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Hundreds of Thousands Take Part in National Day of Action to Defend Public Education

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Students and teachers held hundreds of demonstrations on Thursday as part of the National Day of Action to Defend Public Education. Hundreds of thousands took part in what was the largest day of coordinated student protest in years. We get a roundup of the action on the streets, from California to New York. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Students and teachers held hundreds of demonstrations on Thursday as part of the National Day of Action to Defend Public Education. Hundreds of thousands took part in what was the largest day of coordinated student protest in years.

Much of the day’s focus was on the university and state college campuses of California, where students face a 32 percent tuition hike. Thousands of California students staged a one-day strike and took part in rallies from San Diego to Sacramento to Humboldt County.

At UC Santa Cruz, students blocked both entrances to the school before 7:00 a.m., essentially shutting down the campus for the day.

At UCLA, 300 students staged a five-hour sit-in outside the chancellor’s office. Democracy Now! spoke to one of the students during the sit-in.

    ALEJANDRA CRUZ: My name is Alejandra Cruz. I’m a third-year law student at UCLA. Right now, we are sitting in front of the chancellor’s office in Murphy Hall. And I’m taking part in this protest because we’re tired of the fee increases, the lack of representation of black and Latino students, in particular, on campus. We are standing with the workers against the furloughs, against — you know, we’re standing against privatization of the university. And really, we want to have a university that we can afford, where our communities are represented and, you know, where undocumented students can actually afford to go. That’s one of our demands. We’re asking for financial aid for undocumented students. And I just think that there’s so much solidarity right here in this hallway. There’s over 300 students.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Alejandra Cruz.

On Thursday afternoon, students at UC Davis unsuccessfully tried to shut down Interstate 80, but hours later traffic in Oakland was shut down for an hour, when more 150 students and activists walked onto the freeway.

Meanwhile, over 10,000 students and educators from more than twenty-five schools filled San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza. Josh Wolf and Phoebe Fronistas filed this report on the protests from the Bay Area.

    PROTESTERS: No cuts, no peace! Education must increase!

    JOSH WOLF: Shortly after 7:00 a.m., students at UC Berkeley began forming a human barricade at Sather Gate, one of the main entrances to campus. In an effort to convince more students to join the strike, several protesters began visiting classrooms and speaking to students.

    UNIDENTIFIED PROFESSOR: What you are asking for is more and better education to come to a class that otherwise you might have missed. But I do object to violence.

    PROTESTER: We’re not violent.

    PROTESTER: There’s no violence.

    UNIDENTIFIED PROFESSOR: This is a kind of violence.

    PROTESTERS: Today we strike. Tomorrow we go to school.

    PROTESTER: Walk out with us! Get up!

    PROTESTER: Today, we are fighting against layoffs. We are fighting against furloughs. We’re fighting against fee increases. We’re fighting against the 2012 admissions policy.

    JOSH WOLF: By noon, a large crowd gathered at the edge of campus for a brief rally before joining students from other local schools on a five-mile march to Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland near City Hall.

    PROTESTER: Bells don’t rumble my belly anymore. Kids don’t fill my stomach of a building. I am lonely, hungering for the hums of teachers.

    PROTESTER: We’re celebrating the right to an equitable, just education.

    PROTESTERS: SOS! Save our schools! SOS! Save our schools!

    PROTESTER: We’re fighting the budget cuts in California. Well, we lost our PE teacher. Now we have to have — now we have parent volunteers. It’s amazing how many people care.

    PROTESTER: Nice turnout! People are concerned about the way things are going.

    JOSH WOLF: As the rally began to wind down, a group of students started dancing before setting off on a breakaway march that was followed closely by police.

    UNIDENTIFIED: Tighten up, folks! Tighten up!

    POLICE OFFICER: Around 5:00, there was a group of about 100 to 150 individuals that splintered off from the peaceful side and had a hidden agenda and wanted to disrupt traffic on the freeway. And once they got onto the freeway, there was about 100-125 individuals. They blocked the northbound freeway of 980, and then they crossed over to the southbound side. So we’re trying to gather those individuals and get them off the freeway in a peaceful manner.

    JOSH WOLF: While trying to avoid arrest, one student fell about twenty-five feet off a freeway overpass, after he tried to shimmy down a nearby tree.

