Berkeley, CA - Over 600 activists gathered on Oct. 24, for a conference to organize against the statewide education budget cuts.
Public education is under attack across the state of California, from kindergartens to universities. The struggle has intensified as public officials have brutally cut funding and launched a campaign of privatization.
The conference came out of last month’s massive university walkouts, which drew thousands of workers, students and faculty demanding an end to layoffs, furloughs and tuition hikes. Excitement filled the room during the proceedings as students and workers came together to hammer out a unified plan of action to defend public education.
“We did not make this crisis, but we are paying for it!” said Kathryn Lybarger, an organizer with AFSME local 3299. The pay cuts, forced furloughs, tuition hikes and slashed department funds will only account for 2% of the gaping hole in the state budget, she explained. “So the question has to be asked - why go after education to pay California’s debt?” According to one of the University of California (UC) regents, the state-appointed board that manages the UC system, the answer is simple: The public schools are an untapped business.
The people of California are making it clear that they do not share this view, through protests and direct actions. John, a middle school teacher in the Bay Area, heatedly argued that “education is not a commodity to be bought and sold.” His school participated in a ‘sick-in’ this past spring, joining dozens of other Los Angeles Unified School District schools that held actions against the teacher layoffs.
Oppressed nationality and working class students have been hit the hardest. “Recruiters used to come to our community college two to three times a year,” explained Brian Donovan, chapter president of Diablo Valley Students for a Democratic Society. “But now we see them nearly every week.” Lately, the chapter has been organizing counter-recruitment actions, often pushing the Air Force to pack up before they even get started.
By the afternoon, the conference attendees agreed to a day of action against privatization and cutbacks, scheduled for March 4 of next year. Break-out sessions (grouped by system - University of California, California State University, community colleges and K-12) were used for more specific brainstorming.
The conference ended with participants marching on Mark Yudof’s Oakland home. Yudof, the president of the UC system, was hired to run it like a corporation. In a recent interview he arrogantly compared his job to “presiding over a cemetery.” In response, the workers of Healthcare, Research and Technical Employees-CWA and AFSME erected a graveyard on the front lawn of his taxpayer-subsidized mansion.
In recent weeks, occupations, sit-ins and other militant actions have exploded across the California education system. Organizers of a building occupation at UC-Santa Cruz explicitly mentioned the Republic Windows and Doors workers as a source of inspiration. The way forward is being paved and the workers of the United States are refusing to pay for the economic crisis that the rich have inflicted upon us. On Nov. 19, UC students and workers will descend on UCLA’s campus to shut down the regents meeting and demand an end to the attacks on public education.