March 2 action

Walkout, rally and march to the District against budget cuts

Wednesday, March 2

Short rally starts at 12 noon on the Laney quad

March to the District (333 E. 8th St.) at 12:30

Look for the SUP flags and banners.

The students of Laney College stand at an important moment in time. The cuts from the Peralta administration are an attack on us. Every budget cut takes control over our education and our future out of our hands. The cuts take different shapes and hurt us in different ways. Not only as students, but as people of color, as queer people, as mothers, as working class peoples, as disabled people – all of us have been shown nothing but neglect and contempt by the administration. As the most precarious populations at our school, we are always the most affected by the cuts.

One of these populations is transgendered people. There are no safe spaces for transgendered people to use the bathroom on campus, and often trans people face harassment and confusion when dealing with students and faculty. As of last year, all students have also been forced to pay a fee for non-existant health services such as counseling – so for trans people there is often nobody to turn to on campus, even though such a service is promised to us. If admin has their way, our situation will only get worse. If we want this to stop, we will all need to stand up for one another and fight back.


Queers Fighting Back (QFB) meets Saturdays at 1 pm, 495 Embarcadero, Oakland

Laney Student Unity & Power


  • 1. last night’s board meeting
  • 2. the district is illegal
  • 3. cycles of struggle
  • 4. cut the cops
  • 5. to those who lose it

  • 1. last night’s board meeting

    After years of mismanagement and blatantly illegal and wasteful spending, the District and the Board of Trustees want to solve their budget crisis on the backs of students and the workers who advise us, teach us, take care of us and clean up after us.

    Last week, word spread that the Board planned to eliminate the positions at Laney of 1.5 Disabled Student Programs and Services (DSPS) workers and cut 21 other positions at Laney from 12 to 11 or 10 months per year. Management approached individual classified workers to tell them about the cuts, in violation of SEIU 1021’s contract. We hear that the reason only Laney workers are being targeted is because Laney’s President volunteered to begin cuts at our school, even though Laney is structurally underfunded by the District to begin with.

    On Monday morning, the Chancellor’s office announced that the Chancellor planned to remove the cuts from the following night’s Board agenda, the result of a deal struck with the leadership of SEIU 1021. All three unions (PFT, SEIU, IUOE) recently started negotiations with the District on their contracts that expire on June 30. Historically, the District has “negotiated” with SEIU and IUOE by laying off their members. The unions’ staff and leadership then try to stop the layoffs by filing charges as they explain to members the need for concessions, that they are doing everything they can behind closed doors and in court, there’s only so much money to go around, how we need to take the fight to Sacramento, etc. etc.

    2. the district is illegal

    As there is “little resistance” to Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to raise community college fees from $26 to $36, it’s worth remembering how the District has wasted funds and broken the law, all while blaming “Sacramento” for its problems.

    • In 2009, the administration illegally gave itself a pay raise.  The Board refused to act, and later made the pay raise official.
    • In 2009, the Peralta Board of Trustees approved a no-bid contract with Chevron to install solar panels, “despite indications a bidding process could have saved the district $1.5 million.”
    • The District administration failed to file a federal IRS tax return in 2008-09, leading to a $228,520 fine. (Former Chief Financial Officer Tom Smith was finally fired and escorted out of a Board meeting by a Sheriff in Jan. 2010.)
    • District mismanagement and lack of Board oversight led to Peralta being placed on probation by the State Accreditation Commission. In 2010 the Board hired an audit team to put together its first budget in about 1 ½ years. The audit team has cost at least $750,000 so far, probably much more.
    • In July 2010 the Alameda County Grand Jury wrote that “The board as a whole has failed to provide the leadership for the district to which they were elected.” They also cited Board members’ repeated violation of District policies, like Trustee Marcie Hodge’s shopping sprees with a District credit card.

    Cuts are redefining the purpose of community college after previous waves of struggle by independent, militant social movements led by disabled people, single moms and Black working-class youth opened access to community colleges. They also used political demands to decide for themselves what they learn in class and how the school relates to their community.

    3. cycles of struggle

    DSPS workers say that cuts targeting their program are illegal as well. A federal mandate says that community colleges have to provide equal access for students with disabilities. This comes from the militant struggle of disabled people to force the federal government to pass Section 504, regulations that force any institution that receives federal funding to remove obstacles and provide equal access, regardless of cost, to people with disabilities:

    No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United States…shall, solely by reason of her or his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

    In 1977, coordinated sit-ins across the U.S. took place to demand that the federal government create regulations to enforce the Rehabilitation Act passed in 1973. The San Francisco sit-in of as many as 200 people with disabilities lasted over a month, making it the longest sit-in at a federal building in U.S. history. Without caregivers or equipment, some risked death, but they were supported and cared for by broader circles of movements; Panthers served them meals.

    During the 1977 San Francisco sit-in for Section 504.

    This is the history that the District, Laney administration and Board of Trustees are trying to erase. When the threat of a civil rights complaint was raised at a  recent Peralta Board meeting, PFT-endorsed Trustee Linda Handy told people with disabilities and their advocates to “bring it on.”

    We need to be equally brave in our defense of movement victories, especially in a time of austerity. It’s expensive for the state to continue to expropriate surplus value as the rate of capital accumulation declines. We refuse debt, we refuse schools that exist solely to make us good workers and governable subjects, and we refuse to allow capital to “cut” the lives of single moms, disabled folks and poor people when it runs out of ways for us to produce value for our masters. And to do all this we need to recompose ourselves to defend each other, take control of our schools, win the social wage we need to take care of ourselves and ultimately to destroy the state: Laney cuts back.

