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UCI: Biggest Campus Demonstration In Recent History

Tara Graham |
March 4, 2010 | 5:13 p.m. PST


Around 800 students rallied around the UC Irvine campus for four hours on Thursday,
stopping only to encourage their peers to walk out of classes. (Photo: Tara Graham)

The sleepy campus of UC Irvine exploded today when hundreds of
protesters, armed with banners, signs and bongos, marched in and out of
school buildings demanding students to walk out of their classes.

The group of protesters, which numbered around 200 at the start of the
march and swelled to 800 by the end, rallied for four hours along a stretch of road that loops around the UCI campus.

The protest kicked off around noon in front of Aldrich
Hall, UCI's administration building and home base for Michael Drake, the university's chancellor. The
California state flag waved high above as students, staffers, union
workers and parents bellowed their grievances into a microphone.

"We know there's a state of emergency in California," Glenn Thomas, a
staffer and parent of a UCI alumnus said. "But the priorities of the UC
system have been lost. We need to get the message to the Regents that
their priorities have to change."

"We are here today to stand up for fairness to workers who are bearing the brunt of the UC budget crisis," said Christine Petit, the president of California's UAW and a UCR graduate student. "Shame on the UC for that!" 

The mere mention of UC President Mark Yudof's name prompted booing from the crowd.

Created with flickr slideshow.

"I think people are starting to connect the dots that maybe these
leaders aren't really our leaders," said Raul Perez, a graduate student in
the Sociology department. "Today is a day of solidarity.
Today, we are stronger, and today, we can change history."

A small group of interested parties emerged into a large crowd of chanting protesters by the time the speakers finished.

"They say cut backs, we say fight back!"

"You say education, we say exploitation!"

Staffers peered out of windows as the group began its trek
around campus. The protesters stormed into buildings, rallied down hallways and entered classrooms to pull their peers out of classes. When they finished their loop around campus, the protesters
marched into the streets, blocking four lanes of traffic, until the
Orange County Fire Department intervened.

The marchers returned to campus and invaded the Gateway Study Center, calling for students to close their books and grab signs.

By 3 p.m., a smaller group of protesters seated themselves on the grass in
front of Aldrich Hall and engaged in an impromptu open mic

"I never thought I'd see the day in Irvine when students would go out into
the streets and interact with people," said a third-year student
speaker. "People think Irvine is this conservative, quiet bastion.
Well, not anymore."

The coalition of student groups that planned the protest didn't expect
such a high turnout. Other campus events leading up to today's
education march -- a sit-in, a town hall meeting and a silent rally --
attracted small groups of 30 to 50 students. Seventeen of the students who
participated in last week's sit-in were arrested and are currently awaiting a
court date.

"The administration here is really good at killing students' passion," said Cindy Amobi, an organizer of today's protest.

Students say the 17 sit-in arrests, along with the 11 arrests that occurred
back in
, are unfair violations of their First Amendment free speech
rights. The administration's heavy-handed punishments are why, some students
reason, the majority of folks at UCI have been more passive than the
students from other
UC campuses.

To keep up the day's momentum, one speaker proposed the protesters organize another noon rally next week. The crowd cheered in response -- indicating



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