Essay: Defending the Movement

[Admin’s note: this essay is used without the permission of the author, it originally appeared in the New University.]

Defending the Moment, the Movement 
James Bliss
There is a new energy within the UC student movement. Throughout the state, students are marching, occupying, and joining together in solidarity against the fee increases. But the movement is not just about the fee increases, and the movement did not begin at UCLA, although UCLA was certainly a wake-up call to many of us.  
I’m not writing this to defend the students’ actions at UCLA, or this past week here at UCI, because we haven’t done anything warranting defense. Rather, I’m writing to describe, in a limited way, what the movement is standing up for and what we’re up against.  
Every person at the protests, whether they can articulate it or not, is standing up for two principles. We’re standing, first, for our right to an accessible, affordable education. Contrary to what we’ve been led to believe, education is not a gift, a privilege, or a commodity, it is a right. And it is worse than an insult to claim that we have that right when the material conditions for exercising it do not exist.   
Second, we’re standing for our right to have a meaningful say in how the university is run. As long as we’re left out of the decision-making process we will be at the mercy of the state legislature, the Regents, and the bureaucrats occupying Aldrich Hall. The only way for us to protect the university, its mission and its soul, is to democratize it.   
In this struggle we’re standing up against a long history of privatizing public services, including public universities. We will no longer stand idly by as the corporate and financial elites who make up the UC Regents turn our public universities into businesses. We are here to be educated, not to increase profits we will never see ourselves. 
We’re up against a police force that has made it clear, time and again, that they’re not here to protect us. If the police at Covel Commons and Aldrich Hall were protecting us, they’d be arresting Regents and administrators, not non-violent protesters. The Regents knew they couldn’t pass the fee hikes democratically; they had to surround the building with a contingent of armed police. Clearly, the Regents would rather unleash the police on unarmed students than hear what we have to say.  
We’re up against the bogus notion that the state government and the regents have their hands tied by the recession. The state of California has refused to fund public education by refusing to increase state income with common-sense initiatives like severance taxes on oil drilling and simply enforcing existing tax codes.  More on this here.
We’re up against an administration that funnels student aid away from those who need it most. Financial aid (that is, the money distributed by UCI itself) is increasingly given to wealthy students through so-called “merit-based” aid programs that reward students for having attended wealthy high schools. (Covered by the New York Times, and the subject of a study by the Education Trust, a nonpartisan foundation devoted to education reform.) The administration has made it clear, by implementing these policies, that they’re not interested in reaching out to poor students and students of color. (UCI, in a recent document, has admitted as much.)  

We’re up against the notion that protests are outdated, that protests makes students look spoiled or ignorant, and that our collective action is what keeps the Regents and the state from hearing us. If the regents were going to be swayed by proper haircuts and speechifying, they would have listened to our student regent, Jesse Bernal, or especially UCSA president, Victor Sanchez. Because the regents won’t listen to us as equals, we make use of our greatest strengths: our numbers and non-violent direct action. 
We’re up against a student press that parrots unsubstantiated reports of student violence against police while euphemizing police violence against students, as though harsh words and hotdog buns were a threat to batons and tasers. Batons and tasers that the police turn disproportionately against students of color.  
Indeed, we’re up against an entire history of racist policy-making designed to keep students of color from ever entering the university. The walls of Jim Crow fell and were replaced by the walls of financial impossibility for students of color, which is why we stand for a university that is accessible to, and affordable for, all students.   
That is, we’re standing with the entire student body when we stand for our right to accessible, affordable education and our right to meaningful participation in the university’s governance. We’re standing with all of our fellow students regardless of nationality, race, ethnicity, legal-status, sexuality, gender-expression, faith or politics, and we’re standing alongside all professional and non-professional academic and service workers who share our struggle.

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