California Protests Answer Passage of Prop 209

Students Fight for Real Equality

RW #882, November 17, 1996

As the news of the passage of Prop 209 hit the streets and campuses on November 6, large angry protests erupted at campuses up and down California.

Meanwhile, that same morning, the president of the nine-campus University of California system sent out a directive of compliance to each college Chancellor--ordering that existing affirmative action programs be dismantled and that state colleges no longer consider "race, ethnicity, sex or national origin" when deciding who to admit.

In the streets, students demanded that their colleges refuse to comply with such reactionary orders.

In Berkeley, hundreds marched through the streets and UC-Berkeley students occupied a prominent campus building. At UC Santa Cruz, 300 students linked arms and barricaded the Student Services building, demanding that the college administrators pledge to maintain diversity and support students from oppressed communities.

Two hundred students at San Diego University carried coffins into the campus to symbolize the potential banning of Black, Asian and Latino student organizations, the Women's Resource Center and the ending of civil rights. A U.S. flag was set on fire during the protest. Other southern California protests took place at UCLA and Cal State Northridge. On November 7, 200 students rallied at UC Davis with a banner reading "209 is Genocide" and signs saying "Social Justice By Any Means Necessary." A campus minister said, "This is a revolution for justice. We are going to take back California."

On November 6, students at San Francisco State rallied on campus and 500 of them shut down 19th Avenue--one of San Francisco's central thoroughfares. This action was widely covered on the TV news. The president of San Francisco State University called an emergency meeting to explain to students the position his administration would take on affirmative action. He said that he believed that the federal constitution might still be used to override Prop 209, and he said he believed he could find ways to save many existing programs and keep the university "multicultural." The students were clearly dissatisfied with these vague promises and hopes. One student member of Refuse & Resist! received loud support when she challenged the president, saying "What would you do if you were in the South during the '50s and segregation was the law? You couldn't say `let's hope things change.' You would have to defy it!"

On Friday, November 8, 350 S.F. State students marched up 19th Avenue again. A branch of Home Savings Bank was plastered with posters saying "The Klan Supports 209--Should You?" Home Savings Bank is one of the capitalist corporations which provided millions of dollars for the pro-Prop 209 campaign, and it has a long history of funding right-wing, racist organizations.

Takeover at Berkeley

In Berkeley, UC students were joined by students who walked out of high school and others from the radical Berkeley scene. Hundreds filled four lanes of Telegraph Avenue, led by banners saying "Resist Prop 209!" and "Fuck the system! Revolt!"

At a rally before the march, graduate student activist Hatem Bazian told the students, "The door to the jail is open, but the door to the university is being blocked." He called on students not to stop their struggle just because Prop 209 got a majority of votes: "Think of the Native Americans.... If they only waited for election results to see whether they can resist or not, they would have been dormant for 500 years, but they're still resisting today!... Affirmative action is not going to be rescued in the Supreme Court of Clarence Thomas and his partners. We need to be clear: It's resistance in the streets."

The students marched to the middle of Berkeley's campus and occupied the towering white Campanile belltower.

Occupiers issued a "Message from the Tower" which said, "The Campanile Tower is a symbol representing the University, and the Ivory Tower of elitism and exclusionism. Our occupation defies the passage of Proposition 209. Our occupation is an act of resistance and reclamation.... Representation of people of color on the UC campuses will decline by 50 to 70 percent as a result of Proposition 209 being implemented (figures from the UC office of the President). If the University decides to comply with 209 they will essentially be locking us out. This occupation represents us taking back our right to education. We are also occupying the Campanile, which stands on top of Ohlone land, because inside the bones of these peoples are stored, our ancestors. It seems that the University only wants our people when we are dead and not when we are alive."

The UC Berkeley Campus Coalition of Students Against 209 issued a list of thirteen demands. The statement said, "The passage of Proposition 209 is another battle in the war on all people being waged in California." Included among the demands were:

"We demand that the University of California NOT COMPLY with the reactionary, regressive 209."

"We claim this campus as our own, as our property. As students at a state university, as residents of California, we say no to exclusion, removal, and forced exit of women and people of color."

"We DEMAND funding for Education--Schools, NOT Prisons, should be a priority! What does it tell you that the prison industry is the fastest growing California industry?"

"We DEMAND the end of the war on poor people."

"We DEMAND an Ethnic Studies requirement for all high school and transfer student applicants."

"We DEMAND that all people in California realize the urgency in attempting to form a just society based in equality and reality--that the only hope for the future of California in the upcoming millennium is that all peoples receive equal opportunity, or the crumbling, smashing and burning of an unjust, sexist and racist society. This is only the beginning."

This "Message from the Tower" ended by saying: "If we as AMERICANS plan together to live in one society, as a body of people, all people need to be guaranteed civil rights. Or...suffer the consequences of people uprising. IT WILL HAPPEN HERE!"

Ten people chained themselves to the top railings of the belltower. Inside the tower, 15 students blockaded the elevator. Banners hung from the high windows of the Campanile. High in the occupied belltower, the Revolutionary Worker newspaper passed hand to hand.

The protesters sent out squads to mobilize others to defend the occupation. Outside the tower doors, hundreds of students packed in chanting, speaking out and physically blocking the police who tried to push their way in. The crowd sang: "We who believe in revolution shall not rest until it comes, til it comes, till it comes."

The surrounding students allowed some reporters to enter the occupied tower. One Black student blocking the elevator was asked by a TV reporter if he was "for preference." The student said that because of the kinds of grade school and high school he had attended, he would never have been able to get into UC Berkeley without affirmative action. He said, "There's nothing wrong with preferences that opens doors at all, at least until you remedy the situation. Affirmative action is just a quick fix for the time being, for problems that have not been addressed, to try to create an equal playing field... these problems are way deep. You have the CIA bringing airplanes with crack! What is that all about? This country is going backwards!"

A Latina student standing next to him told the TV reporter, "If I didn't have to take care of my siblings, if I had my parents both making money and they were both educated in a college environment, yeah, it would be really easy for me to get a 4.0 grade average. I could get in here with no problem. But I'm the first generation in my family to go to college."

The next morning, at 7 a.m. on November 7, campus police broke into the Campanile. They cut the chains holding those students who refused to leave the belltower and dragged students out in their sleeping bags. Student activists told the RW that 25 students were arrested. Many of those busted returned to campus as soon as they were released and continued protesting.

*****

All these California student protests were right on time! The system could not simply declare "The voters have spoken in favor of 209." Instead, the mainstream newspapers had to run headlines like "Prop 209 War Rages On."

These actions are an inspiring call--to raise the level of resistance to the attacks on affirmative action, to carry through the fight for full equality, and to beat back this system's war on the people.


This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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