University of California and Striking: The Wrong Approach?

March 3, 2010

When I first came to Davis, I was immediately surrounded by a flurry of activity.  Namely, the student walkout the first day of classes.  My approach to the walkouts was this: I was determined to read as much as I could about the issue of the fee hikes and then make a decision about whether or not I would walk out.  After a lot of self deliberation and attempts to stay away from the very visible propaganda coming from both sides (because I was trying to be swayed only by reason, not passion and half-truths), I decided not to walk out.  I was going to go to my classes despite the fee hikes and the problems on every UC Campus.  If you are a student at a UC and are reading this, right about now I’m sure you’re saying something along the lines of “What the hell? Why don’t you want to support students like yourself?” That is probably mixed with some more colorful language that I’m going to try to avoid here.  Before I go on, let me address this: I am firmly against the (already in place) fee hikes and the California Budget that caused them.  I am against the consequences of such fee hikes.  I’m even more against ridiculous administrator salaries at every campus and at all levels.  So why didn’t I walk out?

I came here for an education.  End of story, end of reasoning.  And if you’re a student at a UC or at any other school, I imagine that’s why you’re where you are as well.  You came for an education.  If that’s not what you’re looking for then stop throwing Mommy and Daddy’s money (and government money as well) down the drain.  I had to fight to be able to go to school because every time I tried my Army contract told me I had to go someplace else.  So after three long educationless years I finally found myself at UC Davis, excited to begin what had been kept from me.  And then I was promptly told to walk out of my classes.  I’m sorry, but doesn’t that defeat the purpose?  We want to show the UC Board of Regents, Mark Yudoff, our administrators, Deans, Chancellors, and the citizens (and taxpayers) of California that we are serious about getting our education and will not be screwed out of it by… walking out of classes on the first day.  It seems antithetical to me.  It’s like protesting the drinking age being 21 instead of 18 by not buying a 6-pack on your 21st birthday.  It’s like protesting a violent dictator in a Central American country by flying all the way down there and then sightseeing for a day.   How do you show people that you are serious about a cause that is near and dear to your heart if you walk away from it?

That same week there were protests at various campuses.  We had a large protest the same day as the walkouts on our Main Quad.  Am I against protests? No. Did I go to the protest that day? No, but only because I was in class.  I happen to love protests, and I think that they are a great way to go about raising awareness about an issue.  They also are great for visibility.  If you have 500 angry students, 1000 angry students, 5000 angry students… people will notice.  People will see.  People will pay attention.  I love using the Prop 8 protests as a paradigm of protesting and a cause being fought the right way.  There were rallies, protests, marches, speeches, sit-ins; people were peaceful, even while being arrested.  But people saw how much the cause impacted those that were at the rallies.  The signs, the numbers, the dedication, the commitment; all of that was visible.  People were AT the Supreme Court in San Francisco last year when a decision was handed down.  There was no one walking away, there was no avoidance of it.  So yet again I ask, why the walkout?

In class that quarter, a professor of mine talked about strategies to get the UC’s to notice us, to respect us.  Ways to protest the fee hikes.  The two that were brought up as the most powerful, as the way “to bring the UC’s to their knees” were for 10,000 students to not pay tuition for a quarter, or for 10,000 students to PELP (Planned Educational Leave Program).  That’s 10,000 at one campus.  It could even be done by 1,000 on every campus.  What would that do? Why, deprive the University of California of funds for that one quarter.  If done correctly, enough to cause the University to be deep in the red.  Basically, break the UC System.  The budget of the UC system alone is $20 billion. California gives the UC’s approximately $2.6 billion.  The state has cut $637 million from the UC’s this year as opposed to last year.  Think about that.  The UC’s are already hurting for money because of the state’s budget problems and students are talking about denying the UC system even more money.  How smart is that?  Why, even smarter than walking out of classes! I really hope you detected the sarcasm there.  Yet again, how do you show people you are serious about your education when you are more than willing to destroy the University that is supposed to provide that education to you?  They want to raise your fees 32%, so you refuse to pay them whatsoever.  “That’ll teach ’em!”, right?

