In my time at Berkeley thus far, I have seen at least 6 on-campus demonstrations and rallies, some more violent than others, to protest recent tuition hikes and other actions committed by the board of regents and other administrators.
Some of their actions over the course of last year, however, have had a decidedly detrimental effect on the students and the campus in general, only weakening the protestors’ argument. To give a few examples: the occupation of Wheeler Hall and setting off of fire alarms last November prevented over 3800 students from attending classes (I was one of them); the hunger strike in front of California Hall to protest the firing of campus custodial staff, the leaders of which encouraged students to drop trash on the lawn—making more work for the janitors whose rights they were supposedly defending; and numerous acts of vandalism both on- and off-campus.
The most recent Day of Action included a sit-in of over 600 people in the North Reading Room in Doe Library, and the following day, a group gathered to protest the reopening of Blum Hall on the northern edge of campus because the renovations had been partially financed by the husband of California Senator Dianne Feinstein, a regent of the UC system. Because it was also Parents’ Weekend, the protest interrupted an orientation for parents of students in the College of Engineering (and who knows how far they had to travel to get here?).
As a result of these demonstrations, students have been prevented from attending classes, preventing them from learning—which is the reason why they pay tuition to the university in the first place. These protestors, whose desire is ostensibly to regain affordable tuition and benefit the student body as a whole, have thus far failed to achieve their goal—they have failed, even, to articulate one specific goal for all those involved in the movement to support. There is no clear leadership, adding greatly to the failure of Thursday’s protests, but I think one of the biggest contributing problems is the lack of understanding of the underlying causes of the budget cuts and fee increases: California’s own budget crisis and political situation. It is too easy for those ignorant of the real issues to make scapegoats of the nearest authority figures; in this case, Chancellor Birgeneau and the board of regents.
Try as I might, I can’t see how they think their actions will achieve what they want. The leaders of the movement, ostensibly inspired by the legacy of student activism at Berkeley in the 1960s, seem too idealistic for their own good. I have heard demands for “free education for all,” but when has that ever been possible? While I support fewer budget cuts and a greater emphasis on education at the government level, I wish those actively at the head of the movement could find a way to make their point(s) in a way that won’t bring negative publicity to the Berkeley campus.