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Day of Action in San Francisco: Impressions
Students, parents, teachers and other malcontents gathered at SF’s Civic Center this afternoon to protest public education cuts and more.
San Francisco, March 4-The day was sunny. The convergence at the Civic Center in San Francisco was for the national Day of Action to protest cuts in public education, one. There were similar actions in 32 states and 40 California counti4es.
The SF gathering represented all the diversity and exuberance and boldness and determination of the new student movement. “Save Our Schools!” rang out across the plaza and into the streets.
On stage the emcee boomed out the student bodies arriving: “Lincoln High, Laney College in the house, Mission High, Lakeshore Elementary, College of San Mateo, UC Berkeley, Jefferson Elementary of Daly City, City College, Cal State East Bay, 10 busloads from DeAnza!”
On adjacent Grove Street school buses were parked on one side of the street and police vehicles on the other.
And signs were everywhere: Fund Schools Not War, Why Pay More For Less, Bail Out Students Not Banks, Race To the Bottom Shame California, and the inimitable Three Word Sign.
Back on the stage a band of teachers broke into a rocker whose chorus went “It’s a long way to the top, If you want to teach in school,” and mantra’d “San Francisco Unified makes you wanna cry.”
The already electrified crowd rocked out too, as expensively clad people on the mayor’s balcony across the street gawked and got their share of snaps before disappearing back into their den of iniquity.
The song ended but the show went on. “On this stage today you will see not one elected official,” the emcee decreed, perhaps in response to the decadent display on the balcony. “NEVER AGAIN!” the call and response again in reference to their betrayal at every level of government.
A number of students took the stage next. “Each prisoner costs $25,000 a year,” Aliya edified us with, “while each student gets funded $7,000 a year. So is that fair?”
Reston from City College in SF declared, “I’m outraged. Our schools are bleeding to death. Education is vital to our humanity. Let us raise our hands, clench our fists and go forward together. Education is not a privilege, it is a right.”
A San Francisco State student announced that “This year 40,000 will be denied the right to be in the California education system. Today is a starting point. We won’t back down even when we are under attack.”
Away from the rally there is more action. Students are occupying Polk Street in front of City Hall, as well as the steps of The Gavinator’s playhouse. Cops have sealed off the block at each end.
From the steps an unending roar of chants and near white noise fills the air. “Education Should Be Free, No Cuts, No Peace!” comes right at you frequently. Everyone seems to know the words by heart.
I take a walk around the Hall. On the McAllister side three kids are playing this year’s version of tag. “Robert’s the Governor,” one girl informs another. I guess that means he’s “it.”
I take a look at the statue. It’s McAllister himself, and part of the inscription reads: “Learned, Able, Eloquent.”
I head over to the library for another kind of relief, one that’s provided by the public toilets there. Many demonstrators whose bladders are protesting as well accompany me.
On my way in I notice that near the bike racks outside the House Of Books two people are sleeping on the sidewalk.
When I get back another person has joined them. They are all African American men. Another African American man walks up to them, this one in a uniform. “You gotta get up and go,” he orders. They don’t.
So they’re joined by a white uniformed man who takes over. “You like protests, don’t you?” he taunts them. “You do a lot of business.” Everyone else walks by, though the men on the sidewalk are dealing with the deepest cuts of all.
When I come in a roundabout way back towards the Civic Center, a boisterous march is breaking away from the rally and moving fast towards Market Street. Police on motorcycles are moving up on them as they meet Market. But it turns out that’s only to play traffic cops as they accompany them.
The march takes one lane of Market and hoofs it downtown while people along the way pour out of stores to cheer them on. Except for security guards of businesses along the way, who check to make sure none of their merchandise is about to be liberated.
At the intersection of Third and Market the march turns left and heads down the whole of Kearney towards North Beach, singing out, “Who’s Streets? Our Streets,” and “Save Our Schools!”
But then the street marching students hook another quick left onto the steepest part of Pine Street. Those at the head of the march start sprinting up the hill, and the rest of the protesters run after them.
The police presence, which has gradually increased along the march, is literally left in the dust. The cops catch up with the march after it makes another left downhill on Polk Street. When the procession nears the trolley car turnaround at Market, a trolley’s driver stopped there clangs out a beat long and loud in solidarity.
The march heads back up Market to UN Plaza, where it circles up for a loud last collective clap of exhilaration. “It starts slow and picks up speed fast, just like the movement,” someone explains.
I head back to Civic Center Plaza, where the rally is over and they’re taking down the stage. I spot a sign stuck in a large ceramic planter. “Let my people learn!” it proclaims.
Yes, they are. And fast.