Everyone can sense it: our leaders are afraid. They are terrified of our power to escalate this situation. 100 citizens of California disrupted the most recent meeting of UCOP and the Regents. 100 people placed their bodies in the way of business as usual, causing the Regents to evacuate their own meeting and sending the message that the people of California will not tolerate these, or any, future cuts. 100 bodies managed — however briefly — to grind this system to a halt. But the armed thugs, who we call the “police,” dragged these 100 people out of a public building so that the business of UCOP and the Regents could continue unopposed. We have heard this declaration of war and we are prepared to respond in kind.
Do you know what UC President Mark Yudof had to say for himself? Do you know what he said after these people were forcibly removed from his meeting and after he proposed to increase student fees to $10,300 for next fall? I’ll tell you what he said — and I quote — “It’s kind of like kindergarten…we need some ‘quiet time’ around here.” [pause] On the contrary Mr. Yudof, it is you and those in Sacramento who are behaving like a selfish children. It is you who need to go back to kindergarden and learn how to share. Respectfully, Mr. Yudof, it’s time for you to shut the fuck up, sit the fuck down! [pause] We have heard your declaration of war. We have observed your attempts to silence dissent, and we are prepared to respond in kind.
Would anyone like to know what Yudof — a well-intentioned liberal — his advice to the faculty, students and workers of this University, his advice to all of you assembled here today? [pause] He stated, and I quote, “You have more of a future in prisons than in universities.” That was his advice to you at the last Regents meeting: “You have more of a future in prisons than in universities” He actually said that if the University was run more like California’s prision system, “we’d be much better off. We’d be much more competitive.” [pause] The University of California is already being run like a prison! The evidence of this fact is all around us. The same architects, who designed the University buildings on this very campus, built California’s sprawling prison system. Much like the inhabitants of these prisons, we have been told that our situation is non-negotiable. We have been told that we have to just just bend over and take it without complaint. With each increase in fee, with each cut to course offerings, with each overcrowded lecture hall, and with each student of color and low-income student no longer able to afford a University degree, our society becomes less free — and — the students of this University are imprisoned within a sick cycle of spiraling student debt. And for what? We work hard and we borrow in order work hard and make money we have already spent. For most of us, the jobs awaiting for us after all the exams, and lectures and books are the jobs we already have. Close to three quarters of students work; many full time. Meanwhile we no longer acquire an education with our degrees; all we’re acquiring is debt! And this situation is only getting worse from here. THe time for dissent is now!
It is true: there is no future inside or outside these prison walls. Therefore, we gather here today to make the impossible demand for a free university, accessible to all. We make the impossible demand for a free society.
But our generation is not so naive as to believe that Mark Yudof is the problem with this system. The entire program running the system is the problem! There is a point at which the operation of the system becomes so appalling, makes you so sick in the head, that you can no longer take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to throw your bodies upon the upon the wires and upon the control panels of this system, upon the whole terrifying apparatus — and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it — that unless you’re free the system will be prevented from working at all!!
We stand on this campus, and on campuses throughout this state to reject the prisoner’s dilemma into which we have been forced. We reject the zero-sum logic in which we are forced to decide today which of our friends, colleagues, students, or workers will receive pink slips tomorrow. Sacramento, the Board of Regents, and the Office of the President have already hijacked the mission of higher education in an attempt to run the University like a corporation. It is they who have made it impossible to prepare the youth of this state for a life actually worth living. We therefore reject all attempts to paint today’s walkout as harmful to our mission to teach. Rather than allowing business as usual to continue, we have instead chosen to teach the most important lesson of all to the youth of California: That lesson is dissent. That lesson is freedom of speech. That lesson is the power that you already hold in the palm of your hand and in the fist that you can clench.
The choice of how to escalate this situation is ours and we are about to conduct a discussion about it. We can make it impossible for business to continue at this University. Our generation can build a movement today with our friends at Cal State University and at Community Colleges across this state to oppose the evisceration of our public schools, the impoverishment of our futures and the imprisonment of our minds. We can send the message that we have heard this declaration of war. We have observed the attempts to silence dissent and we are prepared to respond in kind.
Make no mistake about it: today, a battle line has been drawn between those defending the idea of a free and public education accessible to all Californians, and a group of wealthy plutocrats seeking to line their pockets with tuition dollars from working families and students, tuition financed largely through the same corrupt system of credit that got us in this whole mess. The Regents and UCOP have declared this war; faculty, students and workers have merely chosen the first day of battle. It is up to our generation to decide what our next move will be.