March 6, 2010

Three More From March 4

On Friday I asked some 'rades and friends for quickie first-hand reports on what has probably been the most significant national mass protest of the Obama era to date, the March 4 mobilization to protect public education from cutbacks and privatization. One Associated Press report said, "Millions of students, teachers and parents rallied in schools and college campuses across California and many other states to protest deep spending cuts to schools and universities."

Yesterday Rahim on the Docks and I posted reports on Newark, NJ and Berkeley, CA respectively. Ovenight, some more folks kicked in short reports: Mirk from the other side of San Francisco Bay, Anne from Austin, TX and Roadsigns contributer Napolitana Piemontese, who works in the NYC school system.

One thing these reports make clear is that while the nature and focus of the actions and the main group participating varied from place to place, there was, and is, a solid foundation of anger and determination not to pay for a crisis the rich created which promises more and better in months to come.

SF: No Ifs, Ands Or Buts!

The early morning in SF saw little kids (kindergarteners on up) marching up and down 24th Street and Mission Street as Buena Vista Elementary and Bryant Elementary went out en masse.

In the afternoon: The gathering in San Francisco was really fantastic. Estimates of up to 20,000 people (at least).

One of the biggest was from 24th and Mission to the Civic Center. I marched with San Francisco Community School--3rd to 8th graders--which led the march from 24th and Mission. 9 and 10-year-olds holding mini-bullhorns led the chants:
What Does SOS Mean? Save Our Schools!
Money For Education Not For War, Tax The Rich Not The Poor!
and (perfect for elementary and middle school kids)
No Ifs, Ands Or Buts--Stop All The Budget Cuts!
300 kids and teachers from Mission went out despite the threats from the school district. So did kids from Monroe Elementary, Marshall Elementary, Balboa High School, June Jordan, John O'Connell High School.

Hundreds came from City College, same from SF State which brought huge puppets. 10 buses came from De Anza College. Teachers were there from every school.

The marchers filled the streets from one side to another over at least 15 blocks.

Perhaps one of the starkest moments came when we marched past a private Friends School. On one side of the heavy wired fence, locked in, were those kids. On our side--an entire community.

And it was an entire community, demanding their right to education. And it was kids who had never been in a demonstration before feeling the power of being out in the streets.

A side note--organic urban farmers who had been given what they believed to be good fertilizer from the city (and then learned that it was toxic) went to City Hall in Hazmat suits and dumped tons of the stuff all over the place.

We'll see what happens.

[Some great photos from SF , including one of Mirk, here.]

Austin: Cuts For Staff, Hikes For Students...
And a $2 Mill Raise For The Coach!

We had more than 200 students, staff, and instructional workers turn out on campus at University of Texas--Austin. We gathered for a march, rally, and speak-out organized by the Stop the Cuts Coalition which includes: the Texas State Employees Union, Anthropology Graduate Student Association, Student Friends of the Cactus Caf√©, University Democrats, MEChA, International Socialist Organization, ¡ella pelea!, UT Student Prison Caucus, Amnesty International--UT Chapter, and Join the Impact--Longhorn chapter.

We're seeing major cuts to staff, lecturers, grad student admissions, community and student services, plus larger class sizes, fewer classes, and rising tuitions BUT this is opportunistic. The administration at UT-Austin decided to grab jobs, cut programs, and freeze staff salaries in order to have money to spend on a raises for a few (a $2 million raise for the football coach), highly speculative research hires which they think will increase their prestige, and new facilities. UT is running a full-page ad in the Chronicle of Higher Education with the headline "Texas Wants to Take You Higher." (We don't think this is what Sly had in mind.)

Students and workers are joining together to fight against an administration that sets priorities based on privilege, private money, and exclusivity. The action on March 4 is just a start towards mobilizing and organizing our campus.

NYC: P.O'd And Ready To Fight

I attended a rally outside a board meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in NYC. Folks had marched there from a rally at the Governor's Midtown office but I missed that part.

The main focuses were the threats to make high school students pay for their own metrocards (generally thought to be a shadow play between the City/Mayor and the MTA) and the probably more real plan to lay off station agents in dozens of subway stations. So it wasn't strictly a public ed focus but a broader "defend public services/jobs" focus. I'm not sure who put that all together but the Transport Workers Union was out in force with placards and union jackets; they even had people collecting the placards as the rally petered out.

One very unusual feature was a rousing speech by the president of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, the police union, pointing out the centrality of station agents to police work and public safety, and noting that (I paraphrase) "our members may be on the other side of the barricades here, but in out hearts, we're with you."

The crowd of a thousand or so (I'm told it was much bigger for the march) ranged from teenagers to seniors, majority people of color, with high school and college students, transit workers and a few teachers. We were, of course, in metal pens on the sidewalk and part of the street outside the FIT building, with one side open for exit and entrance. As the hearing was about to start, and we were chanting (slogans didn't seem very thought out), and it wasn't clear what else we could do, some young white anarchists tried to agitate people to bum-rush the hearing. They then marched around to a back entrance, whereupon the cops closed off that route by placing pens on the one open side.

This effectively trapped the rest of us, which of course is an unlawful detention prohibited by the US Constitution, as many of us informed the police rather vociferously. After about 10 minutes of us chanting "Let us go," and some shoving of barriers and tussling with the police, a white guy in a suit (some thought it was the PBA president but I wasn't sure) told the cops to open that pen and let us out.

A friend who is TWU Local 100 and I agreed that, given the relative lack of publicity within union circles, the size and spirit of the turnout showed that people are p.o.'d and ready to fight.

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