By Will Norton-Mosher
Thirteen students were arrested on May 17, when a group of 42 hunger strikers from across the UC system ended their eight-day fast by confronting the UC Regents at a meeting in San Fancisco.
Strikers were protesting UC involvement with nuclear weapons research.
Relations between the weary hunger strikers and the Regents grew contentious as soon as the hunger strikers and the Regents entered the same room. During a 30-minute public comment period, in which only half of the 55 people who signed up were allowed to speak, Berkeley fourth-year Matthew Taylor said that the UC’s involvement with nuclear weapons was unacceptable.
“I am very disappointed to graduate from a university whose motto is ‘fiat lux,’ ‘let there be light,’ only to learn that that light is the light of nuclear holocaust,” said Taylor, who attended the protest in a cap and gown.
After the comment, Regent Norman Pattiz said he heard the student, but responded with “Eat some lunch.” The comment drew angry reactions from protestors. Hunger striker Erika Laymen, a second-year student at UC Santa Cruz, commented on Pattiz’s response.
“The Regents stepped all over our statement in a very demeaning way by appearing to agree with us while actually resisting any responsibility,” she said. “It was a perfect example of how horribly undemocratic the Regent body is.”
Pattiz reacted to the angry shouts from protesters with threats to kick everybody out if they did not quiet down. The students quieted down and left the building for a break before Regent Robert Foley began to speak about nuclear labs.
Students responded with a combination of questions and anti-nuclear slogans at the start of Foley’s discussion, which prompted him to call in the police who were standing by.
Nine officers entered the room and arrested 13 students who refused to move. Two groups of those thirteen protestors locked arms together and began singing John Lennon’s “Give Peace a Chance.” Most of the students remained motionless while being arrested.
According to SF Police Department Captain Jon Easterbrook, the students were booked, but released with citations for trespassing and failure to disperse.
The hunger strike, which began May 9, culminated with the visit to the San Francisco Regents meeting.
The hunger strikers consumed nothing but liquid for nine days in hopes of forcing the UC to sever ties to nuclear weapons research labs. The Department Of Energy (DOE) awarded the UC a new seven-year managing contract for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico earlier this month.
UC President Robert Dynes accepted the contract on May 8, and said in a press release that he and the Regents were “delighted” to continue managing the laboratories in cooperation with Bechtel and other corporations.
Dynes’ statement, and the pending review of Congress’ Reliable Warhead Replacement Program (RWRP), motivated the strikers to take a stand. The RWRP aims to produce new plutonium “pits,“ the explosive portion of nuclear weapons, to replace the old centers of trident nuclear warheads.
Afterward, Regent Richard Blum said that the Regents were aware that there was a hunger strike and that there had been hunger strikers in the past. He said that he would like to see nuclear prohibition someday.
“There are some of us who think that the defense of the United States is just and honorable,” Blum said.
According to the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Labs’ website, the UC has managed both locations since the early ’60s and receives substantial funding from its contracts with the DOE.
After the meeting, many hunger strikers broke their fasts and protesters slowly dispersed and returned home.
Maia Kazaks, a hunger striker from Santa Barbara, broke her fast after the protest.
“Now that I feel we’ve had something of a victory we’re going to eat some natural food,” she said, while leaving the building. “We’re going to take our hunger strike shirts off, because it would be kind of a faux pas to eat with them on.”
No hunger strikers at UCSC remain on strike.
The Regents are slated to have their next meeting in July at UC Santa Barbara.