The Ongoing Battle for Education Needs Student Support

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This month, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced in his State of the State address that he will submit a constitutional amendment to the California legislature "so that never again do we spend a greater percentage of our money on prisons than on higher education." In addition, his proposed budget includes hundreds of millions of dollars in restorations to the UC, CSU and community college systems.

Despite recent efforts by university administrators to take the credit for this dramatic shift, the governor's chief of staff Susan Kennedy is quoted in The New York Times as saying, "those protests on the UC campuses were the tipping point. Our university system is going to get the support it deserves."

As we re-enter school after a period of rest and months of organizing, protests, debates over tactics, passion, frustration and exhilaration, let us reflect on what we have done in that short time.

Together, across all levels of politicization, from those who joined facebook groups against the cuts, to those who informed their friends of impeding fee increases, to those who stood together by the thousands at rallies, to those who staged sit-ins across the state; those of us who stood for and did something for what we believe in forced the governor's hand.

The governor did not suddenly realize the value of public education after years of gutting it. The governor did not realize the value of higher education just because some well-connected person lobbied him, or because someone sent him a letter. It was our collective effort that moved him to change his mind. It was our work and determination that set the example, the governor was following our lead.

Although many of us may welcome this change in priorities, our struggles to protect the public good in this state are far from over. We must remember that words are only words. The battle against the cuts and privatization, not only to the university but to the public sector as a whole, should not end when the rhetoric from the top changes.

The same day that the governor announced his new-found respect for public higher education, the California Senate passed legislation that opened the door for the privatization of our state's public K-12 education system, which will only intensify the inequality and segregation that plagues it. Even within his plan to increase funds for higher education, the governor proposed to do so by privatizing the state's bloated prison system.

This will establish the kind of private correctional system that led to the brutal and fatal beating of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson at the hands of juvenile boot camp guards in Florida. Affordable higher education in California should not come at the cost of dignity and life for others.

Likewise, much of the governor's budget proposal is smoke and mirrors. The governor's budget relies very heavily on unsecured federal funds, which is essentially Monopoly money and not a long-term solution to the problems California and public education face.

So mobilize. We now know that mass mobilization, including actions that bring business as usual to a screeching halt, really do work. This has always been the case. Look back on history and pretty much every right we currently enjoy-to table on Sproul, the 8-hour work day, the right of minorities to vote, disabled rights etc. -is a direct result of direct action organizing. We need to keep it up, and support each other. Inform yourself of past student struggles at Cal (

There are always plenty of ways to make your voice heard this semester. Inform your friends, arm yourself with ideas and information, organize your own actions and coordinate your friends. I encourage you to take part in and organize for the Mar. 4 state-wide Strike and Day of Action to Defend Public Education, and the UC Student Association's Mar. 1 Lobby Day and March 31 March on Sacramento. I also encourage you to join the UC Berkeley text message alert service if you are interested in being informed about campus actions in support of public education (

The governor's reaction to our protests shows us that our actions indeed matter. But he has, thus far, only heard part of our message. Let us continue to organize so that our full voice is heard.


Ricardo Gomez is the creator of the group "Berkeley Students Against Cuts" on Facebook. Reply to [email protected]

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