Photo by Jon Chang/reprinted with permission.
[UPDATE: Expanded interview with student organizer Ricardo Gomez follows the orignal post.]
BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA- A high energy rally attended by thousands of UC Berkeley students and faculty is building at the university's Sproul Plaza.
Nineteen-year-old Ricardo Gomez is a student organizer with the Solidarity Alliance and Berkeley Students Against the Cuts. He says the rally is the biggest political action he's ever seen on campus, with an array of constituencies, from "multicultural and ethnic groups, to just random ass students."
UC Berkeley police report a turnout of four to five thousand people at Sproul Plaza as of 1:30 p.m.
Gomez says he thinks the rally's impact will go beyond symbolism. "I think it will lead to UC regents and administrators, and the California legislature evaluating their actions a little more closely – I don’t think they want to see this continuously," he said. "It’s important for them to see students involved in this because there are more of us than anyone else on our campuses. When we have students, we have power because we have numbers."
Twenty-year-old Michelle Thomas said she's been inspired by speakers at the rally, especially the custodial workers. "It's amazing to hear the perspectives of people who have been hurt the most, who have lost their jobs. They want us to get together. This is just the start - they want us to sign the agreement to support them, and us." Thomas said she came on her own but plans to join as many groups as possible involved with the action.
Youth Radio Reporter Denise Tejada, covering the protest live via @youthradio, talked to 20-year-old Tracy Nguyen, a junior at Cal. Nguyen said, "I'm a low income student, first generation and a student of color. These past three years I have been working to pay off my tuition and my parents have been trying to get loans and have been working long hours at the laundromat, so already it's been a struggle to pay for education--an undergraduate education--so the 32 percent tuition cuts mean more long work hours for me, less time to study for me. This just means my parents would have to work more hours at their laundromat business to help me stay in school."
Nguyen said she organizes on campus to help under-resourced students get into higher education, and budget cuts will blunt those efforts too. "When we outreach to students of color in Oakland or Richmond or low income areas, how do we tell them that they can pay for college, when the reality is they won't be able to pay for college, because a lot of them are on welfare or are single parents?" She said, "Berkeley is know for being the best public university in world and soon it will be Berkeley WAS the best public university in the world."
The Daily Californian, live-blogging the rally, reports the union strike has already led to the closure of the Bancroft Library.A KCBS reporter covering Governer Arnold Schwarzenegger posted a Facebook status update saying she's glad he's addressing global warming, but irritated that he won't address the walkout.
“I'm walking out today because I don't believe in the privatization of our university system. I come from Oxford, CA which is a predominantly low income community,” Gomez says. “When I see student fees and when I see the amount of wealthy students increase at our university, I feel like it's a complete slap to the face of communities like mine.
“I'm fortunate enough to have a full ride scholarship to Berkeley, but most students are not fortunate enough to have that. A lot of my friends are struggling to make ends meet and that lowers my quality of life when they have to do it.
“In particular my friends that are undocumented-- because they don't receive financial aid because they don't have documentation status-- so for them a $2500 fee is basically kicking them out of the door of the UC. That's why I’m so invested in this movement because those students can't really afford having these fees increases. As well as my middle class friends, whose families make too much to qualify for financial aid but too little to actually afford the UC. They get slammed with this as well."
On the scale of the protest:
“This usually doesn't happen. This is huge....I think the UC administrators and legislators will get the fucking message tonight because there is no way they can't.”