More than 1,000 take part in UC Berkeley general strike
More than 1,000 chanting, singing, sign-waving students and faculty members spilled down the steps of Sproul Hall and crowded the balcony of the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union, where protesters had hung red placards spelling out the word "ACTION" in bold black letters.
A chant of "Hey, hey, ho, ho, police violence has got to go," kicked off the so-called Open University, a reference to a protest last week that was broken up by baton-wielding police officers.
Dan Mogulof, the university's executive director of public affairs, said the Sproul Plaza crowd numbered about 1,200. Berkeley's enrollment is about 35,000.
"A lot of students are opting to participate," Mogulof said, "but a lot are opting to go to class. There are a lot of teach-outs here. Work is getting done. It appears for the most part that classes are continuing."
"There is a strong resolve across the campus...to avoid any repeat of what happened last week," Mogulof said.
Meanwhile, Kirat Sachdev, 22, waved a sign she'd made in her queer theories class: "Glitter bomb the UC." Sachdev said all of her classes Tuesday were held on Sproul Plaza and that she was here in solidarity with the Occupy Cal movement and in protest of "the police brutality that happened last week."
Sachdev, a gender and women's studies major from San Jose, transferred to Berkeley from a community college. She said she was amazed -- and felt betrayed-- by the expense.
"In community college, the perception was that there would be no debt if we came to the UC," she said, "that the state would be there for us. It's not the case."
Her classmate Emily Soule, a 22-year-old transfer student from San Jose, said that they had a "false idea that they'd be able to graduate without debt. I've also been looking for a job for six months, but I haven't found anything."
The art history major wants to work in a museum or gallery. Her sign: "Feminists for Occupy Berkeley."
As the protest -- which featured a rock band and a gospel choir -- warmed up, American studies lecturer Michael Cohen took the megaphone and called out the tenets of the lunchtime Open University. A phrase at a time, they rolled out over the plaza as the crowd repeated them back.
"We charge no tuition!"
"We invite all who are willing to teach and learn! "
"The Open University cannot be closed!"
"They cannot beat it out of us!"
"They cannot scare it out of us!"
"Because it is us -- right here, right now!"
In an interview as the protest continued behind him, Cohen called the open university "a celebration. We have achieved something here. This is an expression of free speech in such a buoyant mood. It would be terrible if it were met with violence."
Later in the day, protesters have scheduled a march, which is to be joined by a contingent from Occupy Oakland. Then they plan to meet back at Sproul Plaza at 5 p.m. to decide whether to erect the encampment that police tore down last week.
That, said Cohen, will be the main event of the daylong general strike.
"If we have enough people here and we respect one another and this campus, I believe it will go well," he said. "I would be heartbroken if there were violence. It would not come from the students."
--Maria LaGanga reporting from Berkeley
Photo: Protesters post signs atop a UC Berkeley building as they participate in an Occupy Cal rally outside Sproul Hall. Credit: Ben Margot / Associated Press