AS Beat Reporter
An estimated 1,500 students gathered at Storke Tower on Thurs., Nov. 12 as part of the nationwide Million Student March, which took place at over 110 campuses across the country. The three demands of the movement are to make public universities tuition-free, eliminate all student debt and establish a $15 per hour minimum wage for all campus workers. The rally began at noon as students walked out of class to join the organizers in Storke Plaza.
The movement’s name comes from journalist Katie Couric’s interview of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders; when asked what his plans were to get reform through a “gridlocked” Congress, Sanders replied that it would take a million young people to march on Washington with awareness of their situation. At the University of California, Santa Barbara, a coalition of campus organizations including the United States Student Association (USSA), the University of California Student Association (UCSA), UCSB 4 Bernie, Pan-African Student Union, Associated Students Office of the External Vice President for Statewide Affairs (EVPSA) and Office of the Student Advocate (OSA) organized the march.
Protesters called for systematic change from the University of California system, chanting slogans such as “UC, step off it, put people over profit” and “I’m fired up, can’t take it no more.” Various staff members joined them, including AS staff, who had been released at noon to join marchers. Many held posters showing the amount of their student debt from attending UCSB; other posters stated support for Sanders and “solidarity with Mizzou,” the University of Missouri campus where racial tensions have run high in recent weeks. Representatives from UCSB’s Black Student Union, AS, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) 3299 and Graduate Student Association spoke at the rally.
Fourth year sociology and black studies major and Black Student Union chair Jamelia Harris and fourth year environmental studies major and BSU political chair Nia Mitchell spoke at the rally. “We, the University of California, Santa Barbara Black Student Union express our anger, discontent and intolerance towards the status quo of student fees and tuition expenses,” Harris said. “As members of a marginalized community that comprises less than four percent of our campus’s overall demographics, we must acknowledge the structural barriers and impediments posed by exorbitant tuition fees. Millions of otherwise qualified high school students are not attending college because of their families’ inability to afford tuition expenses.”
“If the UC is truly a public institution of higher learning, the UC Regents and UC President Janet Napolitano must transfer the burdens of funding this institution to the state of California.”
“If the UC is truly a public institution of higher learning, the UC Regents and UC President Janet Napolitano must transfer the burdens of funding this institution to the state of California,” Mitchell said to snaps and cheers from the crowd. “Privatization of public education is unacceptable. The state allocating more funding to the prison system than education is a damn shame and embarrassing.”
The protesters started at Storke Tower, and wound their way through the Arbor, North Hall — the site of 1968 Black Student Union protests — and Campbell Hall before ending their march at Cheadle Hall. There, students plastered a “Wall of Debt” on the windows of the building. Students taped papers saying how much they owed in loans — “30,000 TOO MUCH” “85,000 TOO MUCH”.
In the weeks leading up to the march, students have taken to posting on social media, as well as placing boards and flyers around campus, to bring awareness to the cause. At Pardall Tunnel, bicyclists were greeted with a red-and-black board detailing the event time and location. On Tue., Nov. 4, organizers hosted a teach-in at the MultiCultural Center Theater to educate over 100 students and staff on the state of higher education and the three demands. Such work has been crucial in clearing up confusion about why these demands, like the minimum wage raise, are in place.
“The $15 per hour campus worker wage was something that has been supposedly implemented in the UC, which has caused some confusion from students, who think ‘Our workers already have this, so how does this apply?’” second year psychology major and General Campus Organizer in the EVPSA Office Hannah Houska said. “This is a nationwide movement, these are rights that workers across the nation should have. All three demands have been promised previously, and in the UC, this still isn’t happening.”
Second year mathematics major Kyle Butts, who works alongside Houska as a general campus organizer in the EVPSA office, explained that the raise only applies to those who are hired directly through the UC and work at least 20 hours per week.
“There’s insourcing and outsourcing of workers: insourcing meaning they’re UCSB workers, outsourcing meaning that they’re contracted by UCSB through a second party to hire those workers,” Butts said. “These workers work side by side. They do the same work, they’re in the same department and they do everything together, except some of them get the $15 per hour minimum wage, health benefits and right to unionize.”
Butts and Houska are hoping that the movement will become a topic of discussion at the upcoming Democratic primary debate on Sat., Nov. 14. All the organizers are hoping that the conversation does not simply end here, but rather continues not only on UCSB’s campus, but nationwide. Given the success of student-worker movements historically, it is their hope that the march shows solidarity with student protests occurring globally in recent years and goes down as a moment in UCSB activist history. UCSB’s chancellor, Henry Yang, released a statement in support of the rally.
“I am proud to join with our students and campus community as we continue to engage our state and our nation in a vital dialogue on the need to make access to public higher education and funding to public education a top priority,” said Yang. “The issues of affordable education, assisting students with debt, and creating a minimum wage for workers are of absolute importance.”
“In a time where a bachelor’s [degree] doesn’t even get you that far, it’s ridiculous that we have to pay so much for it. We’re drowning in debt.”
“When we go from tuition hike to tuition freeze, what you realize is that we’re always losing ground,” fourth year sociology and Black studies double major and EVPSA Mohsin Mirza said. “The way we’re going to gain ground is by redefining and reshaping in people’s minds what higher education means, and that it is a public good, not something we do for our private benefit.”
“It’s absolutely ridiculous how much debt we have to be here,” first year undeclared major and march participant Romteen Borhani said. “In a time where a bachelor’s [degree] doesn’t even get you that far, it’s ridiculous that we have to pay so much for it. We’re drowning in debt.”
This article has been updated to reflect current information.