By Russell Kilday-Hicks, VP for Representation, California State University Employees Union
A rag-tag band of approximately 50 to 60 people started out from Oscar Grant Plaza in Oakland on Thursday afternoon, March 1, for a 99-mile stroll for the 99% to Sacramento. Our ranks were formed out of Occupy Education, a coalition group made up of concerned citizens who work in, with, at, or around public education. The common thread among us was the belief that California’s public education system isn’t working for the working class. We marched behind a large, yellow hand-painted banner and a one-person, hand-sewn, multicolored 99% banner. (I joked with the 99% banner maker that this movement isn’t old enough to have banners made in China just yet, but next year we will have T-shirts with Che saying, “Occupy!”) Our controversial upside down American flag read in words of tape: “Education is in distress.” (BTW—an upside-down flag is an internationally recognized sign of distress, like opening the hood of a car when broken down at the side of the road. The walkers held a GA to discus the pros and cons of the flag. There is no doubt that it garnered attention, some of it misunderstood as disrespect, but it was a powerful statement and not enough to divide the group over.)
Along the way we were mostly cheered and occasionally jeered, hosted and fed by churches, welcomed and honored by Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, and even provided breakfast by the CSU Maritime Academy, arranged by supporters in the CSU’s California Faculty Association. We were heading to Sacramento in time for the annual student association rally and lobby day. We planned to hold a GA in the capital rotunda at the heart of California’s government—the idea of bringing the Occupy Movement’s direct democracy model to Sacramento being a powerful one. There were others who wanted to support the civil disobedience action afterward by staying beyond closing time.
You may have heard on the news coverage of the march how a “group of university students” were doing this, and that was mostly true. They came from a sprinkling of SF Bay Area schools, including SF City College, SF State, CSU East Bay, and UC Berkeley and Santa Cruz. But we also had a Concord high school teacher with us, and others who attended college and never made it to degrees. We even had a child care teacher, to encompass all learning from diapers to PhD. We had along some graduates, from UCB and even from private schools like Stamford, who were still looking for meaningful jobs aligned with their studies. We had local Occupy activists and even some who came from afar, like the man from Occupy Boston. Along the way we were joined for parts of the march by others, like when a group at Solano Community College hosted us for lunch we left with more walking pairs of feet than what we had arrived with, and others who joined along the road.
I joined along not only because I share the discontent in the state of public education funding but to represent the union workers who support education. I was also a bridge from past social movements to the present. Many of my friends who could not be on the march because of its physical demands were overjoyed that I was representing older generations of activists disturbed by the shrinking support of the public sector.
On foot from Thursday through Sunday is a long journey, not just walking but eating, sleeping and taking care of other human needs (like entertainment) together. The operating principle was clearly “from each according to ability, to each according to need” but it also offered us the opportunity to really get to know each other. With all the various disciplines and life experience represented, it felt like an open university on the road. And that is just the thing. We do have much to teach and learn from each other if this movement is to grow into something that will bring on real change. Join us next time, and don’t worry, there will be a next time.
For more information, see: http://occupyeducationca.org and http://99milemarch.tumblr.com