    4. cut the cops

    Students and cops have nothing in common. We mourn the life of Guy Jarreau, Jr., a member of the Napa Valley College Black Student Union and childcare worker who was recently murdered by a cop while shooting a music video.

    Later in the agenda on Tuesday, the Board approved a new contract with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department to patrol our campuses. This is the same agency that arrested and beat us during the Oscar Grant protests, that surrounded Wheeler Hall in riot gear during our friends’ occupation, that patrols our neighborhoods and runs immigration status checks as part of the “Secure Communities” program. We want these armed men to stay away from us and stay off of our campus.

    Instead, the cops are a typically wasteful arm of the District. The Sheriffs are one of the few areas of the budget that come from the discretionary unrestricted general fund, meaning that the Board has the freedom to replace the pigs or remove them altogether. Instead, the Sheriffs went $1 million over-budget in 2008, a fact that was only discovered when outside auditors dug through the District’s records over a year later.

    On Tuesday, the Board approved $2.67 million for Alameda County Sheriffs, $415,920 for Securitas thugs and $354,000 for student safety aides. Here’s a breakdown of where the Sheriffs budget is going:

    Position Number of Employees Salary Benefits Total
    Lieutenant 1 $139,035 $82,617 $221,652
    Sergeant 1 $114,562 $69,053 $183,615
    Deputy 7 $671,880 $426,319 $1,098,199
    Sheriff’s Technicians 5 $279,869 $29,349 $309,218
    Secretary 1 $50,004 $154,319 $204,323
    Total 15 $1,225,350 $761,657 $2,017,007

    Other costs:

    Overtime $158,077
    Indirect costs $284,579
    Insurance $83,481
    Supplies $124,374

    One man, this Lieutenant, makes more than any worker at Peralta, including faculty, classified staff and custodians. And while the Sheriffs’ secretary may need therapy to cope with taking orders from uniformed men with clubs, over $150,000 in benefits for a single person seems excessive as the District demands health care givebacks from classified workers at the bargaining table.

    Kids from the Laney Child Care Center walk out on Oct. 7, 2010.

    5. to those who lose it

    District-wide, there were 1,992 fewer students on January 23, 2011 than there were on January 20, 2010. Every semester, we watch Laney deteriorate: fewer class sections, fewer students, overworked custodians struggle to pick up all the discarded plates, papers, cigarette butts. And it’s sad to watch the organizations that are supposed to represent our interests manage their own decline. But we fight for ourselves, our friends who have already been pushed out, and the single moms, disabled students and custodians in struggle.

    Peralta custodians in struggle

    [pdf version]

    Custodians are an essential part of our school. Without custodians, trash would pile up, bathrooms would be unusable; our campus would completely fall apart. You may have noticed that this process has already started, but it’s not happening because custodians are lazy. Instead, it is a result of harsh cuts imposed by the administration of our school. These cuts have given custodians an impossible workload.

    Some issues affecting custodians:

    • Furloughs:  Workers are forced to take 6 days off work per year–unpaid.
    • Speed-up: One worker is assigned to an area where there used to be three workers.
    • Limited workforce: Laney’s custodial staff has been cut from 28 to 12 — and four are subs!
    • Subs:  Peralta is refusing to hire subs because they “don’t have enough experience”. Subs are supposed to become full-time after half a year. The shortest time a sub has worked is 2 years.

    Here’s what custodians have to say:

    §     “The campus is growing–but the custodial staff is not. Instead, we are shrinking.”

    §     “The district office at Laney has 3 custodians assigned to it. The entire E building has 1. That shows you their priority. The administration doesn’t care so long as it doesn’t affect them.”

    §     “We aren’t given enough people to do a good job — they work us like galley slaves.”

    §      “…and they wonder why we’re always tired and sick — we’re overworked.”

    §     “When the administration looks at their budget, they cut part-time faculty and custodians. They think we’re dirt — that we are expendable.”

    §     “The administration is trying to make us pay for their mistakes with their budget.”

    Students and custodians working together against cuts at the University of Washington.

    These cuts are not unique to custodians — all sections of Peralta are under attack. It is especially important that the most precarious people of the school — including custodians, students, part-timers, classified staff — stand together to fight back.

    Cuts mean war. Time to fight back.

    This flyer was written together by custodians & students at Laney College.

    Laney College Student Unity & Power

    A Letter to the Prisoners on Strike in Georgia

    A Letter to the Prisoners on Strike in Georgia

    We, as members of activist and community organizations in the Bay Area of California, send our support for your strike against the terrible conditions you face in Georgia’s prisons. We salute you for making history as your strike has become the largest prison strike in the history of this nation. As steadfast defenders of human and civil rights, we recognize the potential that your action has to improve the lives of millions subject to inhumane treatment in correctional facilities across this country.

    Every single day, prisoners face the same deplorable and unnecessarily punitive conditions that you have courageously decided to stand up against. For too long, this nation has chosen silence in the face of the gross injustices that our brothers and sisters in prison are subjected to. Your fight against these injustices is a necessary and righteous struggle that must be carried out to victory.

    We have heard about the brutal acts that Georgia Department of Corrections officers have been resorting to as a means of breaking your protest and we denounce them. In order to put a stop to the violence to which you have been subjected, we are in the process of contacting personnel at the different prison facilities and circulating petitions addressed to the governor and the Georgia DOC. We will continue to expose the DOC’s shameless physical attacks on you and use our influence to call for an immediate end to the violence.

    Here, in the Bay Area, we are all too familiar with the violence that this system is known to unleash upon our people. Recently, our community erupted in protest over the killing of an unarmed innocent black man named Oscar Grant by transit police in Oakland. We forced the authorities to arrest and convict the police officer responsible for Grant’s murder by building up a mass movement. We intend to win justice with you and stop the violent repression of your peaceful protest in the same way—by appealing to the power and influence of the masses.

