Members of Occupy Stanford spent Thursday demonstrating in Berkeley and Oakland in support of Occupy Education, a movement protesting funding cuts of public education and tuition hikes in the University of California system.
The rallies, which were part of a nationwide Day of Action to support public education, kicked off a five-day march in Northern California to the Capitol building in Sacramento, where demonstrators plan to begin occupying the Capitol on Monday.
“This movement won’t stop,” said Laura Wells, the Green Party candidate for governor in 2010, to The Daily. “You can’t deal the next generation a lack of opportunity and expect them to sit there and take it.”
After smaller teach-ins and discussions under the rafters of the UC-Berkeley Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union building, Thursday’s main action began at noon in Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza, under drizzling rain.
The 16 Stanford demonstrators led off the rally, taking turns reading an enthusiastically received statement of solidarity to a huddled group of about 150 UC-Berkeley students and staff and city locals.
“An education like one receives at Stanford should not be ‘elite,’ and you should not have to be ‘lucky’ to get an education,” the statement read. “We won’t accept a future where access to education is a privilege, and not a right.”
Students drafted the statement in Meyer Library Wednesday evening.
“I know California is in a budget crisis,” said Josh Schott ‘14 to The Daily before the event, “but education should always be a No. 1 priority because it’s a key ingredient of democracy.”
The hour-long rally featured speakers whose various demands reflected the diversity of the audience.
Andrea Barrera, a senior at UC-Berkeley, called for the restoration of affirmative action, while Joshua Clover, an English professor from UC-Davis, said a wholesale restructuring of capitalism is necessary.
Others recounted previous protest experiences or asked for protection of union rights. Decorating the plaza were murals painted by local high school students for the occasion.
“Don’t close the colleges,” one painting read. “We’re coming.”
After the rally, with the weather clearing up, about 100 protesters gathered to make the six-mile march to Oakland’s Oscar Grant Plaza, where Occupy Oakland and students from other area colleges were meeting. To chants of “No cuts, no fees, education must be free,” the crowd fanned across the breadth of Telegraph Avenue.
The public they met along the way matched their enthusiasm, for the most part. The marchers were met with many honks of appreciation, but also a few obscene gestures. One motorist was so incensed he got out of his car, punched a demonstrator and sped away, according to another protester.
Though the rally and march were smaller than previous demonstrations, the atmosphere among the protesters remained hopeful.
Edwin Okongo, a lecturer in Swahili at UC-Berkeley, said he was marching for his nine-month-old daughter, whom he used to bring to Occupy Oakland protests.
“She’s part of that, the protest,” he said, “and [it’s important] to know that you can’t just sit back and wait for things to be handed to you. You have to fight for them.”
It helps that he also lives in Oakland, Okongo added.
“If this runs into any trouble or anything, I’ll just say I was walking home,” he laughed.
Another marcher, Paul Bloom, said he has been a resident of Berkeley for almost 40 years and has been involved in activism for even longer.
“You make your path by walking, and this is kind of consciously doing that,” Bloom said. “This is just one day, and a rainy day at that…I don’t think you can take a quick measurement and say we’re doing well because we have a thousand people or we’re not doing so well because we have 200 or this or that.”
After two hours of walking, during which the number of marchers dwindled to about 80, the crowd arrived at Oscar Grant Plaza, chanting, “Here comes Berkeley.”
Joined with the protesters already there, the size of the whole crowd swelled to just under 200, as it prepared to begin the “99 Mile March for Education and Social Justice” to Sacramento. Though about 80 people were committed to walking at least part of the way, organizers said they expect thousands at the protest that on March 5.
Here the group from Stanford parted ways with one of its members, Peter McDonald ‘11, who is walking the entire distance to the Capitol. Other Occupy Stanford members will join him when he gets there.
McDonald explained why he decided to make the “99-mile march,” saying that Stanford students are usually too concerned with academics.
“[At Stanford], everyone’s always so focused on the class in front of them that it’s hard to engage,” he said. “Marching 80 miles is a really important statement.”
Occupy Stanford expand the scope of its operations this quarter, participating in Occupy Wall Street West in January and coordinating with Occupy movements around the Bay Area.
The group has faced questions on campus about the size and strength of its movement, but Occupy members said they believe their involvement in demonstrations such as Thursday’s proves otherwise.
“You can always criticize people for shouting,” said Emma Wilde Botta ‘14. “But this is more doing something concrete.”