Meeting Marks End of Hunger Strike

Photo: All of the hunger strikers except one broke their fast Wednesday evening by eating corn, bringing an end to the 10-day demonstration.
Shirin Ghaffary/Photo
All of the hunger strikers except one broke their fast Wednesday evening by eating corn, bringing an end to the 10-day demonstration.

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After 10 days without food, hunger strikers ended their demonstration Wednesday evening while representatives of the strikers met with UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau to discuss their demands.

The strike, which began May 3 as a demonstration focused on a controversial Arizona immigration law and has attracted attention worldwide, concluded as all but one of the 18 strikers ate ears of corn together in a symbolic gesture. UC Berkeley senior Alejandro Lara-Briseno said he will continue to go without food until he travels to Arizona May 20 to meet with family and then travels to Mexico, where he will meet with other organizers.

Meanwhile, five students and one union worker met with Birgeneau in California Hall to represent the strikers. After a nearly two-hour meeting, the representatives announced the conclusions of the discussion to a crowd of about 150 supporters outside the building.

The strikers had demanded that Birgeneau denounce the Arizona immigration law, make UC Berkeley a sanctuary campus and provide extended protections for undocumented students, drop all student conduct charges against activists, stop cuts to low-wage employees, suspend conduct procedures and initiate a democratic, student-led process to review the code, as well as commit to using nonviolent means to ensure safety at demonstrations.

In a May 7 statement, Birgeneau addressed their first demand by calling for the repeal of the Arizona law.

As a result of the meeting Wednesday, campus officials will begin to collect reports from ethnic studies and similar programs on campus in order to assess how to improve such programs. A task force charged with examining the needs of undocumented students to be assembled by the campus next fall will now incorporate worker input.

Another previously announced task force to examine the code of student conduct will now also examine the process for handling conduct cases. The task force will also now incorporate students outside of the ASUC and the Graduate Assembly.

The campus will not drop conduct charges against student activists as protesters requested, but will consider offering students facing conduct charges a community service sanction for their involvement in the Nov. 20 Wheeler Hall occupation rather than a seven-month suspension.

In order to address the protesters' concerns about union workers, campus Labor Relations Director Debra Harrington will schedule a meeting with union representatives.

UC Berkeley junior Kathy Vega said because the representatives at the meeting said resources on campus are limited for communities of color, a task force will be assembled by campus officials to look into this issue next fall.

The campus center for Chicano/Latino research will be compensated $50,000 each year for the next five years by the campus for their loss of state funding. A project examining the impact of the Arizona immigration law will be funded with this money.

According to strikers, Birgeneau said he will also consider how to address an Arizona law passed Wednesday that bans ethnic studies classes.

Protesters and administrators had been back and forth in discussions for days, trying to agree on the conditions for ending the strike.

In the past week, numerous parties have urged Birgeneau to meet with the protesters, including state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, and a group of more than 80 professors. Dozens of other organizations, from campus to Japan to Brazil, also pledged support for the strikers.

Many protesters said though they were happy the meeting with Birgeneau took place and that it was a "great first step," they wished the conversation had happened sooner.

"Regardless of what went down in (California Hall), I think what we accomplished as a community was the biggest thing," said freshman Marco Amaral. "This was not a Latino issue, or a Filipino issue, or a black issue. This was a human issue."


Emma Anderson is an assistant news editor. Contact her at [email protected]

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