    We fully support all of your demands. We strongly identify with your demand for expanded educational opportunities. In recent years, our state government has been initiating a series of massive cuts to our system of public education that continue to endanger our right to a quality, affordable education; in response, students all across our state have stood up and fought back just as you are doing now. In fact, students and workers across the globe have begun to organize and fight back against austerity measures and the corresponding violence of the state. Just in the past few weeks in Greece, Ireland, Spain, England, Italy, Haiti, Puerto Rico – tens and hundreds of thousands of students and workers have taken to the streets. We, as a movement, are gaining momentum and we do so even more as our struggles are unified and seen as interdependent. At times we are discouraged; it may seem insurmountable, but in the words of Malcolm X, “Power in defense of freedom is greater than power on behalf of tyranny and oppression.”

    You have inspired us. News of your strike, from day one, has served to inspire and invigorate hundreds of students and community organizers here in Berkeley and Oakland alone. We are especially inspired by your ability to organize across color lines and are interested in hearing an account from the inside of how this process developed and was accomplished. You have also encouraged us to take more direct actions toward radical prison reform in our own communities, namely Santa Rita County Jail and San Quentin Prison. We are now beginning the process of developing a similar set of demands regarding expediting processing (can take 20-30 hours to get a bed, they call it “bullpen therapy”), nutrition, visiting and phone calls, educational services, legal support, compensation for labor and humane treatment in general. We will also seek to unify the education and prison justice movements by collaborating with existing organizations that have been engaging in this work.

    We echo your call: No more Slavery! Injustice to one is injustice to all!

    In us, students, activists, the community members and people of the Bay Area, you have an ally. We will continue to spread the news about your cause all over the Bay Area and California, the country and world. We pledge to do everything in our power to make sure your demands are met.

    In solidarity,

    UC-Berkeley Student Worker Action Team (SWAT) ∙ Community Action Project (CAP) ∙ La Voz de los Trabajadores ∙ Laney College Student Unity & Power (SUP) ∙ Laney College Black Student Union (BSU)


    [Oakland 100 Support Committee]

    Legal Update: Friday Arrests & Court Dates

    On Friday, former BART cop Johannes Mehserle was given a jail sentence of 2 years for the ‘involuntary manslaughter’ of Oscar Grant. Subtracting time served and ‘good behavior’, Mehserle will be back on the streets in as little as 7 months.

    Community members took to the streets in protest, and after the cops sealed an entire city block off, calling it a ‘crime scene’, 152 people were arrested. That is more arrests than ANY other Oscar Grant-related protest as of yet.

    Most arrestees have been cited on misdemeanor charges and released. Those folks all have mass arraignments in the first week of December. We will be calling for a mass show of court support for those days. Stay Tuned.

    Six people continue to be held, and each have arraignments scheduled for this coming Tuesday, November 9th. Please come to court to show support for people who stood up for justice, spoke truth to power, and continue to be punished for it. The following are their court times and departments (rooms, all at Wiley Manuel Courthouse @ 661 Washington Street in
    9am, dept. 107 – 1 person
    2pm, dept. 107 – 1 person
    2pm, dept. 112 – 4 people

    Finally, Raquel Sharp is being charged criminally with a misdemeanor as well as civilly (being sued) for events on the night of Mehserle’s verdict (July 8th). Raquel has asked for as many people as possible to show up to her pre-trial TOMORROW morning, 9am in Department 104 at Wiley Manuel Courthouse on the corner of 7th and Washington streets in Oakland (661 Washington).

    Support the Oakland Rebels! Stay strong!
    -the Oakland 100 Support Committee

    PS-As always, we’re fundraising! All donations directly support people who’ve been charged with crimes related to protesting for justice for Oscar Grant and against racist police brutality. More information and online donations can be made here:

    Laney Faculty Senate resolution on budget cuts (and District response)

    Occasionally we are publicly reminded that these schools are actually workplaces for waged and unwaged workers (parents with kids in childcare, students). Contract negotiations are one of those times.

    Click here to read the District’s opening offer to the three Peralta unions – the Peralta Federation of Teachers, SEIU 1021 (classified staff) and IUOE 39 (maintenance/janitors) – each of which is in the opening stages of negotiating successor agreements to their three-year contracts.

    Resolution on Budget Cuts

    Passed by the Laney Faculty Senate on October 19, 2010

    Whereas, the Peralta Community College District administration has asked the Peralta colleges to cut up to 350 sections from the Spring 2011 schedule, and

    Whereas, the colleges of the Peralta Community College District were previously required to cut 303 sections between Fall 2009 and Fall 2010 semesters, and

    Whereas, student and instructional support services (including counseling hours, library hours and tutoring services) have been significantly reduced in an effort to cuts costs, and

    Whereas, the Peralta Community College District Board of Trustees has specifically requested that budget cuts take place as far away from the classroom as possible, and

    Whereas, in the last two years, district administrators have taken inadequate leadership in finding ways to reduce administrative costs, receiving up to a 16% unilateral salary increase, and only agreed to take furlough days after getting concessions from the faculty and classified unions, and

    Whereas, since July 2010, the Peralta Community College District administration has hired new vice chancellor/associate vice chancellor positions (student services, governmental affairs, educational services) without following an open hiring process, and

    Whereas, since July 2010, the Peralta Community College District administration, using general funds, hired a director of the Peralta Foundation with a $100,000 annual budget, and

    Whereas, in the last two years, with the exception of one college, there have been no reductions in administrative staffs at the college level and there have been increases in administrative staffs at the district level, and

    Whereas, the Peralta Community College District has determined its highest priorities to be Career Technical Education, Foundational Skills and Transfer Education ; therefore,

    Be it resolved, that the Peralta Planning and Budgeting Council prioritize all spending and cuts according to these areas, and

    Be it resolved, that the Laney College Faculty Senate requests that the district and college budget advisory committees recommend ways to reduce spending on administrative offices, and

    Be it further resolved, that the Laney College Faculty Senate requests that the district and college budget advisory committees consider consolidating and sharing administrative duties within the district as a way to reduce administrative costs, and

    Be it further resolved, that the Laney College Faculty Senate requests the Chancellor provide a written explanation of the justification for hiring three high-level administrative positions without following the recommendation of the district budget committee or using an open hiring process as stipulated by board policy.

