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Rally Protests Prop. 209

Election: Police arrest 34 after a rally by 800 UCLA students moves off campus and closes Wilshire Boulevard for two hours.

October 24, 1996|MATEA GOLD and DUKE HELFAND | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

More than 800 UCLA students staged a defiant rally Wednesday against Proposition 209 outside the Federal Building in Westwood, forcing Wilshire Boulevard to close for more than two hours and ending in the arrest of 34 sit-in protesters who refused to leave the middle of the busy thoroughfare.

Police in riot gear and on horseback initially watched the demonstration from several hundred yards away as protesters beat Korean folk drums and shouted, "What do we want? Affirmative action!" and "Remember November, vote no on 209."

Students clogged the roadway and sidewalks, decrying a measure they said would put an end to all outreach programs that serve women, African Americans, Latinos and many others on campuses across the state.

One group held a banner that read, "Take Back our University--No on CCRI," a reference to the title supporters have given Proposition 209--the California Civil Rights Initiative. The measure would repeal government affirmative action programs for women and minorities.

The hoarse protesters, who began their demonstration on the UCLA campus before heading to Wilshire Boulevard, shouted encouragement to the 34 sit-in activists who entwined their arms, sat in a ring on the hot pavement and waited for police to approach.

"We're willing to do what it takes to defend social justice and affirmative action," said John Du, the undergraduate student body president, just moments before police arrested him and his fellow protesters. When Du stood up to be handcuffed, he raised his fist and yelled, "No justice, no peace!" and the crowd roared their support.

The demonstrators were taken to the Los Angeles Police Department's West Los Angeles station, where they were cited for refusal to disperse and then released.

Most of the protesters staging the sit-in said they expected--and even relished the opportunity--to be arrested for taking a stand against a measure that they argued would roll back decades of civil rights progress that helped diversify California's college campuses.

"How dare anyone attempt to support what my ancestors have died for?" said Lisa Williams, 19, a sophomore majoring in African American studies and business administration. "I want someone to see me and relate to the struggle and vote no on this modern-day Jim Crow law."

Proposition 209 supporters did not show up for the demonstration, but one student who listened as the protest began on campus shook his head in disbelief.

"I don't think UCLA will lose diversity," said Adam Lyal, a junior studying economics. "This is being blown way out of proportion. Now you're a racist if you vote for 209."

UCLA students first protested against the ballot measure in April, when about 500 marched through campus and stormed two buildings to signal their opposition.

Wednesday's gathering came a year after a similar protest on Wilshire Boulevard against the UC regents' decision to end affirmative action policies throughout the nine-campus system.

The rally began about 10 a.m. in Westwood Plaza, the center of UCLA. Speakers called on those in the crowd to remember the long--and often violent--struggle for civil rights in the United States. The protesters marched to Campbell Hall, a hub of ethnic study programs and the symbolic heart on campus for many minority groups.

The demonstrators snaked through campus on their way to the Federal Building, as fellow classmates along the way shouted their support.

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