About 300 students, faculty and staff gathered on the UCLA campus Wednesday, November 9th for a rally and march sponsored by the anti-austerity groups ReFund California and Make Banks Pay. The noontime rally on Bruin Plaza featured speakers the academic student employees union (UAW), UPTE, and undergraduate students. The message was consistent: budget cuts and tuition increases are becoming intolerable. The crowd was predominantly undergraduate students, along with a handful of faculty and folks from AFT, AFSCME, and the skilled trades. The rally was more informal than similar events in the past, suggesting to me that students (rather than the unions) were the driving force.
Members of the Los Angeles janitors union (SEIU) were on hand in solidarity, and later to provide security for the march. Speaking in Spanish, with translation by union staff, they connected their own workplace struggles to the defunding of higher education. As low wage immigrant workers, their American Dream is not simply to get higher wages, but also to send their children to college. That was an inspiring message for the university crowd, reminding us that higher education is relevant to people well beyond the campus community.
Following the rally, demonstrators marched south along Westwood Blvd, taking up the entire southbound lane, on their way a Bank of America branch. While the crowd chanted “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out” organizers draped ATMs with caution tape and posted the ReFund California Pledge to the front door. The march then continued to the busy intersection of Westwood and Wilshire where it blocked six lanes of traffic. There were some tense moments as drivers, frantic to get wherever they were going, weaved through the crowd and some of the braver demonstrators stepped in to block their way.
As the police arrived in large numbers, about a dozen protesters, apparently all students, sat down in the middle of the intersection beginning a long standoff. Those who did not want to risk arrest stood on the sidewalks, dividing the crowd across the four corners of the vast intersection, but setting up spirited call-and-response chanting that echoed off the walls of the corporate office towers surrounding us. In the center, the dozen expecting to be arrested sat in a circle facing outward, chatting with police and the National Lawyers Guild and taking interviews from the news media. After a long, long wait, 15 or 20 unmarked police cars pulled up and disgorged the tactical team that would eventually perform the arrests. Apparently, this is standard procedure with LAPD: overwhelming numbers to prevent any trouble. Completely professional, but it seemed like overkill. The crowd was militantly peaceful, and the only danger of violence came from the bankers and brokers angry that their commute would be delayed by a display of democratic citizenship. After the arrests, the remaining 50 or so students marched together back to campus, stopping briefly to protest once more at the Bank of America.
All in all, it had the feeling of a dress rehearsal for something bigger.
[note to regular readers, I wrote this back in November, had it posted to a different blog, but never posted here. So I’m publishing, but under the original date–November 2011]