    Continue reading

    “Off with our heads!” Recuperation and the politics of childcare

    Abel Guillen, incumbent Chair of the Peralta District Board of Trustees, is re-writing history. Guillen is running unopposed for his seat, and few people would bother to look at his campaign web site even if his name appeared on the ballot. But we took a look.

    Like virtually everything written by the District and the Board of Trustees about the College of Alameda Children’s Center’s “budget crisis,” Guillen’s “issue” statement on the center (below) is filled with half-truths and misinformation.

    Guillen says earlier this year, the District “was considering consolidating the College of Alameda Children’s Center…to reduce operational costs.” On January 26, then-Vice Chancellor for Educational Services Wise Allen read from a memo dated Jan. 19 to announce that as of July 1, the District would close the COA Children’s Center but “serve the same number of children (120) at the two” remaining sites and eliminate eight of the 26.5 full-time equivalent positions of childcare workers.


    Maybe because the item was listed as an “informational item” under “Enrollment, Website, Financial Aid, and Childcare Updates” on the agenda, only reporter Reginald James immediately took notice and understood the impact of Allen’s announcement as “another obstacle in the path towards education” for parents. Most COA parents with kids enrolled at the center discovered they were losing their child care when the Oakland Tribune published an article announcing the closure on March 11.

    The parents had no formal organization or means of meeting together beyond brief greetings when dropping off or picking up their kids. But within a day or two the Tribune article was photocopied and left at the front desk for parents to read and discuss. On March 19, the agenda for the March 23 Board of Trustees meeting was released, including layoff notices for 7.75 full-time equivalent positions: five child care assistants, a clerical assistant, a cook and a coordinator. Unlike Allen’s previous announcement, it was the responsibility of Guillen’s Board to hold a public hearing and approve the layoffs.

    This began a series of combative Peralta Board meetings led by self-organized, multi-ethnic, working-class mothers, rank-and-file childcare workers and a lot of angry students. When we showed up on March 23 to plead with Guillen and his Board not to lay off the 8 childcare positions, he responded with the usual laments over how difficult his position is – and then voted to lay off the workers. We told him there were more options than shutting down the center and firing the childcare workers, but he didn’t act.

    At the next Board meeting on April 13, dozens of us packed the meeting to demand that the Board keep the COA Children’s Center open and at least put the childcare issue on the Board agenda to allow people most affected by the cuts to determine for themselves how their section of Peralta should work. Many of us were angry at a memo dated April 12 which said the closure would have “no impact,” and wrongly stated that the COA center was under-used and doesn’t have a wait-list. When the Board tried to move on with the rest of their agenda, we shut their meeting down, arranged the chairs into a circle and held our own meeting until the Sheriffs forced us to leave the building and locked the door behind us. This is the real face of Guillen’s democracy: “Behind every fee increase, a line of riot police.”

    Guillen supposes that it is his leadership that listened to the parents’ “concerns” and oversaw “successful negotiations with our labor partners.” For months, COA parents loudly and clearly demanded that their center stay open at full capacity and that the District value childcare as central to the mission of any community college. But they also demanded that their ideas be given an opportunity to be heard by the men in the District office who had unilaterally closed their center without their knowledge or participation.


    And yet Guillen directed the District to find the money to keep the COA center open. There are three reasons.

    One: It’s an election year, and it’s not good publicity to surprise a group of parents with the closure of their kids’ daycare center.

    Two: SEIU 1021 agreed to a fairly significant concession in order to keep the childcare budget solvent. For the Summer session, childcare workers would be paid at the hourly, not salary, pay schedule; in return, the District rescinded the layoff notices to eight childcare workers. The agreement only holds until the end of the Fall 2010 semester, but the District wants to make it permanent.

    Three:  The self-activity of COA parents changed history. No one, least of all Guillen, planned for the strength of their unity and determination to fight for their own interests.

    The childcare program now looks to be safe because Head Start is planning on leasing half of the COA facility from Peralta. But if the planned Head Start deal falls through (or the District grabs the revenue for their own use) and funding again runs out in a few months, the election season will be over and SEIU 1021 may be less willing or able to keep the center open through more concessions on wages and working conditions. It will again fall upon the same coalition of working-class moms, rank-and-file childcare workers and angry students to keep childcare either through a cooperatively-run model or by finding more funding somewhere. We’re excited by the parents’ discussions about the self-management of their childcare program, and we think the District itself should be self-managed by the students, staff and faculty who make Peralta run despite the notorious mismanagement at the top. As one recent Chronicle of Higher Education article put it, “Off with our heads!”

    Guillen ran for his seat in 2006 by calling for the “elimination of poverty,” and proudly says he “grew up in a working-class neighborhood.” He should appreciate, then, that the end of poverty and work will only happen at the hands of poor and working-class people – not our “representatives.”

    College of Alameda Children’s Center
    Preschool to Remain Open Through Fall Semester
    The College of Alameda Children’s Center program provides a friendly and responsive environment for children of students, staff and community members to grow and learn. The District was considering consolidating the College of Alameda Children’s Center with the Children’s Center at Laney College to reduce operational costs.

