Over the last two months, SUP at Laney College has been embroiled in a battle against the closure of the child care center at our sister school, College of Alameda. We first learned about the vote the night before the board’s next meeting. The center had been slated for closure; however the board had gone against its own policy and made this decision final without public involvement. By the night of the board meeting, a group of approximately thirty moms, two center workers, and twenty students were mobilized.
Moms got on the mic during public comments, testifying to the effect the closure would have on their lives. Students decried the board’s mis-management of funds and the problematic nature of cutting child care and classes when the board does not even know how much money is in the budget. The board must file a budget report four times a year, but they have not filed one since 2008. This semester they were the only community college in the state who failed to release a report.
Every school has been suffering from the failure of our economic system: capitalism. What is somewhat unique about Peralta is the way in which our board has failed. This economic crisis has brought a microscope upon the financial workings of our school, unearthing corruption and mis-management within our board of directors. Our chancellor, Elihu Harris, was caught giving a one million dollar business contract to a friend who was on the Peralta Foundation board. The trustees, who are responsible for overseeing the chancellor, turned a blind eye. No action was taken until a report exposing the glaring inaccuracies of the proposed budget coupled with student resistance resulted in the termination of our chancellor’s contract and the firing and escort of our financial advisor from the district office by sheriffs.
Toward the end of the board meeting that night, a trustee pled with us: “If we did not cut this center—and I’m looking at you students in the first row—you do realize we would have to cut classes,” in a concerted appeal to divide the students from the mothers seated around them. “Why don’t you take it from that half a million in raises you gave yourselves!” shouted a student. The board voted unanimously to close the center and lay off all eight of the workers.
In response to the board’s attack, our coalition voted to shut down the next board meeting. About one hundred people mobilized to the board meeting. Again people denounced the board during the public comments. At the end of the comments people started chanting “we want a response now” to the board. The board got up from their seats and went into a back room. “Got crooks and thieves/as our trustees/so its up to the people/to save the CCs,” chanted the crowd. By the district being quick to close the center while at the same time robbing us, the board had proven irrelevant to our interests. As the board members hid in their office, we arranged the chairs in the district office into a circle and held our own meeting.
At the next district meeting the board capitulated, announcing it would find a way keep the center open for at least one semester. Although this is only a small victory in our fight, the moms and workers have developed an understanding of their power to fight a system that puts profit before the needs of their families. In this case, the intervention of student militants was useful because it expanded the agency of moms and workers to decide for themselves the way their child care center is run. As the struggle pushes forward, we will continue to learn from and fight alongside the mothers and workers of COA childcare.