Revolution #195, March 14, 2010

Student Upsurge: Why Did People Protest?

The attacks on education are huge and are putting into question whether large numbers of youth are going to even have access to public education. People’s beliefs are being shaken about whether they’re going to be able to get a good education, or any education at all, which they see linked with their ability to have a better life—or even just stay out of prison. And beyond that, big questions are being raised about of what kind of society we are, and will be, living in. Will this be a world where the existing sharp divide between those who work with ideas and those who are shut out of that realm becomes even deeper?

There are very different views out there: Is the key thing to make changes in the state constitution in California so Democratic Party legislators can pass better bills and end this attack on education? Or is there something much more fundamental going on here—is this part of a much bigger and larger problem?

The education people get within the framework of capitalism is limited, and education as a whole serves the functioning and perpetuation of this system of exploitation. Nevertheless, the kind of education that has been available to people is being yanked out from under them, and the severity of these cuts is causing people to question some of their basic assumptions. Something new is struggling to be born as people are resisting these attacks and looking for answers about what’s causing them, what they have to do with the kind of society we live in, and what can be done about them. More than a few people are beginning to see that this crisis in education stems from deeper fundamental problems, from the very way this capitalist system operates—and a LOT of people are willing to at least seriously consider this analysis.

Throughout the day on March 4, Revolution reporters in the San Francisco Bay Area interviewed students and others participating in the protests. The discussions were rich and complex, covering what was behind the budget and education cuts; why people had stepped into the streets; how broader issues of capitalism skewed priorities, and how social polarization played into the situation; what was behind the racist attacks at UC San Diego; and also broader discussions about the nature of education, and about revolution and a whole new society.

Most people were quite willing to get into wide-ranging discussion that goes far beyond where they are at right now. Some think the government should easily be able to spend money on education, as in the slogan, “Drop Fees, Not Bombs!” Many think that education should be a human right, but that instead of making education a priority, this system benefits entrenched interests—the rich or corporations. Others point to the deeply embedded inequalities in this country and the world. One African student said bitterly, “I never even conceived that there could be a society in which prisons were funded more than schools until I came here to the U.S.”

One theme and broad-minded spirit many students expressed was that these attacks aren’t just about them or UC Berkeley. It was in solidarity with other students, other communities, all nationalities, and everyone impacted by the cuts. One very important thread in this whole battle has been a series of racist incidents, most recently at UC San Diego where a noose was hung in a campus library. It is important that on the march from Berkeley to Oakland, people chanted “No racism, No homophobia!”

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