    I called for a meeting with the parents of COA Children’s Center in April to listen to parent’s concerns. It was a positive meeting, and the parents agreed to: – Volunteer their time at the center to decrease costs. – Assist in grant-writing efforts to secure additional funding. – Advocate to County and Sate Officials for more funding. I am happy to report that, after successful negotiations with our labor partners, the District was able to commit to keep the Children’s Center open at COA through the fall term. It is my hope that the State budget, which has not been finalized, will continue to provide funding for this program for the fall so that a long-term solution can be found. Thank you to all the parents and students for your constructive feedback to give us a reprieve at least through the end of the year. If you have any additional ideas, please email me at

    The Peralta Report: “Laney College students protest budget cuts, storm Peralta Colleges district headquarters”

    [via The Peralta Report]

    Laney College students protest budget cuts, storm Peralta Colleges district headquarters

    Students at Laney College Children's Center walk out and join rally on campus during the October 7 Day of Action.Students at Laney College Children’s Center walk out and join rally on campus during the October 7 Day of Action. Photo Credit: A Better Laney


    Demanding no more budget cuts, staff layoffs, or fee increases, Laney College students held a noontime rally on the main campus quad on October 7. Some later marched to the Peralta Colleges district and briefly occupied the Chancellor’s office.
    Coinciding with a National Day of Action in Defense of Education, the “Speak Out” let any student share how education budget cuts affected them. At the bottom of the event’s stage was a banner that read, “Free Speech Zone,” mocking a policy proposed last spring that critics said would limit free speech on the campus.
    While most talked about budget cuts have affected them, their families and classmates, the overall emphasis of speakers was the press need for organization.
    “This is exactly what we need to do to let our voices be heard and to show the powers that be that we are organized and we are one,” said Jurena Storm, a student member of the Peralta Colleges Board of Trustees. Storm left the rally early to attend a program at College of Alameda that featured a mass graveyard for education.
    Laney College Black Student Union member Timothy Killings told students to take charge of their education’s by being actively engaged in the colleges’ governance, and retaking control of the school.
    “First thing we need to do is clear up the misconception that our school is run by the Board of Trustees,” Killings said. “This is our school.” Killings criticized a new fee policy that dropping students from their classes if they do not pay their fees promptly.
    “People being dropped out of their classes for not paying a $17 health fee,”
    In between speakers, the rally’s emcee, former Laney BSU President Jabari Shaw, rapped the song, “Chop from the Top.” The song – based on a popular chant at Peralta board meetings last fall – became a budget cuts anthem of sorts last spring.
    “People have called the cuts a tragedy,” said Peter Brown, an instructor in the machine technology department. “A tragedy is when someone is hurt and no one benefits. But when someone benefits, that’s not a tragedy, that’s a crime.” Brown’s comment was a reference to Senator Diane Feinstein’s husband, Richard C. Plum, a UC Regent who has profited while the tuition has skyrocketed, along with others who benefit while people suffer.
    Shaw then introduced the next speaker, a challenger for the Peralta board facing a two-term incumbent in the November 2 election, adding, “We’re trying to get rid of the incompetents.”
    Monica Tell, a former Laney College student running in Trustee Area 3, introduced herself as a person who grew up in Oakland that is “going to fight the good fight to represent you.”
    Student Adon Ortega, an intern with Californians for Justice, encouraged students to sign a petition about financial aid issues and the district’s new policy.
    “People are supposed to pay fees, and use financial aid, but financial aid doesn’t come until weeks after,” Ortega said.
    Student Jevon Cochran, a member of Laney’s Student Unity and Power (SUP), called for repealing the new fee policy and for cuts from administrators.
    “When these cuts started to come down, they gave administrators raises,” Cochran said. Last year, the Bay Area News Group revealed that former Chancellor Elihu Harris gave raises to administrators against board policy. When trustees found out, instead of repeal the raises, trustees ratified the decision. “They didn’t think it was fair that (Peralta) administrators didn’t make as much as other (districts) administrators. But it’s fair for students to get kicked out of school and it’s fair that workers lose their jobs?”
    Administrators need to fight against the cuts, also, Cochan said, calling on students to go picket the district’s headquarters. “We’ve got to take it to the state and to the administrators too. Let’s march!”
    The rally abruptly ended as about 30 students marched from Laney’s quad, down 8th Street towards the district’s headquarters chanting, “No cuts! No fees! Education should be free!”
    The group burst into the the Peralta District’s headquarters, interrupting a Benefits Fair for employees. Corporate representatives from CostCo and 24 Hour Fitness appeared stunned as students marched past before doubling back and entering the offices of Chancellor’s staff.
    Staff quickly called Peralta Police Services – a contract of the Alameda County Sheriffs Office – whose offices are housed in the same building. Students continued chanting, demanding to see trustees.
    “We should stay here until the Chancellor agrees to meet with us,” Cochran said.
    Deputy Glen Pace, entering the offices at that same time responded, “Here’s the agreement, you have thirty seconds to leave.” The scene greatly resembled the April 22 board meeting that was shutdown by student’s protesting the closure of the College of Alameda Children’s Center. The group left the building a minute later, while sheriff’s locked and blocking the entrance.
    Students marched back to Laney, with many taking public transportation to join the demonstrations taking place at UC Berkeley.

