Gang of four
Sac State protesters gear up for more despite charges by university
Will Sacramento State’s recent after-hours crackdown against a student sit-in protest of campus administrator salaries and fee increases spark or squelch a new era of activism? Only time will tell, but one thing’s certain: The stakes are higher than ever.
The political clash heated up just after 3 a.m. on April 16, when Sac State and San Francisco State police in riot gear ejected 27 nonviolent student protesters, most of whom were sleeping, on day three of a sit-in at Sac State’s Sacramento Hall.
Soon after, the Sac State administration brought three charges of violating the school’s student conduct code against a quartet of protesters, who now are being referred to as the “Sac State Four.”
One of the Four is Yeimi Lopez, 21, of Southern California by way of Texcoco, Mexico. The communications major credits her father, younger brother and Sac State mentors for her political activism.
Sociology major Amanda Mooers, 23, of Fullerton, also faces charges for the sit-in. A course on class and race privilege from Paul Burke, a sociology professor, sparked her activism.
“During the sit-in, students from other CSU campuses, from UC campuses and from locations throughout the country indicated this was the type of thing they’ve been waiting to see,” Mooers said. “Students are ready to take this battle to the next level.”
Mooers argues that the way Sac State President Alexander Gonzalez and the administration chose to deal with the students “really highlights their mismanagement, from giving administrators raises during harsh budget cuts to calling in police from two campuses.”
She noted that “Leadership begins here” is the Sac State motto.
The California Faculty Association labor union, for which Mooers interns, represents some 23,000 tenured and tenure-track faculty, lecturers, librarians, coaches and counselors on all 23 CSU campuses. Kevin Wehr, president of the CFA Capitol Chapter, says the administration showed its “misplaced priorities” by using campus funds for police overtime to raid the student protesters. “What the students are doing is defending their education in a way that I have not seen before,” he explained.
Students say they’re just exercising intelligent thought. “We are critical-thinking students at Sac State,” Lopez said. “More than anything, the administration’s actions are bringing light to their priorities. Students are beginning to ask questions.”
Moors and Lopez said that Facebook and Twitter helped the sit-in protesters update scores of people. Their messages spurred kudos from as far away as Glasgow, Scotland. And a digital photo of two campus police officers clad in riot gear at Sacramento Hall to evict the 27 students went viral.
“Students are asking why that was necessary,” Mooers said.
Sac State spokeswoman Kim Nava declined SN&R’s repeated requests to say who ordered police to oust the student protesters.
A week after the Sac State sit-in, CSU Fullerton students launched a similar nonviolent protest. Students there occupied a campus building for three days to protest management’s six-figure salaries and skyrocketing tuition.
Lopez was one of three Sacramento-area college students who traveled in solidarity to Fullerton. “It’s a class struggle and movement that we’re seeing right now,” she said of the higher-education protesters.
“A change of people’s consciousness can create more accountability for policymakers,” Lopez said.
Meanwhile, much hangs in the balance for higher education, now and in the future.
As the Sac State Four fight school disciplinary charges, they and thousands of fellow activists are busy advocating for state legislation to strengthen public higher education. Such as Assembly Bill 1326, which would impose a tax on California natural gas and oil producers. The annual revenue from this levy would go to the state’s colleges, universities and community colleges.
Placing a state tax extension on the November ballot also would generate revenue to prevent a second $500 million in spending cuts for CSU; the same amount already has been cut for the 2011-12 academic year. A total $1 billion loss of CSU funding would mean more faculty furloughs, staff layoffs and tuition fee increases, plus fewer courses offered.