Notes from the Day of Action: education protesters' bad grammar proves their point
Before the masses of high school and college students arrived at Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland Thursday, a much more varied crowd was gathering there for the March 4 Day of Action to Defend Education: 20-year-olds to 70-year-olds, elementary school teachers, political activists, concerned parents, siblings, cousins, and friends of current college students. Sure, they were upset over the cutbacks that Oakland and all Bay Area schools were experiencing; but this group seemed to be protesting issues that were much broader than just cuts to the education system. Bob Winter of Oakland and Stephen Kelly of San Francisco, both in their 60s, and 20-something Aaron Dankman of Oakland all expressed their disgust with what they see as a gross misallocation of funds—both at the state and municipal level. According to them, Californians, or better said California lawmakers, have their priorities all wrong: Yes, the economy is down and the state is in a budget crisis, but instead of cutting funds from education, transportation, and healthcare, lawmakers should be targeting prisons, bureaucracy, and corporations.
But then, just after former Black Panther member Gerald Sanders finished speaking, the high schoolers came. They swarmed the podium by the hundreds and took control of the mic. Loudly they listed off all that was wrong with their high schools and decried the cuts to education: the classrooms are run down, our materials are outdated, class sizes are too large, teachers can’t give us any attention. Their message? Cutbacks will mean our children are going to grow up miserably undereducated, which can only spell disaster for the country (for the children are our future). While their protest slogans weren't exactly original (“Power to the people!”; “The revolution will not be televised”), these 16- and 17-year-olds were full of genuine political enthusiasm.
There were college students there as well, but they were vastly outnumbered. At the beginning of the rally, the Laney College Black Student Union energized the crowd with a couple of original hip-hop performances. Three young men traded thought-provoking verses on the current, dire state of higher education in California.
At noon, I tried to get into City Hall to talk to some politicians about their views on the protest. I was greeted at the entrance by a security guard: City Hall was closed to the public for the duration of the protest. The guard didn’t know why.
The police presence was inconspicuous. 25 to 30 officers lined the square, but they kept their distance and were never forced to intervene in the rally.
An hour into the rally, an older man started passing out sheets of paper with protest chants on them so the protestors to follow along as the leaders called out their pithy lines. For example, “Hey, Hey! Hey, Ho! The Budget Cuts have got to go!” and “No cuts! No fees! Education should be free!” But the very first chant listed on this half sheet of paper immediately caught my eye. It ran:
“Call: Who’s University? (my italics)
Response: Our University!”
What better argument to make against cutting back on education than to show a real lack of it?