Two Occupy Los Angeles members were among protesters pepper sprayed at the California State University Board of Trustees meeting Nov. 16, when Long Beach police officers escalated their response to a rally opposing a nine-percent tuition hike — the second tuition increase this year.
About 300 people participated in the “ReFund Education: Make Banks Pay” action, eight of them from OLA. Originally there were to be two protests − one in Long Beach, the other in San Francisco, during the meeting of the UC Board of Regents — but the UC board canceled their meeting, fearing protests.
The campaign, launched earlier this month, is aimed at California’s three largest higher education boards, each of which has several members who also sit on the boards of powerful banking and corporate organizations. ReFund Education proposes that equitably taxing banks, major corporations and the state’s ultra-rich is a better approach toward generating revenue needed to counter cuts in higher education, as well as provide funds needed to reverse critical hits to other state programs.
The ReFund Education coalition signals the growth of the Occupation movement throughout the nation’s college campuses, with inspired students framing their issues within the language of the movement in order to help the public understand that, far from being partying stereotypes, they are members of the 99% entering frightening economic times — often hobbled by heavy student loans.
“Education is an important thing that needs to be accessible to people,” said Francis, 34, one of the LA Occupiers pepper sprayed during the protest. “That was the whole point of setting up the Cal State system, and these fee hikes are going against the principle that this state at one point thought was very important.” Steve, 26, another Los Angeles Occupier, said “tensions kind of grew” during the protest after students were clamoring for access to the building after some had been removed, and after the trustees had relocated from the main meeting room to the back of the building.
“They wanted to be heard,” he said. “That was the main issue, to be heard.”
The activists gathered by a set of glass doors chanting “let us in” for about five minutes, Steve said. Suddenly the doors were thrown open by officers, some of whom started jabbing at the protesters with their batons. The officers then tried to close the doors again, hitting and pepper spraying people who were in the way, he said. The doors shattered.
“That’s when I got sprayed,” he said. “After that, all I heard was commotion.”
After recovering from the chemical attack, Steve and Francis continued with the rest of the rally on a march to Wells Fargo bank.
“If I don’t try to make a difference, then what’s our reason for being here?” Francis said.
The trustees approved the tuition hike with a vote of 9-6. Basic tuition within the California State system will start at $5,907 next fall.
To learn more about ReFund California: Make Banks Pay, visit the campaign’s website Make Banks Pay - California
Author: Pam Noles
- Gia Trimble