Editor's note: EthnoBlogmistress Laura Goode hit Telegraph Ave. on Thursday to cover what students are saying about the University of California-wide walk-outs, which were organized to protest, among other things, rising student fees and slashed employee salaries.

It’s a New Depression double whammy on the University of California system: 4-10% pay reductions for UC employees, and a 9.3% increase on UC student fees. It should be noted that “fee” is the public-university jargon for “tuition,” because according to the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education in California, UC schools are supposed to be free for California residents. Moreover, the UC Regents are mumbling about raising the fees another 32% next year to help narrow the California budget gap. Much of the deficit, some argue, is a result of Proposition 13 of 1978, which limited California property taxes to 1% and in doing so, reduced funding for public education. Many UC students, faculty and employees are fed up, and staged a walk-out from class and subsequent demonstration on Thursday, Sept. 24.

Bay Area media have projected the story to the world with echos of especially UC-Berkeley’s mythical status among discontented students; if you believe the hype, this generation of UC students and employees has found its cause. Though SFGate.com called the walk-out and march “unscheduled,” several protesters told me campus groups had been organizing around this issue for months. Reporting the day before the protests, the SF Bay Guardian’s blog speculated that the volume of and momentum behind the protests could escalate into a “larger movement."

The Daily Cal liveblogged a faculty teach-in that occurred the evening before the walkout, and featured Berkeley’s Ananya Roy, a Professor in the Department of City and Regional planning. Roy, who teaches comparative urban studies and international economic development, seems to be a rising star amidst the hubbub of the issue. According to the liveblog, Roy was met with “thunderous applause” after expressing her dissatisfaction, and added, “I reject the idea that I can only keep my job at the expense of others.”

Though many express disagreement with the acts of protest—the reasoning behind them, or the effectiveness of walking out on class as their vehicle—that took place across the UC system on Thursday, the discontent throughout California public education is thick and palpable.

This EthnoBlogger spent a morning in the fray of the protest, observing this generation’s catchy protest chants (“Whose university? OUR university!”), feeling a little nostalgic for the protests to end the Iraq war and protect reproductive freedom that were her undergraduate lot in 2003 and 2004, mingling with the crowd, and collecting divergent perspectives on the Thursday turmoil. Here’s the minute-by-minute account of what UCers are saying about the unrest.

10:30 AM. Arrive in Berkeley and wait to catch the 1 bus to Telegraph and Bancroft, the mouth to Sproul Plaza. At the bus stop, I strike up a conversation with a rumpled-looking undergrad, Matt Walters, who studies anthropology and economics, and is on his way to class.

“It’s kind of hard for Berkeley students, because this is a UC-wide protest, and at most of the UCs, this is their first week of classes,” he notes, “but at Berkeley, we’re about to take our midterms, so it’s pretty much impossible for us to skip class.

His sentiments are echoed by a team of similarly floppy and hungover undergrads, who tell me that they have exams this week and can’t miss class regardless of their politics.

“I guess implicitly the argument is there that we need to tax more, we need to increase taxes,” Walters sighs. “With Prop 13 we lost property taxes, there have been huge tax cuts in the state. So I really feel like the protests should…be about taxes as much as they are about furloughs. If you’re gonna walk out on this thing, you also need to admit that we need to raise taxes.”

I thank Matt and his friends for their input and pass out a few business cards in case they have any thoughts later. Squinting at me, one of them asks how long I’ve been out of college. I graduated in 2006, I tell him.

“What’s the real world like?” he asks worriedly.

11:00 AM. Am now at the protest and in the fray of the picket line, trying to avoid the appearance of crossing it as I hunt for interview subjects. I come across Shivam, another Berkeley student.

“I’m protesting today as a student, because fees are going to increase 32% and education is already quite unaffordable, and this is only going to make it harder,” he tells me, sounding rehearsed in laying out this argument.

He encourages me to talk to others in his circle, who are marching in a ring at Telegraph and Bancroft, and almost entirely white or Asian. They’ve been mobilizing for months, he says. In his view, the administration is more to blame, and less the economy.

“With Mark Yudof being [university] president, he’s taken actions that a lot of people don’t approve of, by raising executive salaries, cutting student programs on campus, all at the expense of losing good faculty, and after all, Berkeley is a world-renowned university, and in order to maintain that we need more fiscally responsible action.”

Excusing myself and explaining that I am not, in fact, crossing the picket line, but merely searching for people to chat with behind it, I slink past the chanting, sign-pumping circle towards Sproul, where a litter of student activity groups have put up information tables.

11:15 AM. I stroll through the student activities tables, and am intrigued by one for the Berkeley Republicans. Joe Regan, who stresses that he does not speak for the group, states his case succinctly:

“To me, it’s really simple. It’s either increase fees or cut services. I think that the people who are fighting for the rights of those in the services end up hurting them by cutting those services, so in this case, I feel like a fee increase is in order for us to remain competitive with other Ivy Leagues at large. That’s pretty much my stance.”

11:20 AM. A neighboring table advertises the Pakistani Students Association. There, Farhan Ahmed comments on how the economic shifts are impacting his family.

