By Ken A. Epstein
Responding to attempts to dislodge “Occupy!” encampments in Oakland and other cities across the nation, local protesters are intensifying efforts to organize and link their actions. At UC Berkeley Tuesday night, a crowd estimated at between 4,000 and 10,000 filled Sproul Plaza: student anti-fee hike demonstrators, members of the Occupy Oakland movement who marched from Oakland to the campus down Telegraph Avenue and hundreds of gray-headed veterans of the 1964 Free Speech Movement (FSM).
The FSM veterans were originally slated to meet on campus for the annual Mario Savio Memorial lecture, named in honor of the late leader of the 1960’s student sit-in. But the event was moved to the plaza to join students who are protesting continued tuition increases and attempting to build an Occupy Cal! encampment.
Lynne Hollander Savio, Mario Savio’s widow, characterized the protests of UC students as a “struggle to return the University of California to the people of California.”
She said that the commitment of young people to fight for their rights has “inspired (FSM veterans) to move from despair” to hope for the direction the country is now taking.
Speaker Robert Reich, a UC Berkeley public policy professor and former U.S. Secretary of Labor, decried the growth in income inequality in the U.S. where the top 400 richest people have more wealth than the bottom 150 million.
Praising the young protesters, Reich said, “The age of apathy is over folks.”
During the day, protesters on campus beat drums and chanted as they held up signs reading “Hella Occupy” and “Defend Public Education” and displayed pictures from 1960s student protests and marches led by civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
In other news, Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) joined striking faculty members, staff, students and supporters of the California Faculty Association (CFA) at a rally Thursday at California State University East Bay.
Hancock spoke at the rally in support of the strike, saying, “This is a pivotal moment for California’s educational system. In times of economic fragility such as we are in now, we are faced with gut-wrenching choices. It is all too easy for high-level managers to shift a disproportionate burden of cutbacks and suffering to those who are the real heart of the university system – the faculty, staff and students.
“I am here to congratulate and support the faculty of this great university for having the courage to stand up for fairness and for making a stand against the destruction of our education system.
“You have been more than patient as you have watched the California university system diminished by drastic budget cuts, skyrocketing tuition and fee increases, reduced resources for faculty and staff and an intransigent administration refusing to compromise on contracts.
“I urge the university’s administration to listen to you – to heed the voices of the faculty, staff and students who are the heart and soul of this great university. You ARE the 99% and your voice WILL be heard.”