    EYEWITNESS: …climb out of that tree over there. We don’t know what happened. We just — I just saw him falling. I don’t know how he fell.

    EYEWITNESS: Men carrying sticks this long, chasing people with shotguns, putting their masks on, bashing people to the ground — that didn’t look very peaceful to me. I didn’t see a single protester lift a hand, whereas I saw over a hundred policemen jumping on people, hurting them, throwing them against the ground, scaring someone enough that they would jump off a freeway. Why would you jump off a freeway?

    JOSH WOLF: After being escorted down the nearest off-ramp, police loaded the protesters onto buses and took them to Santa Rita Jail in Alameda County. As of early Friday morning, the arrestees were still in jail, including at least two journalists who were reporting on the March 4th Day of Action.

JUAN GONZALEZ: The protests on Thursday weren’t just on college campuses. At the Redwood Heights Elementary School in Oakland, scores of students lined the streets and chanted.

    REDWOOD HEIGHTS STUDENT PROTESTERS: Save our school! Save our school! Save our school! Save our school!

AMY GOODMAN: Protests were also held on campuses across the country Thursday. At the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, police used pepper spray to break up a student protest organized by Students for a Democratic Society. Fifteen students were arrested. At SUNY Purchase in New York protesters took over the Student Services Building. Students at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill staged a sit-in at the chancellor’s office. In Washington state, the Olympia Coalition for a Fair Budget held a mock funeral for public education and healthcare and brought a coffin to the state Capitol building. And here in New York City, students and teachers at the City University of New York rallied outside Governor David Paterson’s office.

Here are some of the voices from that rally.

    PROTESTERS: The students, united, will never be defeated!

    JACKIE MARIANO: My name is Jackie Mariano, and I am a student at CUNY Hunter College. I’ve come out here today as a student of a public school to put pressure on Governor Paterson, the New York government and all public school administration to stop cutting the budget of education. Students of public schools are suffering a lot because of this economic crisis. CUNY is made up of 75 percent of people of color, a lot of working class. About 40 percent of CUNY students work part-time. And 75 percent of Hunter College students are women. So a lot of marginalized communities continue to feel the blow of the economic crisis. And the New York government hasn’t done anything yet to solve that.

    KEVIN RANKIN: I came from the Borough of Manhattan Community College. My name is Kevin Rankin. And I came from a life where I neglected school, a life where I didn’t have a future. But then I came to the United States, and I found school. And it changed my life. And I know school has changed a lot of your lives, also. And because of that, I ask, why would we antagonize the schools? Why would we continue to hike tuitions? Why would we continue to cut the budgets towards school?

    This is the United States of America. We claim to be the most powerful country in the world. And indeed we are. But if we continue to antagonize the education, how long can we proclaim that we are the leader of the world?

    In the Borough of Manhattan Community College, we have men and women, young and old, from the different walks of life. We have single mothers, single fathers, trying to get an education, because they know they have to provide for their families. We have students who are trying to break the generational gap of poverty within their family, knowing that education is the only way. And we are trying to antagonize education today. This is unacceptable!

    PROTESTERS: Whose streets? Our streets! Whose streets? Our streets!

    BARBARA BOWEN: We want to teach the students. We want to teach students in great conditions, not substandard conditions. We want funding to make our university a great university, and that takes money. So don’t believe anybody from the Governor’s office, which is right up here, when they say that budget cuts are inevitable, that CUNY and SUNY will have to tighten their belts this year. We have already tightened too hard. We wait in lines for classes. We sit on windowsills to be in a class. We stand in line to get to a lab. We wait all day to register. That is not acceptable. And if we have more cuts, we’ll only get more of that. CUNY and SUNY have been cut proportionately more than any other state agency in New York. Think about that for a minute. CUNY and SUNY, the public higher education system, has been cut, proportionately to its size, more than any other state agency in New York. What does that tell us? That someone has an agenda of your not getting an education, not getting a first-rate education. We have to change that political agenda. That’s what we’re here for today.

    PROTESTERS: Bail out the students! Not the banks!

AMY GOODMAN: That was Barbara Bowen, president of
the Professional Staff Congress in CUNY, speaking Thursday at a protest outside New York Governor David Paterson’s Manhattan office.

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