“I honestly really don’t like the fact that they’re cutting down the budgets,” he expresses, “and at the same time we’re going through an economic crisis with my family. My dad’s been telling me we don’t have enough money, and at the same time they’re raising the tuition…I’m having to appeal.”

I ask him if he’s moved to protest by a sense of solidarity with UC faculty and employees as well.

“I think [I’m standing in solidarity with the faculty] in some sense, they’re also being hit hard, but you know, we’re feeling the same things at the same time, if their departments are getting hit, we’re being hit because we can’t have our studies going properly.”

And what about the details of the way the economic crisis is affecting his family’s finances?

“In general, we’re having to cut down on different things at the house. My dad’s actually been telling me that the school bills are going up, and that’s causing him to cut back on some of his own things as well. And recently, my dad’s salary has been decreased…he deserves to have a better salary. My dad’s an IT systems analyst for the SFPD, which was hit super hard.”

As I thank him and turn to move on, Harjot Sandhu, a 4th-year public health major, stops me to ask if I’d like to hear a different perspective. Sandhu was student body president of Solano Community College before transferring to Berkeley, he tells me, and has elected not to stand in solidarity with the protesters today.

It’s not Yudof’s fault, he argues, maintaining that “Yudof is not hoarding any money,” and recommends that I check out three YouTube videos of Yudof addressing the budget issues.

“Yudof is BSing that it’s not going to totally change the face of the UC campus, I think it is,” Sandhu remarks, “but…one of every two dollars that’s spent in California from taxes is spent on education. And what are we getting for it? At the UC system, we are getting our money for it, but the K-12 [spending] is inefficient. We are not getting the best type of education that we could be getting for spending 50% of California’s budget on education.

“So I definitely think by cutting money, you basically starve the beast, and just how Republicans do: if you cut taxes, then there’s no taxes that the government can spend on social programs. I think in the same way, if you cut UC’s funding, though it’s less efficient than cutting the K-12 funding… you will make certain things efficient. Yeah, people will lose jobs, and yes, Jeff Tedford,” the coach of the California Golden Bears, “makes the most out of any California employee, but he brings an intangible part of what the UC campus is.”

Outstanding professors bring other “intangible factors” to the California public universities that persuade students to attend them, Sandhu maintains.

“Maybe one professor, maybe Ananya Roy can be that person that’s going to bring in all these new students that are coming just because of her, but most of the professors here do research, and there’s no financial incentive for them to be…good teachers,” he bemoans.

And what about his perception of the purpose of the protests?

“I think all the students that I’ve personally talked to so far, they want this [protest] to be this generation’s Free Speech movement. They want to be able to say “Hey, when I went to Cal for four years, I did something.” But maybe this is something not actually worth doing.”

12:00 PM. The protest officially begins when the dissenters at Bancroft and Telegraph march into Sproul Plaza. Several people step up to speak, most of which is inaudible through the chanting. The crowd has thickened; reports estimated the number of attendees at around 5000. Darting around the fringes of the swell, I spot an older man who I peg for a professor, and lurk around his conversation until he’s free to talk.

His name is Isaac Henry, and he’s actually not a professor, but a 48-year-old fellow student. What is he studying, I ask?

“Actually, Berkeley is where I’m gonna come once I’m done. I’m a student at Berkeley City College, my major there is mathematics, and here I’m going into business.”

He’s here in solidarity with his “co-students,” he tells me, noting that the rising fees per unit are a matter of concern both for him and his family.

“I’m a family man, and I want to be able to have things in a position for my children who are of college age,” stating the relevance of the rising costs to parents who want to be able to help their kids pay for college, as he does.

“I see it being difficult in terms of if this should be something with the cost rising per unit. So if we can be in unison to make our presence felt and keep these costs down, I think so much the better. I’m sure other parents will agree with me as well.”

12:45 PM. Left with no overarching conclusions, I return to San Francisco and my work day, missing college. The protest continues for hours after I leave, and I wonder how non-Berkeley UC students perceive the unrest.

A friend from college, Nick Mitchell, is now a Ph.D candidate in the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies at UC-Santa Cruz, and upon my request, shared his perspective with me in an email. Specifically, he addresses a question one of my coworkers raised, which is whether activism surrounding fee raises is self-interested for the students, and whether the money issue attracts people other than the “usual suspects.” In a commanding, conclusive way, Mitchell comments on the walk-outs’ value:

“The ‘money issue’ is a combination of interconnected issues: massive student fee hikes combined with a general decline in education quality due to swelling class sizes, canceled classes, and overworked staff. It's a combination of cuts that discriminate against poor students, working class students, and students with children: at UCSC, the university raises rent at Family Student Housing and cuts childcare. It's declining resources for the support and retention of students of color. It's the Regents' continued expectation that students should go into debt and the administration's unwillingness to bargain with campus workers. It's not a coincidence that UPTE (University Professional and Technical Employees) and CUE have strongly endorsed the walkout.”

The scope of the increased “tuition” and pay cuts is broader than it appears, Mitchell argues, and it isn’t a new issue.

“This isn't just about student fee hikes—it's also about the extent to which the mass disinvestment from higher education has detrimental effects on the entire community. It's not like this is the first protest—students, faculty, and staff have been protesting university privatization and underfunding for decades now.”