Building a Movement in California

By Craig Flanery

A widespread perception among supporters of K–PhD public education in California that the system is in danger of being dismantled led to a statewide day of action on March 4. The day included rallies and protests at locations around the state, with thousands of participants. It was not only a demonstration of outrage at devastating budget cuts; it was also a demonstration of the power of coalitions that cut across traditional divides.

In the University of California system, a coalition of staff unions and faculty associations—including AAUP chapters at Berkeley and Santa Cruz—has been building for the last couple of years. Together, members of this coalition provided resources for actions in the state capital and major urban centers. The AAUP-affiliated Council of UC Faculty Associations played a lead role in coordinating activities across the campuses. In the California State University system, a coalition of student, staff, and faculty organizations—including the AAUP-affiliated California Faculty Association—collaborated on actions in or near each of the twenty-three CSU campuses. And local labor councils helped coordinate the activities of K–12 faculty and staff unions as well as those in the three systems of public higher education.

These coalition-building efforts allowed the groups to identify what each could contribute to a broad movement. All recognized that student activism, in the form of public demonstrations, was the lead for everything else—this was what would draw media attention for a public education campaign that could reach beyond campus. The faculty associations and staff unions generally took a wait-and-see approach to the student mobilizations and organizing conferences. Along the way, they sent representatives to meet with the student organizations and help them move forward in ways that would make it likely that the faculty and staff organizations could support them. The faculty and staff organizations provided support once they saw the energy and creativity of the student organizations—and their vastly greater resources were vital to the movement.

Several lessons have emerged from the early stages of this movement. First, students are and must continue to be the face of the movement, because they draw attention from media, administration, and elected officials, and they are always the vast majority of those attending public events. Second, early planning creates successful events. Faculty leaders at an October statewide meeting chose March 4 as the date for the day of action, and it took several months to coordinate the coalition partners and activities. Third, coalitions need interrelated targets that draw partners into a shared movement. In California, students were especially focused on their grievances with their local administrations, while faculty associations and staff unions were focused on both local administrations and state elected officials. A key to the success of March 4 was having multiple targets and varied events that motivated coalition partners to share the combined labor of planning actions on campuses and in Sacramento and other cities. A final lesson is that lead-up events build momentum for game day. Many faculty associations held informational forums in the days and weeks before March 4 to inform campus constituencies, share talking points, begin to generate media attention, and create opportunities to announce and encourage participation in the day’s events.

For more information about the March 4 events, the role of AAUP chapters, and the strategies involved in making events successful, visit the Web sites of the AAUP-affiliated California Faculty Association and Berkeley Faculty Association. For a detailed discussion of the situation in California, see Christopher Newfield’s article in this issue.

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