An Open Letter to the University Community

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Marika Goodrich, Lyn Hejinian and Ananya Roy contributed to this letter:

What is at Stake?

On Nov. 18, the UC Board of Regents will take up a vote to impose a 32 percent fee increase upon the students of Our University. A fee that will be levied on underrepresented communities and students of color who already see affordability and accessibility to this privileged institution as an obstacle. A fee that will be levied on AB540 students, international and out-of-state students who already receive no support from the state. A fee that will be levied on the middle class who are squeezed to make college payments but make too much to be supported by the Blue & Gold plan. This fee is proposed to take place at the same time the University of California continues to layoff custodians and staff, impose temporary layoffs and openly bust unions in a deliberate effort to manage this crisis upon the backs of the most vulnerable members of our community. This fee increase is further imposed without any recognition of the needs for budget transparency and in the anti-democratic context of UC President Mark Yudof's emergency powers.

In response to this monumental day of decision, in which the regents are plotting changes that will knowingly limit access and opportunity to Our University, the students, workers and faculty at UC Berkeley, and across the full UC system, are calling for three days of mass protest. While we stand in solidarity with our allies in Southern California who are massing to confront the regents directly, the members of the Solidarity Alliance here at Berkeley are calling for a strike, beginning with a mass walkout at noon on Wednesday, Nov. 18 to demand that the regents hear our voices, reject these fee increases and end these attacks on worker's jobs and contracts.

Why this Strike?

This is by any measure a moment of crisis for Our University and the state at large. All of us, whether we know it or not, are involved in the struggle to defend public education. All of us struggle as individuals, as students, workers and faculty who worry at the reality of rising costs, shrinking salaries and the deteriorating quality of Our University. In these lonely moments, we find only room for individual accommodation to a general crisis: we contemplate taking on second jobs or more loans, facing unemployment and falling into poverty, or we entertain thoughts and offers to leave Berkeley for more stable pastures; each wondering in isolation if we will be able to come back next year and continue to build Our Public University.

But many of us have been fighting for public education by lobbying state politicians and ordinary Californians, by standing up for educational priorities by liberating the libraries, by promoting debate and dialogue among us through teach-ins and townhalls, by bringing together the different sectors of public education in California so that we may restore educational opportunity for all, by insisting upon transparency and accountability from our own administrators and UCOP, by asking difficult questions of the Gould Commission on the university's Future. We have done so in addition to our full burden of work, in exhaustion but in enthusiasm. The one thing we have learned from this still young moment to defend and transform Our University is that our greatest strength lies in the practice of solidarity: the hard work of finding our common purpose between workers, students and faculty, to articulate those ideals and demands, and most importantly, to empower our solidarity to animate mass public action. It is solidarity that allows us to stand together when we are repeatedly told that our interests are divided, that one group must be sacrificed for the good of another.

The Dangers of Defeatism

At this critical moment in this struggle, our enemy is not merely Mark Yudof, though he is a deep embarrassment to Our University and public higher education. It is not only the regents, though we protest their obvious distance from the grounded realities of Our University. Nor is it the state of California and its gridlocked and failed political leaders. Right now, our greatest enemy is our own pervasive sense of defeatism, the feeling that we cannot do anything, and that the only alternative is to remain silent and watch our state and Our University crumble and rot. Indeed, the powers at the top-from Yudof to the regents to campus administrators-seem to have wrapped themselves in such defeatism, presenting the death of the public university as inevitable. But by accepting such defeatism we all but guarantee our own failure, whereas to take action is to risk the possibility of real change.

This is why we are called upon to strike. In collective action there is strength. In public acts of solidarity there is real political evidence of a refusal to accept the injustice of these cuts, the betrayal of the public trust by our campus leadership, and the destruction of the greatest vehicle of democratic opportunity in the state.

In coming together to strike on Sproul Plaza beginning at noon on Nov. 18, we will create that common ground that allows us to embody our solidarity and the alliances that we have created.

We are the Solidarity Alliance

Formed in the wake of the regents' menacing approval of emergency powers this summer, the Solidarity Alliance has grown into an unprecedented alliance of standing and new organizations, including all the campus labor unions (UPTE, CUE, AFSCME, UC-AFT, UAW), organized student groups (CalSERVE, Bridges, ASUC, GSOC, SWAT, the General Assembly) and individual members of the faculty organization SAVE the University. Together we called for and organized the hugely successful Sept. 24 walkout and rally, a mobilization that was a decisive intervention in defeatism and that created a new common sense about the value of a public university.

Nothing as big, as important as transforming public education can be accomplished in one day, with one march. We must continue to take any and all paths towards this common goal. However, during this regents' meeting, when such an important decision lies before our unaccountable and distant leaders, we must choose to come together, and gather on Sproul to demand that our voices be heard. And on this occasion, our collective vehicle is a strike, a strike to shut down the regents and open the university.

In solidarity,

The Berkeley Solidarity Alliance


Michael Cohen and Christopher Franco are members of the Berkeley Solidarity Alliance. Reply to [email protected]

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