BERKELEY — Roughly 1,000 demonstrators gathered in front of Sproul Hall at the University of California Berkeley to protest for free tuition and demonstrate solidarity with students at the University of Missouri.
The Berkeley demonstration was one of more than 100 across the country, part of a “Million Student March” that demanded free tuition, student debt forgiveness, and a minimum wage of $15 per hour. However, events of the past several days have linked the economic campaign to the broader racial protests sweeping across U.S. campuses.
Earlier this week, students at “Mizzou” deposed both the university president and the chancellor after protests linked to the “Black Lives Matter” movement, sparked by the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson last year.
The Berkeley students were boosted by roughly 200 demonstrators from the National Nurses Union, who are formally aligned with the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Once targeted by Black Lives Matter demonstrators, Sanders emerged from Thursday’s demonstration as a symbol of left-wing solidarity.
At the rally, students spoke about the debt and race issues almost interchangeably. Lauren Butler of the Black Student Union told the crowd: “The students of UC Berkeley stand in solidarity with the black students at Mizzou who are being terrorized.” She was followed several minutes later by Black Lives Matter activist Alana Banks, who said that Wall Street should be taxed to pay for free tuition, and that student liberation required black liberation.
One man held a sign demonstrating solidarity with the Palestinian cause (above), attempting to link the minimum wage issue to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A group of actors onstage presented the students’ perception of the race and class politics behind student debt: a white man in a grey mustache and top hat sat at a table, eating dollar bills, while he was waited on by black, Latino and Asian servants. A group of black and brown “graduates” stood nearby, solemnly.
There was a brief scuffle when a photographer was pulled offstage, apparently because she was blocking the view. She threatened to file a complaint about “another Missouri!” The protest ended peacefully.