By Hannah Weiner, Ramsey El-Qare and Alex Emslie
Thousands of public education supporters amassed at San Francisco State University for the statewide March 4 Strike and Day of Action to send a stark message to California leaders: Universities belong to students and the state should prioritize education for all.
About 30 picketers blocked the main path near SF State’s Humanities and Social Sciences Building until the group grew to hundreds and moved to 19th and Holloway avenues at about 9:30 a.m. At the same time, other groups of protesters blocked entrance to the Ethnic Studies and Business buildings.
“We have the ability to shut this place down,” art major Rachel Lasse said. “We don’t run it. It’s run by a bunch of war profiteers who don’t have our best interest in mind.”
Lasse hoped to graduate this semester, but SF State’s art program is impacted, meaning classes have been cut, and she couldn’t get into the courses she needs.
Bay Area March 4 actions grew out of a meeting at UC Berkeley in October 2009, where more than 800 delegates from northern California colleges, labor organizations and other supporters formed a coalition to fight budget crises afflicting all levels of public education. That umbrella organization, dubbed The General Assembly, spawned branch general assemblies at universities across California.
By 11:30 a.m., a group of 200 protesters on 19th Avenue moved into the street, blocking traffic for roughly half an hour before 30 San Francisco Police Department officers pushed the crowd back onto the sidewalk.
“The biggest change I want to see is proper funding for education. And not just higher education, but K-12 education too,” said Bobby Farlice, who has been an Education Opportunity Program adviser at SF State for 25 years. “I think Sacramento has got to acknowledge this. It’s too big and too noisy not to.”
“It’s a historic day,” Jerald Reocica said. “It really shows the power of organization.”
Despite his full-time job at San Francisco General Hospital, increased tuition at SF State has forced graduate student Reocica to become a part-time student.
“It’s not a funding crisis, it’s a priority crisis,” SF State student Wes Vasquez said. “California is number one in prison spending and number 48 in education spending.”
Not all students chose to participate in the March 4 events.
“I was studying the whole time today,” SF State student Connie Wu said. “It should have been on a weekend instead of a weekday.”
Another student who refused to give her name said, “I agree with what they’re doing, but I have to get to class. I’ve just got to get to class.”
Protesters booed anybody who crossed their picket lines.
“We need to alter the routine, because our routine has been altered,” said theater arts professor Carlos Baron, adding that he was disappointed in the instructors who didn’t cancel their classes on March 4.
“The professors who didn’t shut down class are like the people playing violin on the Titanic,” ethnic studies professor Jason Ferriera said. “They either have a boat waiting for them or they are just totally oblivious.”
Shortly after noon, the scattered clusters of protesters met at Malcolm X Plaza to create one massive crowd of about 2,000 people. Organizers entertained the crowd with spoken-word poetry and political theater, highlighted by a battle between the Draculator – representing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a vampire sucking the blood from California students and universities – and the vampire slayer, played by SF State alumna Nadia Conrad.
SF State protesters began to leave the campus at about 3 p.m. to join a massive rally at the San Francisco Civic Center.
Raucous Protesters Fill SF Civic Center
By William Chamberlin, Alex Emslie and Greg Zeman
More than 5,000 students, labor representatives and citizens concerned with California public education arrived at San Francisco Civic Center Plaza at 5 p.m. on March 5.
United Educators of San Francisco helped organize the San Francisco portion of a 40-California-county and 34-state cry against educational and labor budget cuts.
“Right now we are all suffering,” UESF President David Kelly said. “We don’t want to suffer anymore. We are here to change the priorities of California’s government.”
At the rally’s high point, the crowd swelled to approximately 10,000 and filled the plaza to Larkin Street.
“Look around you!,” Ocean campus Associated Students President Ryan Vanderpol shouted from the stage attached to a teamster semi. “If you are with me, you are outraged too!”
There were over 30 different community organizations on foot handing out flyers and signs.
There were dancers in assorted places through the crowd and even a girl walking by on stilts.
“I’m hoping that we can double or triple this for the March in March,” City College trustee Chris Jackson said. “We need that type of a movement to get these politicians to recognize that prisons are one thing and education is a whole separate other thing, and to prioritize prisons over education is an abomination.”
Numerous speakers at the rally encouraged students to sign petitions and vote to change California tax and budget policies they blamed for the current crisis in public sector funding.
Hal Hundsman, president of the City College Academic Senate, said the large turnout was indicative of the dire situation faced by state-funded schools.
“It reflects the fact that this is the most serious crisis in City College’s budget, ever,” Hundsman said. “You talk to people who have been at City College for forty years and they’ll tell you it’s never been this bad before. The state has never said, ‘we’re going to cut you’ like it has been.”
Some of the loudest voices at the rally came from a large group of SF State students.
“We do not have a future without an education,” SF State student Maisha Johnson said. “We cannot put this on the back burner.”