March 4th will be a collective day of action—a mass strike against the budget cuts. Some of us look to this day with excitement. If enough people participate, we can shut down campuses across California, forcing the administration and the state to negotiate with us directly. We’ll overturn the tuition hikes, reverse the cuts and repeal the layoffs. Many students think, isn’t that impossible? haven’t we been told there’s no money? But it is possible, and in the past few years, it’s happened in other countries around the world, countries which are much less wealthy than ours (see below on the occupation at UNAM in Mexico; in later issues, we’ll look at recent strikes in France, Greece and elsewhere).
A major reason it happens in those countries and not in ours is because in the US, we’ve lost our memory of taking action. We have no experience of friends or family members fighting back at work or in their neighborhoods. And we are too inundated with pop culture and TV news to learn about what’s happening elsewhere in the world. So to most of us, the situation at California’s universities is simply depressing. We are trying to figure out how we will adapt, personally, to paying more for college, taking out bigger loans, losing our jobs, not getting into the classes we need to graduate, and not being able to get jobs after we graduate.
Yes, it’s starting to look pretty bad. Just last quarter, the UCs raised tuition by 32 percent in response to a cut of more than $813 million to the overall UC budget (itself due to a multi-billion dollar fiscal meltdown in California). Public education is being decimated. The State of California has no money. And the governor and the state legislature have begun pitting various sectors of society against one another in an all-out fight for cash. Just a few weeks ago, Schwarzenegger offered the UCs and CSUs more money—directly at the expense of prisoners who already face harsh, overcrowded conditions.
Despite this depressing situation, we should take note of what we’ve already achieved. Last quarter, students and workers took it upon themselves to disrupt work and life on their campuses. Occupations at UC Santa Cruz set off a wave of occupations across the state. It is true that these disruptions did not, in themselves, constitute a force capable of reorganizing California’s economy—that would require a struggle extending beyond the boundaries of the university, to all sectors of society. But it remains clear that our mass disruptions are already starting to scare those in power. What we need now is to intensify our acts of resistance, building towards March 4th and spilling over beyond it. We need to get over our fear of the administration and the police. We need to get over our apathy—our collective lack of interest in collective action. We hope this newsletter will contribute to changing the culture around campus, starting a conversation about what we have done and what we should do next.