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UCSC doctoral candidate Christopher Barkan explains why student protesters won't be satisfied with mere budget reform. "What is needed is a broad social movement," he writes, "to articulate a new collective vision for the future that will replace this era of narrow special interests and for-profit social engineering."
By Christopher S. Barkan
AFTER the faculty, student and staff walkout on Sept. 24 at UCSC to protest cuts to the UC budget, a number of undergraduate and graduate students escalated the protest by occupying the Commons building on campus. They occupied the site for a week, planned future demonstrations and spread the word among new students about the impending tuition increase of 30 percent. Why did they do this, and how does this concern Santa Cruzans?
The ultimate causes of the budget cuts at UC are the same political and economic factors causing the deep and painful cuts in Santa Cruz government and public services. Politically, it's well known that California has an unworkable budget process at the state level that makes it nearly impossible for lawmakers to come to an agreement. Economically, the state is facing its worse recession in decades; tax revenues at all levels of government have fallen off dramatically. These two factors became a "perfect storm" precipitating the current crisis of budget cuts at all levels of public administration, including municipal services and public education. Worse, there is no end in sight to the economic downturn or the legislative system that leads to chronic political stalemates. Unfortunately, this will likely lead to more cuts in the future.
A lot of emphasis has been paid in the media to reforming the budget process in Sacramento as a fix to the crisis. This is no doubt important. But there are other issues at stake--perhaps deeper and more fundamental for our society--than just how a budget will get made every year in a timely manner. These are the issues that the student occupiers at UCSC had on their minds when they released their statement titled "Occupy California" (http://occupyca.wordpress.com). For them, to suggest that reforming the budget process is, by itself, a sufficient fix to the crisis fails to consider the question of the social values that grant a primary role to public education and other vital social services for the people in our state. These values are under attack by what has become the overriding but false value in our crisis, the budget itself; everyone and everything is subordinated to the bottom line. Fixing the budget process and not reversing the attack on our social values could simply mean that politicians will be more efficient at slashing vital community and education programs!
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The student occupiers at UCSC reject the voices that say that our state parks must be closed and teachers must be laid off. But how do we bring an end to the cuts to "public" California? Reforming the budget process might help, but it is not sufficient. Electing friendlier politicians in the next election cycle might be palliative in the short or medium terms, but it does not address the social ill of running our cities and universities like corporations.
What is needed is a broad social movement throughout California with the capacity to articulate a new collective vision for the future that will replace this era of narrow special interests and for-profit social engineering. Nobody is sure at this time what a social movement to fix the system will look like yet, but experience has taught a hard lesson to students who protest cuts to their education: petitioning and attempts to negotiate with administrators do not work. The only choice left is to escalate their protests and, when necessary, occupy spaces.
Christopher S. Barkan is a Ph.D. student in the History of Consciousness program at UCSC.
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