Before the end of last quarter there were lock-ins and sit-ins and what amounted to full-scale riots on a number of campuses.  A sit-in is a great method of protesting.  Teach-in’s were also talked about and I know that at least one went forward at Davis.  A teach-in or a sit-in is peaceful and can effect great social and political change through the awareness it raises.  However, lock-ins never seem to do any good.  At least not for the most part.  Stanford University had a lock-in where a group of Latino students took over an administrative office and locked themselves in.  They had a list of demands, many of which concerned migrant workers and showing support for Latinos and Cesar Chavez.  Great cause, bad methodology.  Why?  Well, what happened at UCLA and Berkeley with their lock-ins?  Riots? Arrests? Students being beaten?  Anytime the police must be called in, victory is not on your side.  Ever.  Since then, everytime I have heard the fee hikes and protests mentioned by an adult not on a college campus, it is always in a negative way because of the riots/lock-ins.  It does everything but lend credibility to your cause.  To go back to my Stanford example, it almost delegitimized their movement, and it wasn’t until a few years later when a hunger strike was put on that any real change happened.  UC Davis had students arrested at Mrak Hall.  Not long afterwards, there were signs on campus referring to them as “The Mrak 52”.  A) Those students were not and are not martyrs.  B) What did those arrests accomplish? While I understand remembering that they were arrested and that they are that passionate about this issue is important, no progress was made.  It makes we students look like hooligans, in a way.  That there was fighting back does us no good.

So where are we now?  There is a strike tomorrow at every UC campus.  There will be rallies, pickets, and walkouts.  Classes are being canceled.  While many of the activities and rallies are great, yet again, canceling classes and striking does no good.  The more eager you are to strike and walk out of classes, the less serious you look about fighting for your education.  Please, I urge you to participate if you can in the rallies, in the marches, in the protests.  But don’t forfeit a class for that.  Everything that I have just talked about happened, but where did it get us? The fee hikes went ahead as planned, despite the riots and walkouts and planned PELPing.  Perhaps it’s time to try something different. But what?

Protests, which are already planned, are a great place to start.  Rallies are perfect as well.  Marches are even better yet.  Get speakers to rallies and marches, make signs, and be visible.  Another great thing to do is realize that this is not all The Regents fault, nor is it all Mark Yudoff’s fault.  A lot of the blame can be placed squarely on California’s budget and on the economy.  California’s record of spending for education was atrocious before (47th in the nation on K-12 spending in 2009), but with the cuts being made not just to the UC’s but across the board, I believe we can now begin to call it abysmal.  So what can be done?  Join with the CSU campuses and write letters: Letters to the Editor, Letters to Assemblymen, State Senators, Congressmen, and Senators.  Letters to the Governor and to the President.  Call your Assemblymen and Congressmen.  Call the Governor’s office.  Make your voice heard!  Let your families, communities, and your governments know that this truly matters to you.  There are enough college students in California that are facing the same plight as we; combine and work together to make a difference.  Use the ballot box. Do whatever you can! There are many more powerful and effective ways than walking out of your classrooms when you should be striving to stay in those classrooms.  Get the media involved.    The point is to show others what this is doing to us as students.  We should be fighting for California to put education first, or as close to first as is possible.

I won’t be striking tomorrow.  Or any other day, for that matter.  If classes are canceled, so be it.  It will just give me time to catch up on homework.  But realize that the only thing that canceling classes or walking out of classes or striking does is hurt you and your education, which is what you are supposed to be fighting against in the first place.  You can make a difference, it just needs to be done in a way that shows the people that matter that you are truly serious.


One Response to “University of California and Striking: The Wrong Approach?”

  1. Ben Arevalo Says:

    Well said! The world needs more Doc Lowes.

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