attendees to present proposals for statewide action.

Proposals ranged from occupying Wells Fargo bank in Downtown Oakland to setting up a tent city in Sacramento.

Suggestions to have unified days of action at the UC Regents' meeting next month and in March were repeatedly proposed by attendees during the open forum.

Attendees at the conference split into four groups discussing issues in K-12 education, community colleges, the California State University system and the UC system.

Masri said that despite the broad range of the proposals, she thinks the conference will be able to narrow them down into a more cohesive plan for statewide action.

"We will try to accommodate the best, most effective proposals," she said.

Attendees who came from across the state shared concerns with each other, offering personal points of view on the state of higher education.

Alejandra Cruz, a third year UCLA law student, said organizing student action at the next UC Regents' meeting was already under way.

"We're gonna continue to reach out to people to really make the mobilization huge and make sure that the Regents can't vote on a fee increase," Cruz said. "Even if they do, it's gonna need to be, like, hiding in some room."

Randy Christensen, an AT&T phone line installer and member of the Communications Workers of America local 9415, which also represents employees in the UC system, said he wanted to see a collective plan developed at the conference for a movement to support public education and social justice.

"We need to reverse the cutbacks and move forward to the direction of free public education for everyone," he said. "Everyone should be able to have a chance to learn, on an equal basis, on an equal footing."

Some attendees, however, decided to be more creative in addressing their demands. Vicki Legion, who teaches community health at San Francisco State University and San Francisco City College, dressed up for the conference in black and donned a high-necked, vampire cape.

"We're saying that there's a vampire sucking the life out of the education, health, and social services in California," Legion said. "So we need to warn the villagers and get some vampire slayers going."

The conference will vote later on in the day on proposed statewide action before a planned 5 p.m. adjournment.


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