On Monday, March 5th, I had the privilege of attending the March and Rally in Support of Higher Education at the California State Capitol in Sacramento. An estimated 8000 students and supporters showed up to this “March in March” to demand change from our state’s legislators, in the face of perpetual budget cuts and tuition increases throughout all tiers of public education in California.
Refund California, an organization connected to the Occupy Education movement, provided free buses to Sacramento from locations around the state. I boarded a bus right next to the Berkeley campus, and sat next to a middle-aged man who happened to be here on a business trip from Japan. He is a teacher in the labor movement there, a Berkeley graduate, and someone who feels passionate enough about education to attend this event while here in California! The diversity of attendees inspired me: throughout the march and the rally, I looked around and saw a sea of change. It was a sea perspectives, all coming together for a common purpose.
At the rally, speakers delivered powerful messages about the state of California’s budget, how to redistribute wealth in a more equitable way, how to give power back to the students, and how to demand investment in California’s future. Van Jones, a hero of mine, spoke eloquently about the “American dream,” and how an investment in education is an investment in the well-being of the California economy. This is truly about the sustainability of our culture: sustainability of education, of students’ livelihoods, of jobs, of the strength and resilience of our amazing state. Sustaining the American Dream.
After the rally, some stuck around to participate in “Occupying the Capitol.” Around three hundred of us waited in line, passed through metal detectors, and entered the Capitol building to hold a general assembly. We created our own democracy within the democratic structure of our state, and it felt good! As students, we have learned that our leaders and politicians often don’t speak for us, so this event was about “occupying” the democratic process and “occupying” our futures. The general assembly, through a long and arduous process of “mic checks” and breakout discussions, came up with five ultimate demands:
1. Pass the Millionaire’s Tax
2. Cancel student debt
3. Democratize the UC and CSU governing bodies
4. Fully fund education
5. Amend Proposition 13
Yes, these demands are quite, well, demanding. But this event was about dreaming big, about envisioning what our state education system should look like. In fact, the way things are right now is more crazy and more radical than those five demands. An article came out last week claiming that the CSU system is, on average, more expensive for a middle class student than Harvard. Harvard! (that’s because Harvard has pretty amazing financial aid packages for middle class students)
The State Capitol Building closes at 6PM, and 72 occupiers made the decision to stay inside. Those 72 were arrested, with little police brutality. Those arrested made a strong statement about their dedication to upholding democracy, equality, and justice in California. They made the decision that their future, and the futures of those around them, is worth getting arrested for.
On the bus and BART ride home, many of us wondered, “What will come out of this?” Did anything just happen? Did anything shift?”
It’s hard to know at this moment in time, but for most of us, the power and energy was palpable throughout the day. That’s a sure sign that the movement is brewing, that the status quo can’t last much longer, that we may be on the brink of reversing a system that is not in the least bit sustainable. Apathy is our greatest enemy, and I didn’t see any of that on March 5th. The future is in our hands, and with that power, comes great responsibility. ¡Si se puede!