    Panthers at Peralta

    Panthers at Peralta

    SUP draws inspiration from the birth of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense in October 1966 when Huey Newton and Bobby Seale met as students on 57th and Grove St. (now Martin Luther King Jr. Way) at Merritt College. Unlike today’s view of Peralta as a job training hub, the Panthers saw the campus as “not a typical institution for so-called higher learning. Grove Street College is what is called a community college: a place where, for a variety of reasons, people who don’t have an opportunity to attend larger colleges and universities go to seek knowledge and hope for a better life.” The Grove Street campus also represented a base for organizing the neighborhood and a place to demand self-determination for Black and all oppressed people via community control of the curriculum, operations and facilities of the College. While engaged in militant resistance to the District, rank-and-file Panther women built counter-institutions to reproduce their culture of struggle.

    This piece is an effort to remember the lessons of their struggle.


    Study and care


    When Huey met Bobby

    Central to the early Panther organizing at Merritt was the reinvention and radicalization of then-dominant liberal community organizing, Maoist anti-capitalist anti-imperialism and cultural nationalism, all rooted in the ghettos and traditions of Black struggle in the Oakland Flatlands. In these early years, Newton, Seale and other Merritt students from the Flatlands viewed mainstream white supremacist public education as a key site of struggle. Newton and Seale took classes at Merritt at a dynamic time when the Afro-American Association was a prominent fixture on Bay Area campuses. Robert O. Self writes that the Afro-American Association (which included Ron Dellums)

    embraced a nationalism that fused black capitalism, Afro-centrism and Garveyite self-help…[the] Afro-American Association and the emerging black studies courses at Merritt College and the University of California at Berkeley began to circulate an eclectic collection of texts among black students in the East Bay flatlands: James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, Jomo Kenyatta’s Facing Mount Kenya, Kwane Nkrumah’s Neocolonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, E Franklin Frasier’s Black Bourgeoisie, classics by W.E.B. DuBois, the revolutionary writings of Che Guevara and Mao Zedong, and Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth.

    In Seize the Time, Bobby Seale writes that while these texts were influential to his political development, Newton and others ultimately broke with the AAA for two reasons. Newton emphasized action including militant self-defense, for example by “throwing hands” on whites who tried to disrupt an AAA rally. Newton also felt that the AAA’s black capitalism was another form of domination of the Black working class: [Newton] “would explain many times that if a Black businessman is charging you the same prices or higher, even higher prices than exploiting white businessmen, then he himself ain’t nothing but an exploiter.”

    After Newton and Seale first met in 1966, they formed the Soul Students Advisory Council, a Merritt student group with cultural nationalist students and precursor to today’s Black Student Unions. Seale writes that the SSAC organized a large rally of 5-600 Black students at Merritt against the draft of young Black men to fight in Vietnam. But latent disagreements within the group came to the surface when Oakland Police tried to arrest Newton and Seale while Seale recited “Uncle Sammy Call Me Fulla Lucifer,” an anti-war poem with a political critique of education. Newton, Seale and their friends fought the OPD, but were eventually arrested and used SSAC funds to bail themselves out of jail, another source of feuding in the group. The division between Newton and Seale’s community-based anti-capitalist, militant self-defense politics and those of the cultural nationalists came to a head when, according to Seale, Newton proposed to SSAC that on May 19, Malcolm X’s birthday, they “bring these brothers off the block, openly armed, onto the campus, and bring the press down” to show “the racist white power structure that we intend to use the guns to protect our people.” The cultural nationalists disagreed (Seale says they were “scared”), and the Black Panther Party was born.

    Black working class organizing in North Oakland and White New Left students at UC-Berkeley overlapped in dynamic ways; Self writes that “Merritt College and North Oakland emerged as the center of African American radicalism (soon, also, nationally).” The twofold political struggle over the content of classroom education and the production of knowledge outside of the schools via informal study groups was central to the lives of young militants in Oakland and Berkeley in the mid-1960’s. A classic example of this rich political culture is Seale’s account of the awakening of Newton’s explicit political consciousness via Fanon:

    One day I went over to his house and asked him if he had read Fanon. I’d read Wretched of the Earth six times. I knew Fanon was right…but how do you put ideas like his over? Huey was laying up in bed, thinking…plotting to make himself some money on the man. He said no, he hadn’t read Fanon. So I brought Fanon over one day. That brother got to reading Fanon, and man let me tell you, when Huey got ahold of Fanon, and read Fanon, Huey’d be thinking hard….We would sit down with Wretched of the Earth and talk, go over another section or chapter of Fanon, and Huey would explain it in depth. It was the first time I ever had anybody who could show a clear-cut perception of what was said in one sentence, a paragraph, or chapter and not have to read it again. He knew it already.

    After the assassination of Malcolm X in April 1965, Newton – then an engineering student at Merritt – decided to start a formal Black history course. Newton bought a $35 UC-Berkeley library card to gain access to African and Black American history texts and started the Black History Fact Group, which “met three times a week at his house.” Seale describes how Newton’s in-class resistance produced the first Black Studies course:

    Huey took an experimental Sociology course. I guess he’d been at Merritt a few years then. This experimental sociology course: he was running down to me how the course was for those in it to deal with some specific problem in society, and he swung the whole class to the need for Black History in the schools. Huey P. Newton was one of the key people in the first Black History course, along with many of the other people in the experimental sociology course.

    But the story continues. When next semester Merritt had its first “Negro History” course in Fall 1965, it was taught by a White liberal “teaching American history…in the old traditional way they relate to black people in slavery.” Seale invited Newton to a class, where Huey took over and corrected the teacher’s errors on the history of the slave trade in Africa.

    Today in the student movement this dimension of struggle over the political content of education is largely secondary to budgetary demands. These are lessons to be relearned: the development of a positive set of demands, the intimacy of small groups reconciling political theory with their lived experiences, to sit in a friend’s bedroom and talk about Fanon.


