Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Fresno City College students win a motion to end Killer Coke’s exclusive vending monopoly

Posted March 6th, 2007 by cdfierro

About 60 students showed up for the Board hearing. The march started at the free speech area and progressed to the district offices at Blackstone & Weldon. Two Fresno City Police Officers were on hand, the board drinking Dasani water with a long list of business for the board to take up. Everyone bunkered down in the hot cramped room, signs in hand that read such things as “Stop Killer Coke,” and “Killer Coke Off Our Campus”

The board members eyes rarely looked up from their agendas. Did this foreshadow the outcome? In fact, during the march to the district offices, several students expressed their muted excitement: “We already know the outcome.” I was also told, “They [the district board] are going to make some symbolic statement, but say they can’t support the students officially.”

When the time finally came for the board to take up the issue of vendor pouring rights, there was noticeable tension in the room. Most of the students present had worked months (or longer) on the campaign. First to speak was Jerry Bill, sociology professor at Fresno City College. Bill’s remarks were brief. He commented on a question asked at the previous board meeting, in which a board member asked, “If the students are concerned about the issue, where are the students?” Motioning with his hand, Bill said, “Here they are.” Bill went on to say, “It is a matter of conscience for the students and the board as well…. The students deserve the right to choose not to drink a beverage that conflicts with their consciences.” Rosanna Spicer, one of the student organizers, followed Jerry Bill to the podium. Spicer held up a petition with 434 signatures of Fresno City College students who wanted Coke’s exclusive rights revoked. Rosanna said, “they [vendors with contracts with the districts] are supposed to serve us; we’re not supposed to serve them.” One of the fears of the district was the loss of monies that might occur if the contract ended. Roseanna responded to these fears by telling the board that the campaign had spoken to other vendors and that they were willing to contract with the district. As Rosanna said, “ other schools have done this and they are still here.”

Nicholas Clark, another student organizer, then walked to the podium. He passionately asked that the board listen to the students on campus, just as the campaign had listened to the students after their initial campaign of having Coke banned on campus failed. The students on campus were in favor of allowing the students a choice of beverages, rather then banning any one beverage from campus. Clark asked the board to do the same.

After Clark finished, an administration official stated that the administration, after looking over the information provided by the campaign and reexamining the issue at the behest of the board, decided that the exclusive pouring rights of Coke should be maintained. The administration official said that their findings supported their decision.

What followed took everyone by surprise. First to speak from the board was board member Dorothy Smith. In a very brief statement, she said, “I support the students’ right to choose.” Board member William J. Smith likewise made his statement brief. “We are here to serve the students…. If it doesn’t hurt us…I don’t see why we can’t honor them.” Board member Phillip J. Forhan continued the sentiment, “I support the students’ choice. I would like to make a motion to support that….To remove the monopoly.” And before Isabel Barrenas, the chair, could ask for a second, student government member Kate Blanco said that in poll conducted on campus over 1000 students supported lifting the exclusive rights; only 26 opposed.

When procedure was reestablished, board member Patrick E. Patterson asked for clarification on the motion, a motion that was pretty straightforward. Forhen clarified that the motion was to “Remove the monopoly….Campuses can choose whatever vender they want, but our decision shouldn’t preclude the students choices for ethical considerations.”

The scene that was surreal for most of the students there, as they never imagined that they might win, became all the more surreal when the questions and comments from Patrick E. Patterson seemed to be dialogue from the robber baron days. Patterson asked Forhan in disbelief, “What you’re saying is that you want to get rid of the monopoly?” Forhan reiterated his earlier motion. Patterson continued in his disbelief, “I want to know what everyone has to say…there hasn’t been a school wide vote…the faculty senate hasn’t voted.” And in a classic red herring, Patterson made the impassioned case for banning all soft drinks on campus because of their sugar content. “This is want we should be worried about, not this [the issue of Coke having exclusive rights].”

Last to speak was the Reedley student government representative, Edward Rea. Rea stated that Reedley students want an exclusive contract. Rea went on to say, “I’m looking at it as a business decision.” Being that Reedley is a smaller campus, the amount of monies lost from the contract would be a larger percentage. Rea then went on to try to lecture the Fresno City student saying, “You say you don’t drink any Coke products? Do you know that Coke makes other products other than Coke? Do you drink any of those?” The respective answers from the students were “Yes!,” “Yes!” and “No!”

After that little exchange the board asked for a roll call and vote. Yea…yea…yea…no…no…yea…yea. With that, board chair Isabel Barrenas said “Motion passed.”
Rosanna Spincer, who happened to be standing in front of me, looked extremely confused. She asked the administration representative, who spoke earlier in favor of the exclusive contract, “what happened?” “The motion passed,” he replied. Still, Rosanna seemed unsure, that was until one of the other student hugged her saying “We did it, I can’t believe it, we won!” A quick thank you to the board, which I don’t think they could hear or see, what with the students clapping and filing out of the board room, and the board continued with their business.

The student campaigners congregated outside for a while, excited and still a little unsure as to what had just taken place. Some were talking on cell phones, telling someone on the other end, “We won…no really we won…yeah, we won.” Expecting to lose, they left with unexpected smiles and hope.