Tuesday, March 29, 2011


201-03-29 "Taking the fight into the Capitol" by Melody Fitzgerald
SACRAMENTO, Calif.--When California community college students converged on the Capitol building here on March 14 to demonstrate in defense of funding for public education, most eagerly rallied behind messages like "Tax the rich, not the poor" and "Save our schools," but the primary message delivered by event organizers left many students wondering about the purpose of the rally.
The demonstration was organized by the California State Student Association (CSSA) and the Student Senate for California Community Colleges (SSCCC), and they deserve credit for busing in more 5,000 students from far-flung corners of this sprawling state.
But instead of taking a stand against Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed 2011-12 state budget, which would cut at least $1.4 billion from California's public higher education system, the CSSA and SSCCC advocated support for Gov. Brown's budget plans and reserved their criticism only for the minority Republican faction in the state legislature.
The CSSA and SSCCC raised the slogan "Let us vote!" in support of Gov. Brown's proposal for a referendum to extend temporary personal income, sales and vehicle-licensing tax increases on a June special election ballot, an effort which Republicans in the state legislature are attempting to block.
But Jerry Brown's budget plans must be opposed.
First, thousands of Californian students can afford no more concessions to the public education budget cutters and will be denied access if the budget shrinks again. Second, Jerry Brown's "tax package" relies far too much on regressive taxes that burden lower-income taxpayers more than the wealthy.
We must reject this mentality of "shared sacrifice." California is a land of fabulous riches. A concern for equality should inspire us to advocate the only just solution to this state's budget crisis: tax the rich and corporations!
CSSA/SSCCC's support for the "let us vote" campaign highlighted a disconnect between the aspirations of the hundreds of students who bused to the rally, some from as far away as southern California, and the event organizers, who seemed to be rallying in support of the budget cuts rather than against them.
Support for progressive taxation appeared widespread among the assembled students, most of whom view more cuts to their education as unacceptable. Among the marching crowd, a large banner declaring "Tax the rich" carried by students at Community College of San Francisco was among the favorites, eliciting cheers as many students, including some of the event staff, posed for pictures with it.
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MIDWAY THROUGH the rally, a radical contingent formed by a coalition of students from across the Bay Area and beyond seized the moment and gathered together those interested in more militant action in order to attempt a sit-in inside the Capitol building. With growing popular support from the larger crowd, the radicalized students pressed their way to the front of the rally to demand access to the Capitol.
There, they were met with strong opposition by the CSSA and SSCCC event staff, who were prepared to defend Jerry Brown's Capitol steps. The CSSA and SSCCC had no intention of meeting the demands of a growing number of students chanting, "Let us in!"
CSSA and SSCCC event staff then made attempts to drown the students out by chanting over the PA system, "Let us vote!" followed by appeals to the crowd to maintain a "peaceful demonstration" and to remain "respectful"--in other words, to accept the restriction, imposed by the organizers, that the rally should be an entirely tame affair.
After being forcibly denied access through the front doors, the student militants were funneled to the side entrance, where they were able to enter the Capitol rotunda anyway. Chanting "Tax the rich!" and "Save our schools!" with the support of about 75 students, police told the protesters to stop immediately and then forcefully removed them from the Capitol, isolating the core group from the rest of the protesters.
Student activists learned a few important lessons in organizing the more militant action. "We underestimated the extent to which the event staff was committed to preventing students from getting into the Capitol building through the front door," said Alex Schmaus, a student at the Community College of San Francisco. "It shows the gap between the anger and resentment expressed by the crowd broadly and the politics from the front about capitulating to Brown's budget plan."
Schmaus views the events not as a defeat but rather a successful effort to give confidence to more radical student activists. With more organization ahead of time, it would have been possible to offer a compelling political alternative to the relatively mild message of the event's organizers.
Students are aware of a growing need to organize themselves if they are to cohere a force capable of challenging the ever-increasing cuts to public education in the state of California. "There was a sense of community during the march and an awareness from the students that a more meaningful movement can be born," said Adriana of Chabot Community College in Hayward. "We need to tax the rich and not the poor."

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