Conference Held at UC Berkeley to Protest Budget Cuts

Photo: <b>Conference participants</b> gathered in  Pauley Ballroom to discuss ways to protest budget cuts and promote solidarity.
Shirin Ghaffary/Photo
Conference participants gathered in Pauley Ballroom to discuss ways to protest budget cuts and promote solidarity.

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Conference for future organized action against cuts

On Saturday, over 600 people gathered at UC Berkeley to discuss organized action against the statewide decrease in funding for higher education.

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Efforts at a conference held Saturday at UC Berkeley to protest decreased state funding for education led to the decision to hold statewide action March 4 to bring together organizers from throughout the state.

Approximately 600 people came to the conference to discuss plans to reverse the effects of state budget cuts on public education. A continuation committee will coordinate efforts to develop a policy platform before assembly attendees meet next in February.

Though specific courses of action have yet to be determined by the representatives from the UC and CSU systems, community colleges and K-12, organizers stressed the importance of unity as a preliminary step in developing a mass movement across the state.

"If we are not able today to unite and fight back in a democratic mass movement, we will not be able to achieve free public education," said Blanca Misse, a conference coordinator and a GSI in the UC Berkeley French department. "This is the moment to start our fight back."

State funding for public education decreased sharply during the past year when the state budget crisis led to cuts of $2 billion to higher education funding, including $150 million to the UC Berkeley campus alone, and comparable reductions to K-12 and community college programs.

Critics have charged that cuts threaten the mission of public education, to ensure that state resident have access to a low-cost yet quality education.

The conference follows the Sept. 24 UC systemwide walkout, which employed community general assemblies as a central element in planning.

The decision to hold a day of action March 4 came at the end of the conference, which began in the morning with an open forum to discuss proposals for action, followed by a discussion period and ending with attendees voting on proposals Saturday afternoon.

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

Approved efforts will focus on action in the spring in order to allow organizers adequate time to oppose expected lay-off notices at community colleges, high schools and elementary schools. on ensuring solidarity across the public education sector.

Ensuring solidarity across the public education sector is the goal of these efforts, but specific action will vary among schools and colleges.

"It was less important exactly what came out, but the idea that we're behind this all together," said Noa Kornbluh, a conference organizer and UC Berkeley junior. "We're going to be demanding together better public education."

Tensions ran high during the voting session, with some attendees shouting out their disagreement with the way the meeting was conducted.

Hulda Nystrom, a teacher at Gompers High School in Richmond, said conference coordinators had misplaced their priorities by not formulating demands before deciding upon actions.

"You try to build the largest variety of actions around your goals," Nystrom said, who added that she had organized protests against the Vietnam war during the 1970s. "You start with what you want, not with, 'you gotta do something.'"

Others, meanwhile, stressed patience with the democratic process.

"I know its tedious, folks," said Luis Reyes, a conference coordinator and senior at UC Berkeley. "(But) It's democracy, that's how it works."


Contact Paul Edison and Javier Panzar at [email protected]

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