    Practicing community control

    After World War II, working class Black families in West Oakland resisted the construction of new highways and above-ground BART lines that bulldozed their formerly tight-knit community and caused many families to lose their homes, forcing them to relocate to East Oakland. (Now largely deserted, Martin Luther King Jr. Way at 57th St. is split in half by brutalist concrete BART pillars.) War on Poverty programs of course failed to create wealth in the Black community, even as they increased the community’s interaction with and dependence on the Welfare State. In this context, the social reproduction and survival of the Black working class in the Flatlands became an evermore central concern of the liberal state as it attempted to respond to the Watts insurrection and the growth of confrontational, strategic direct action aimed at forcing employers to hire people of color. It was becoming clearer to Black youth in West Oakland that the white supremacist power structure was systematically eliminating their culture of struggle. This was a social context where the very bodies of people of color–especially those of working-class women and their children, largely excluded from waged labor were–were maintained by the state as “bare life,” each day monitored and reliant upon an increasing number of social workers, bureaucrats, etc. Self-determination was a necessary counter to mid-1960’s interventionist federal and foundation-funded welfare programs that attempted to re-create resistance by channeling it in terms legible to state institutions.

    The Panthers and militant Black and Chicano students across the Peralta colleges fought against budget cuts to classes and aggressively took the offensive to use the Grove Street campus as a space for community programs.  A central focus of the BPP was to recreate and maintain an independent community of resistance through its Community Survival Programs. Panthers – often led by women – created dozens of programs including the innovative Oakland Community School and a child development center where up to 80 kids would be raised collectively during the week and stay with their biological parents on the weekends. Crucially, rank-and-file Panther women created space for themselves within the organization to lead these programs and develop independent black feminist practice and theory. Wherever liberal state institutions brought funding into the flatlands (schools, various welfare programs) the Panthers responded by building counter-institutions focused on care and reproduction meant to rebuild a collective autonomous political identity, beginning at birth.

    The BPP’s first campaign at Merritt in 1967 was for the establishment of a full Black curriculum at Merritt. The Black Panther correctly predicted that “THIS TYPE OF CURRICULUM WILL BECOME THE STANDARD THING IN ALL BLACK COLLEGES IN RACIST DOG AMERICA.” In April 1969, the radical newspaper Guardian reported that Chicano students at Merritt won the naming of “a chicano member of the Socialist Workers Party head of a new Mexican-American studies department, free textbooks and meals for needy students and increased hiring of third-world people” when the students “barricade[d] the faculty into their meeting room and threaten[ed] the same to the trustees to win the demands.” This is one of the first examples of direct action at Peralta; it seems that historically, District intransigence makes confrontation necessary.

    The BPP also contested the role of institutions that claimed to serve the community. “As the students and community work together to achieve community control of college boards, they can unite in demanding significant input and participation in the decision-making processes of the schools…and make the schools more relevant to the community,” writes Panther David Hilliard. Childcare in particular was central to the Panthers’ demands. At a Oct. 1972 talk by Huey Newton at Merritt College on Grove St., the Merritt College Reporter  wrote that “The Panther leader said that day care centers must be established ‘to free the women in our society. Blacks are most oppressed in our society, and women are the most oppressed of the oppressed,’ he added.” At Laney, childcare, financial aid and free or affordable books, transportation and food were central demands among students. “A militant fight against cutbacks in financial aid and community services will be waged so that members of the Laney College community can sustain their right to an educational institution which serves the needs of the community,” The Black Panther reported in Nov. 1975. That semester, the Laney Student Council proposed funding free legal services, creating a student/community council to investigate charges of discrimination and find funding for childcare and work-study. “In the area of childcare for students of Laney, the Program will insure the right for free and adequate childcare for both students and faculty members who require this service,” the Panther wrote.

    Today, when the broader student movement is primarily struggling to revive schools that at best only partially serve our interests, we need to remember that these programs were born from struggle over the positive agenda developed independently by a previous generation of working-class people of color for their own survival.


    The battle for Grove Street

    In 1965, taxpayers in the Peralta Community College District approved a $47 million bond issue to finance four new campuses in North Oakland/Berkeley, East Oakland Hills (Merritt), downtown Oakland (Laney) and Alameda (COA). The Grove St. campus became a hub for militant Black organizing and a community resource center serving the Black working class in the neighborhood with a free library and free breakfasts. In response, the Peralta Board of Trustees systematically divested from the North Oakland campus through disproportionately large budget cuts to the campus and a lengthy delay in planned building renovations. According to the Grove Street Grapevine, the Peralta Board “manipulated into insignificance” the individual Black Student Unions “as well as the needs of the communities [the Board] were supposed to represent. Having control of the money for the school programs and the financial aid they played the different schools against each other, making them scramble for pittance…The PCCD’s budget is one of their most closely guarded secrets.” The Peralta budget is still a mystery: for two years, Peralta simply didn’t pass a budget until April 2010. The current Peralta budget is still little more than a cryptic ledger without serious input from students and workers.

    The Panthers and their allies responded to the District’s divide/co-opt/conquer strategy in several ways. The Panthers and Black and Chicano student leaders at Peralta studied their enemies and used grassroots organizing and direct action to build power for their communities’ needs. Black students studied and researched in order to develop a political economy of how Peralta functioned as an institution and why the Board of Trustees made the decisions they did. Much of this research was published in The Grapevine, a multiracial radical newspaper based at Grove Street College and The Liberated Reporter, the Grove Street/Merritt BSU’s publication. Black student leaders needed a conscious, united base in order to win their demands. The Black Student Alliance, a union of the Black Student Unions at each of the four colleges, was formed in May 1972 to better coordinate their work and advance a common agenda. David Hilliard writes that the Black Student Alliance had a dual power role, duplicating many of the District’s programs and “institut[ing] a program for free books and supplies; a free transportation program; child care services; a financial aid program; a food program serving good, nutritious food at reasonable prices; and the initiation of relevant courses along with the demand for better instructors.”

