Sproul Plaza has long been a landmark of college protest, but a rally held on Monday at noon drew a younger group of protesters — most were 14 years old.
More than a dozen students from Latino College Preparatory Academy, a charter high school in San Jose, traveled to the UC Berkeley campus to rally for immigrant rights and voice their support for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which offers temporary relief from deportation for young undocumented immigrants. President Trump plans to end the program, which President Obama launched in 2012.
“I came out here today because there’s a lot of immigrants out there that need the help of DACA and Donald Trump is taking that one chance away from them,” said Amerika Escamilla, a freshman at Latino College Preparatory Academy (LCPA).
The event was organized by The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary (BAMN) to coincide with Indigenous Peoples Day. Escamilla and her classmates formed a BAMN club and volunteered to participate in the rally on their day off. Their signs and speeches advocated for federal legislative protection for DACA recipients, some of whom are their peers.
A few Cal and Berkeley High School students were also at the rally, but the majority of the 20 or so participants attend LCPA, a school that serves many English language learners from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
LCPA English teacher Angela Dancheva, a BAMN organizer and UC Berkeley alumna, said the students’ decision to attend was their own, but the experience complemented what they are learning at school.
“This is a perfect opportunity for students to really be a part of something, not just learning about history but actually making history,” she said, noting that her class is studying social movements, including the civil rights movement and the anti-slavery movement. “They feel really confident in themselves and they feel powerful and I think that’s something that can’t be replicated necessarily in a classroom. They’re coming forward as leaders of communities.”
BAMN organizer Jose Lagos said he thought the rally’s unusually young participants signal a trend. The next generation isn’t something to “brush off,” he said. Rather, they are integral to the “movement.”
“We have members in BAMN who are teachers, and a lot of the organizing we do is also focusing on young people in part because these are issues that really impact young people,” he said. “We’re fighting for the future.”
The involvement of one local teacher with BAMN has sparked controversy. BAMN organizer Yvette Felarca, a teacher at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, was temporarily placed on administrative leave last September following a neo-Nazi rally in Sacramento in which she was recorded hitting and shouting at a rally participant. The district has said it legally cannot comment on the reason for the leave, but court papers uncovered by Berkeleyside showed a tumultuous history with Berkeley Unified administrators long before the Sacramento rally. Felarca frequently marches against groups she considers to be fascistic, and was charged in July this year in connection with the Sacramento rally. She also was arrested on suspicion of battery at a Berkeley rally in September, but has not been charged.
Felarca teaches history and English and attended the campus rally Monday.
“We are very proud of the students that came today from Berkeley and from the Bay Area, and we urge everyone to join us to stand up to defend this most important day, borne out of the civil rights and immigrant rights movement,” Felarca said. “So join us today to defend DACA — DACA is Donald Trump’s Achilles heel.”
Lilia Cruz, a freshman at LCPA, said participating in the rally was a way to contribute to a cause she believes in.
“I think it’s good for the world, speeches and chanting,” she said. “I know that I’m making an impact and that I’m helping other people.”
Cruz, a soft-spoken 14-year-old, had just climbed the steps of Sproul Hall to recite a speech she had prepared. It was written on a crinkled sheet of paper that she pulled from her pocket.
“My teacher [Dancheva] is actually my hero — she’s really inspired me to get into immigrant rights,” Cruz said. “Without immigrants, the United States isn’t the United States.”