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"We Tried The Other Routes, They Didn't Work:" 200 Students Occupy Berkeley

Occupy Berkeley, 2014

After a general assembly meeting on Sproul Plaza, student and community activists began occupying Wheeler Hall just before 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the aftermath of a UC Board of Regents committee voting 7-2 to approve a controversial tuition increase plan earlier in the day.

The group of occupiers, who hail from an array of progressive organizations, started with about 50 but more than doubled in size over the next two hours.

UCPD Lt. John Suezaki told occupiers shortly after 10 p.m. that the building was closed. He later said in an interview that his announcement was not a dispersal order but that police would remain on site to monitor the situation and student safety.

The plan that passed in committee Wednesday will raise tuition by at least 5 percent annually for five years, with a chance for the state to reduce or eliminate the increase through additional funding to the UC system. It is set to be officially passed during a vote Thursday when the regents as a whole approve all of the committee actions in one vote.

If the plan is passed, resident systemwide fees in 2015-16 will increase by $612. The plan would also allow the university to enroll at least 5,000 more in-state students and 2,000 more nonresident students over the next five years.

UC Berkeley sophomore Jake Soiffer, a member of Fossil Free Cal, was among those occupying Wheeler Hall.

“Students are constantly dismissed at regents meetings,” Soiffer said. “We’re here because we’ve tried the normal routes, and they didn’t work.”

Occupiers posted a preliminary 13-point list of demands on a wall that included stopping fee hikes, adding more students to the UC Board of Regents, creating a corporate tax to fund education and holding a public dialogue on tuition increases.

At the top of their list was releasing Jeff Noven, a 21-year-old UC Berkeley student who was arrested earlier in the day at the San Francisco regents meeting. As of about 11 p.m. Noven was no longer being held in jail after his attorney worked to help him post bail, according to several of his friends and activist leaders.

“We’re planning to hold this space as long as need be, and we’re trying to do so in a civil way,” said UC Berkeley junior Paula Jaramillo. “We don’t want violence.”

The demonstration parallels the 2009 occupation of Wheeler Hall, which was also largely a response to fee hikes. About 40 occupiers were arrested and cited then.

“The fact that we’re coming back again means something didn’t work,” said Navid Shaghaghi, a UC Berkeley alumnus who was actively involved in the occupation five years ago. “The issues haven’t changed. The decision-makers are the same. The villains of the story are the same — the Board of Regents.”

By 10:45 p.m., more than 200 individuals were occupying the atrium of Wheeler Hall.

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