    Once the new Merritt campus in the Hills was opened, the Grove St. campus also remained open for several years at the same time. Rather than lament the slow death of their campus and call for its resurrection, the Merritt BSU turned crisis into an opportunity to build the education they wanted. Militant Black Merritt students built “cadres” including a pre-registration cadre to ensure incoming student sign up for classes at Grove St.; an equipment cadre to take inventory of materials and take action to keep them from moving to the Hills; and medical and day care cadres to organize a community free clinic and childcare for all students and community members who need it. They also planned to use the Grove St. campus as a space for a “People’s University” to continue Merritt’s Revolutionary Studies and ethnic studies programs.

    A Feb. 1971 editorial in The Liberated Reporter calls on Merritt students to stop the removal of equipment and create student committees to replace teachers who took a job at the new campus in the Hills. The editorial  feels fresh today as a rebuke to the broader student movement’s increasingly defensive and confused attempt to “save” education, and is worth quoting at length:

    In Spring, when our new People’s University will really begin, we will have a wonderful opportunity to rebuild or discard those elements of our education we dislike, and to reinforce or introduce those things which we accept as relevant and important. Let us all…use this temporary breakdown in ruling class control of Merritt.

    We are all intelligent and creative people. We all have an idea of what we want to do with our minds and our bodies. We have a right to control our own jobs, our own educations, our own lives and our own destinies.

    …if anyone here has ever been bored or frustrated by the administrative bureaucracy or by backward or reactionary or racist educational philosophy, let them take this opportunity to reorganize the structure of the classrooms themselves, whether they be student, faculty, staff worker, administrator or member of the community. We will turn the powers of the bureaucrats over to the people, through the Community Control Council which we will organize, and which will help us democratically govern our school, from now on.

    This is the strategy of a militant, class-conscious, anti-racist student movement with a positive vision for their own survival.

    Despite community protests that extended its life, the Grove Street campus fell into disrepair and closed due to a series of decisions made by the Peralta Trustees and administration to systematically defund it. An Oct. 1972 issue of The Grapevine reported that “the old Merritt College…was in great danger of being lost to the residents of the North District area because of mismanagement of the $47 million allocated by the taxpayers and inflation, but student and community pressure forced the District to abandon immediate plans for the closing of the Grove Street site.” This ongoing pressure forced the Peralta District to lease facilities in Berkeley in 1973, which would become the Vista campus and later Berkeley City College.

    The Panthers’ legacy of militant resistance to win self-determination continues at Peralta. In 2001, BSU activists and allies took over a Peralta Board meeting to demand the Trustees rename the Merritt College Student Lounge after Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale (they won). Several years later, Peralta contracted with a production company to create a documentary called Merritt College: Home of the Black Panthers which was meant to tell the story of the Panthers’ early days. In a July 17, 2007 request for additional funds for the project, the company’s then-executive director and current Peralta Marketing Director Jeff Heyman assures the Trustees that “the district would hold the copyright to the production that might produce a future revenue stream, the proceeds of which would return to the district…The film will show Peralta as a change agent for social change and can be used as a marketing tool.” So continues this cycle of struggle and recuperation.


    Lessons to relearn

    We are often confronted by a legacy of the Panthers as either a detoothed community service organization or all claws. But the BPP experience at Peralta shows the work of a multifaceted organic expression of a specific section of Oakland’s working class to overturn institutions that claim to serve them and remake them into bases for struggle. When the Panthers spoke of occupying a building, it wasn’t (only) to appeal for more funds from the state, but to keep the state away from self-organized community programs. This meant not simply a negation of racist, authoritarian educational institutions, but their redefinition and reuse. As the editorial of the first issue of The Grapevine wrote,

    To the continuing students and student-workers, right-on to the work you have done and the work you have inspired your communities to do, right-on to your moves to secure your community institution, to moving for freedom from oppression, to moving to make this a real community college – in practice. We still have work to do, but we have reached a higher level of organizing and our work will be even more effective in the future. We will win our fight to keep our community college and control it.

    This is a message to today’s student movement. Beyond “demand[ing] affordable, accessible and quality education” or “keep[ing] California’s original promise of higher education” lies the seizure and re-invention of these institutions around fundamental principles of self-determination, self-management and freedom from oppression.

    Against the new fee policy



    Peralta started a new fee collection system for Summer 2010. Students who enroll before the semester begins need to pay up within 10 business days; students who add after the beginning of the term must pay all fees immediately or be dropped from their classes and have their debt sent to collections. Hundreds more East Bay youth are denied access to Peralta schools every month. This policy means the gentrification of our school.


    The district expects us to pay our fees promptly, but how are we supposed to do this when their financial aid system is a disaster? Many students don’t receive financial aid until the end of the semester. The financial aid office is understaffed and there are hours-long wait times in the line every day. Our district expects us to pay our fees immediately, yet they refuse to fix their broken system for financial aid. We should be paid to go to school.


    Cuts mean crowded classes and stressed out professors. Every cut represents an increasingly uncertain future for Peralta students, workers, and faculty alike. On September 28th the board will meet to cut 10% ($13 million dollars) from the budget. Cuts mean war.


    The Peralta Board of Trustees is a group of seven inept bureaucrats who have neglected corruption within the District and mismanaged the budget. Whether through their fee policy, cutting teachers, or slashing essential student services, the district has shown contempt for the community Peralta is supposed to serve. We can run our school for ourselves, in our own interests.