Orange County celebrates May Day

Orange County residents marched in the streets of downtown Santa Ana during a May Day protest organized by the Orange County May Day Coalition. The same day, Students for Quality Education (SQE) at Cal State Fullerton started preparations for the upcoming hunger strike commencing on six CSU campuses.

About 300 demonstrators, including activists from Occupy Santa Ana and Irvine, walked through the streets with colorful signs and chants that addressed a broad range of recent controversial issues. The issues in question included police brutality, obtaining driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants and tuition increases in higher education.

The coalition consisted of various social justice groups such as Chicanos Unidos, DeColores Queer OC, El Centro Cultural de Mexico, SEIU United Service Works West and the OC Peace Coalition. Protesters chanted “Education, not deportation!” and “Si, se puede!” as they weaved through the busy streets.

The coalition group used eye-catching signs and music during the protest to draw supporters in. About a half dozen demonstrators sang protest songs in Spanish and English, with many of the participants joining along.

Yenni Diaz, an organizer with the OC May Day Coalition, said the members in the group work with different social justice issues, and May Day is the opportunity for all the groups to get together to rally for their causes.

According to the OC May Day Coalition website, the social justice community in Orange County has organized an annual May Day celebration of workers’ rights and protest for better economic and sociopolitical conditions since 2002. For many years, hundreds of people gathered in celebration and struggle, and then disbanded until the following May Day.

In 2011, groups formed the Orange County May Day Coalition (OCMDC) and made a commitment to continue working on issues in an effort to institutionalize positive change. Recently, the coalition made changes to the Santa Ana policy for towing cars of unlicensed drivers.

Diaz, a political science graduate from the University of California, Irvine, said this year the two main issues were the higher education crisis and advocating for undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses in California. She said many of the social justice issues are connected to the higher education crisis, and rights for undocumented immigrants is just one of the many issues the group advocates for.

“As the economy is shaky, there’s a lot of people who back go to school … (but) the tuition is higher,” said Diaz. “The distribution of money that is available is more limited … Classes are more saturated so it’s harder for people to actually graduate. It might take them longer and then (they have to) pay more because they are there longer.”

Cal State Fullerton alumna Jessica Lowerre rode her bike an hour and a half from Fullerton to go to the protest. The 24-year-old anthropology graduate said she is out of work and her car broke down, but wanted to come out to support the May Day event.

“I am personally really concerned about the education system and how expensive it is today for students to go to college. I think the wrong programs are being cut … and the wrong things are being funded,” she said.

The concern over tuition increases were also echoed at the preparations for the CSUF hunger strike in front of Langsdorf Hall on its campus.

David Inga, a history major, is the only participant for the CSUF chapter. Inga said there are 11 other students from six CSU campuses participating in the hunger strike that is due to start Wednesday at midnight. The hunger strike is in response to the dismissal of their four demands that include a freeze on tuition and capping university administrative and executive pay.

“I’ve been engaged in these issues for a couple of years now,” said Inga. “We have seen a dramatic perpetuation of tuition increases … and administrative salary increases. They blamed the financial crisis for not being able to provide for various student services. They continue to cut (from the students) and raise their salaries; they do it on a platform of shared sacrifice. They supposedly tighten their belts and they haven’t really (done that).”

About a dozen students planned to spend the night on the lawn in front of Langsdorf Hall in solidarity with the SQE action.

Over the years, the student movement has exhausted all other options to be heard, Inga said.

Other May Day actions drew thousands in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago, including labor union and Occupy activists. Over 100 cities nationwide planned actions for May Day, also known as International Workers’ Day.

The day was designated as a “General Strike Day” within the Occupy movement, where participants were encouraged to “walk out” of work and school and not purchase anything all day.

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Originally featured The Daily Titan

Amber Stephens