Campus Organizers Attempt To Increase Awareness About Rallies Despite Challenges

Photo: Students, union workers and protesters marched down Telegraph Avenue on March 4, 2010, attracting a crowd of nearly 1,000 that converged on Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. A rally in San Francisco brought more than 10,000 people to the Civic Center Plaza.
Anna Vignet/Staff
Students, union workers and protesters marched down Telegraph Avenue on March 4, 2010, attracting a crowd of nearly 1,000 that converged on Frank H. Ogawa Plaza. A rally in San Francisco brought more than 10,000 people to the Civic Center Plaza.

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Following a lower turnout of about 700 people during the campus protest on Oct. 7 compared to the thousands that rallied at previous protests, UC Berkeley organizers and union leaders will once again attempt Wednesday to raise students' awareness of how millions of dollars that could potentially be cut from the UC system may impact the future of higher education.

However, disagreements between protester coalitions, the fear of being arrested and predictions of rain have some student activists wondering whether Wednesday's day of action will garner the same success as the protests of Sept. 24, 2009 and March 4, 2010.

The Sept. 24 protest marked the first of what would become a series of campus protests for higher education during the fall 2009 semester, including the Nov. 20 Wheeler Hall occupation. During the Sept. 24 protest, thousands of faculty, students and staff on the UC Berkeley campus alone walked out of classrooms and rallied on Upper Sproul Plaza to speak out on the impact of state and university budget cuts.

"September 24, it all started here," said sophomore Marco Amaral, a member of the Student Worker Action Team. "We're the place to go back to for protests. We need to restart the engine all over again."

On March 4, thousands demonstrated across the state for public education, attracting national attention.

Most recently, demonstrators attempted to continue the efforts of student, faculty and union organizers on Oct. 7 to keep alive the awareness of the impact of cuts to the UC, California State University and California Community College systems.

This year, protest organizers said they will try a new approach to try to raise support from the student body - a picnic on Memorial Glade.

Amaral, who was also a lead organizer for the Oct. 7 protest, said rather than the traditional march and rally on Upper Sproul at noon, organizers felt the picnic would be more entertaining and engaging for those who decide to participate in the protest.

"Basically, we recognize that we need to try new methods to get crowds coming to spark the interest," Amaral said. "We hope (the picnic) will let people get knowledge about demands and budget cuts and that people will be more engaged and pay more attention."

The free speech hour that has typically been allotted to demonstrators at rallies in front of Sproul Hall will still occur at noon. But this tradition was almost broken due to dissension among organizational units in the weeks leading up to March 2.

SWAT and BAMN, two coalitions organizing protest events, struggled to find a balance in coordinating speakers after BAMN reserved Upper Sproul before SWAT. In the past, SWAT has typically been the group to reserve Upper Sproul Plaza for rallies, and campus guidelines state that only one group can reserve a space at a given time.

Though the disputes nearly created a divide between the groups, issues were resolved and the groups are now trying to gain momentum within the campus community.

"BAMN is trying to have a set of political programs that can appeal to everyone," said Justin Cheong, a BAMN organizer. "Any campus active group can reserve (Upper Sproul), and so we just did it. We need that space for that day. I think that (other groups) were overly concerned about sharing it."

Predictions that it will rain on Wednesday also plague the potential success of the day's protest, according to organizers and may deter students from joining in the demonstration, protest organizers said. ASUC External Affairs Vice President Ricardo Gomez said even if it rains, it is necessary for participants to rally on Upper Sproul and unite to fight the budget cuts to the university system.

"My number one fear is weather and it not allowing us to do anything that is consistent with what we planned," he said. "Organizers are working on ways to still keep the action alive. It's been a little more difficult this year because people have retreated into their own interests."

Gomez, who has been arrested during past protests, said fear of arrest was something students are also concerned about, but he and others are trying to teach students about their rights to protest through workshops.

"People are afraid, but I think the best way to get people over their fears is that they know their rights," Gomez said. "You need to know that it is OK if you get student conduct charges brought against you or if you get arrested. As long as you know what you are doing. You can't lie to people, but we are trying to organize against that repression."


Katie Nelson is the lead academics and administration reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

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