Early this morning at UC Berkeley, police clearned an Occupy Cal encampment which had been set up for a second time Tuesday night on Sproul Plaza. Almost all campers left voluntarily, except for two who were arrested.
This the latest in a lot of action that has taken place at the campus this week: a university-wide strike, arrests, and police raids. All in the same plaza where more than forty years ago, the Free Speech Movement was born:
MARIO SAVIO [December 2, 1964]: I'll tell you something: the faculty are a bunch of employees, and we're the raw material! But we're a bunch of raw materials that don't mean to have any process upon us, don't mean to be made into any product, don't mean to end up being bought by some clients of the University, be they the government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We're human beings! (APPLAUSE)
That’s one of the leaders of the movement, Mario Savio, speaking on Sproul Plaza on December 2, 1964.
So what are students fighting for today? Unlike other Occupy camps, UC Berkeley’s has a definite goal – To keep public education public. Student activists have many ideas for ensuring that, and one is blocking an 81% fee hike over the next four years being considered by the board of regents.
KALW’s Joaquin Palomino has been on the ground reporting from UC Berkeley all week and has this report.
JOAQUIN PALOMINO: On Tuesday, thousands of students gathered in Sproul Plaza for a general strike. Many classes were canceled, others were held outdoors. The purpose of the strike was to draw attention to what many call the privatization of public education. Public funding for the UC system is nearly half of what it was in 1978. And since 2003, tuition has increased more than 300%.
Many also came out to protest a police action that took place November 9.
On November 9, police and protesters clashed for much of the day, and well into the night. Protesters were advised that camping on Sproul Plaza was illegal. Late that evening, police removed tents from the Occupy Cal encampment.
As officers in riot gear used their batons to push peaceful protesters off the plaza, students yelled out to them by name.
The night ended with 39 arrested and many injured students.
Alex Barnard, a second year sociology student, was one of the 39 arrested and GOT a fractured rib from being hit with a police baton. He told his story Monday night at a press conference.
ALEX BARNARD: What happened on Wednesday left me deeply traumatized, I feel both powerless and voiceless. I spent the last few days unable to speak, unable to work, unable to think of anything other then that night. I feel afraid to set foot on campus and return to this place. The image of an officer punching me as I pleaded to be treated peacefully is stuck on repeat in my head.
AXEL BUYERS: Myself, I'm not like a big proponent for setting up encampments just because it's so confrontational.
Axel Buyers recently transferred to Cal. Although he’s critical of how the police acted that night, he doesn’t support the encampment.
BUYERS: I feel like the police and the army, they are part of the 99% It’s their job to enforce the law, and if it is our choice to break the law and make them our enemy, it’s a very conscious choice and I don’t think we need to necessarily make them our enemies.
The protest and police action November 9 calls to mind a similar scene that took place on this very plaza more than 40 years ago.
It was October 1, 1964. Police broke up a peaceful gathering, kicking off a series of protests and sit-ins that became the Free Speech Movement. Leaders including Mario Savio emerged. Here’s a clip from Savio’s most famous speech on the steps of Sproul Plaza, December 2, 1964:
MARIO SAVIO: There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part, you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all! (APPLAUSE)
It so happens that on the night of Tuesday’s student strike, professor of Public Policy and former US secretary of labor Robert Reich gave the Mario Savio Memorial lecture. Reich addressed a crowd of 10,000, commemorating Savio on the same steps where he made his famous speech in 1964.
ROBERT REICH: Some of you may feel a little bit, what are we doing here? What exactly is our goal? I urge you, I urge you to be patient with yourselves. Because with regard to every major social movement of the last half century or more, it started with a sense of moral outrage. Things were wrong. And the actual coalescence of that moral outrage into specific demands for specific changes came later. The moral outrage was the beginning…(CLAPPING) The days of apathy are over folks! (APPLAUSE)
That’s UC Berkeley professor and former US secretary of Labor Robert Reich, giving the Mario Savio memorial lecture Tuesday night. That day, following a general assembly vote to re-establish an Occupy Cal camp, the tents went back up.
Yesterday, students convened in Sacramento in an effort to pressure lawmakers to reinvest in public higher education, and they received a statement of support from the president of UC Berkeley. A group also gathered in San Francisco’s financial district at the Regents Corporate office. 50 people from several schools within the UC system protested within a downtown branch of the Bank of America. They’ve made it clear that if officials don’t take action alongside them, they can expect to see more demonstrations at the University of California.
In Berkeley, I’m Joaquin Palomino, for Crosscurrents.
KALW's Nina Morente also contributed to this report.