Message of student occupiers lost in commotion of police violence

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Say what you will about the protestors’ tactics. Maybe you believe that “occupying” public space isn’t the best way to call attention to the dramatic – and dramatically increasing – level of inequality in this country. But I will tell you three things the student protestors are not “Entitled” or “Pampered” or “Babies.”

Granted, anonymous Internet comments are not the best barometer of public opinion. However, opposition to the UC occupy movement is palpable, even in Berkeley. “Stop whining and go to class. Your parents are paying for you to go to school,” this argument goes. “We, the taxpayers are paying for you to go to school.”

Well, that’s the problem. Increasingly, our parents are not paying for us to go to school. And neither are taxpayers. And my classmates are risking bodily harm to help ensure these facts see the light of day – facts that the recent police violence have obscured.

Just six years ago, tuition at the University of California was $5,357 a semester. Tuition is now $12,192. According to current proposals, it will be $22,068 by 2015-2016. The average graduate in the UC system is saddled with over $17,000 worth of debt. Beginning this school year, the amount UC students pay in tuition will exceed the funding the university system receives from the state. The burden of paying for higher education, once borne by California’s taxpayers, is now the students’ burden.

Republicans in our state legislature have pledged never to raise taxes. But my taxes and those of my classmates – in the form of tuition – have more than doubled over six years. Our assembly members and senators are being disingenuous in the extreme; they are raising taxes. Big time. On the students.

This is but another example of how our government has prioritized older Americans at the expense of tomorrow’s leaders. For example, on a per-capita basis, the amount of federal spending on the elderly is seven times the spending on children ages 18 and younger. And why wouldn’t that be the case when, on average, a 65 year-old is three times as likely to vote as an 18 year-old?

But the University of California system is one reason why so many of today’s seniors were able to experience the upward mobility that has encouraged their sustained political engagement. De-funding the UC system may seem like smart budget politics now, but a university that is less competitive on quality and price will drain intellectual talent from the Golden State, as well as the jobs that go along with it.

Today’s tuition hike is tomorrow’s innovation-less wasteland.

To prevent this outcome from becoming a reality, Congress should heed the call of UC students that this month’s police brutality has muted. Not only must Congress prevent the gutting of the Pell Grant program precipitated by the Supercommittee’s failure, but – in this environment of shrinking state budgets – it must do more to ensure states do not balance their books on the backs of college students.

We UC students are not “entitled, pampered babies.” We are standing up bravely to a system that prioritizes rich over poor, past over present, and elderly over youth. And it is a shame that this essential message has been obscured by needless police violence.



Joshua Smith is a second-year Masters student at the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley.