Across the country: militant student protests against budget cuts

Reports from March 4 actions

On March 4, students all over the country walked out of class and took to the streets to defend education. Actions took place in over 30 states.

In California many schools were effectively shut down for the day and numerous cities were the scene of street and school building takeovers. There were reports of sit-ins, police repression and arrests in California, New York, Maryland, Arizona, Wisconsin and beyond.

The national day of demonstrations follows on the heels of massive statewide protests in California in December against budget cuts at the state’s colleges. Both statewide university systems voted to criminally increase tuition by over 30 percent. Budget cuts, layoffs, fee increases and tuition hikes, many drastic, are taking place in virtually all U.S. public schools. Public education is under a nationwide assault.

Reports were filed by: Andrew Castro, Chris Gonsalves, Dylan Wilkerson, Marcel Cartier, Nicholas Powell, Sarah Carlson and Sean Pavey 

Northern California

In the Bay Area, March 4, the national day of action against sweeping and deep cuts to education was expected to be a success, but no one really knew the extent of that success. Across the Bay Area, the day started off with planned pickets and protests on individual college campuses, as well as teach-ins, leafleting and sign-making on K-12 campuses.




San Francisco

Chants of "They say 'Furlough', we say 'Hell No!'" were heard by all who walked by the picket line at the entrance of San Francisco State University. More than 500 students, faculty and supporters gathered to demand an end to the state's budget cuts to education in the form of tuition hikes, mandatory furloughs and layoffs. Protesters connected the state's priorities of supporting prisons, bank bailouts and military recruitment to the massive cuts to primary and secondary education.

For several minutes, students blocked the intersection at 19th Ave and Holloway, chanting, "Rise Up, SF State! Shut it down like '68!"

Similar actions took place at City College of San Francisco, Ocean Ave. campus, where the noontime rally was kicked off with food and a drum circle to energize the gathering students. At its peak, the rally held over 300 students. One by one the, speakers stepped up to the mic to demand that the government, on a state and federal level, use public money and resources to fund education, health care, public transportation and jobs. This writer spoke on behalf of the ANSWER Coalition, calling on all to join the student/teacher contingent in the March 20 anti-war protest where we will demand money for education, not war and occupation.

The high point of the day was a march of more than 5,000 through the Mission District to the San Francisco Civic Center, followed by a mass rally that grew to more than 15,000 people. A majority of the marchers were K-12 students, teachers and parents. Many teachers helped students organize to join the march. College students joined the march in large numbers, including students from De Anza College, who mobilized 10 buses from their campus, as well as contingents from SF State and City College.

Marchers chanted "They say cut back, we say fight back!" and "Money for schools, not for war!” In many contingents, chants were led by high school, middle school and elementary school students.

In the East Bay, 139 adults and 10 juveniles entered I-880 and blocked traffic in both directions for almost an hour before they were arrested. Thousands of students and teachers from UC Berkeley, other colleges and high schools in the East Bay came together for a demonstration at Frank Ogawa Plaza in downtown Oakland.

When 300 demonstrators at UC Davis attempted to take over a highway they were met by police in riot gear and armed with pepper spray. UC Davis and Santa Cruz students effectively shut down their campuses. Thousands of students marched through the Central Valley city of Fresno, and more than 1,000 demonstrated at the State Capitol in Sacramento.

In dozens of cities large and small across the greater Bay Area, including San Jose, Cupertino, Pleasanton, Pacifica and Pleasant Hill, students, teachers, parents and supporters took to the streets.

The March 4 national day of action against the cuts to education was a huge success across the San Francisco Bay Area and the country.

Southern California

Thousands of union workers, teachers, and students rallied across Southern California on March 4 to protest fee hikes, the underfunding of education, and the devastating budget cuts that are crippling the state’s once-celebrated system of higher education.


Los Angeles

A rally at California State University Long Beach brought over 3,000 students and faculty members to the campus. At the University of California Los Angeles, hundreds of students participated in various actions, including occupations of school buildings and offices, teach-ins and rallies. There were similar protests at community colleges, universities, primary and high schools throughout the region.

At a mass rally at California State University Northridge, more than 2,500 students protested. A mass march was attacked by the Los Angeles Police Department as it took over Reseda Blvd. Students and a 74-year-old CSUN professor, Dr. Karren Baird-Olson, were pushed to the ground by the cops, who broke her arm.

In downtown Los Angeles thousands marched and rallied to decry the state government’s horrible mismanagement of the current economic crisis. Aldrich, a Los Angeles City College student, described the reasons that he chose to participate, "We’re out here today, not only for the students, but for the professors and the staff at the schools as well. Both the workers and the students are effected by these budget cuts."

The event was able to bring out a vibrant and diverse cross-section of the community. Militant students chanted, "They say ‘cut back’ we say ‘fight back!’" "Education is under attack. What do we do? Stand up fight back!" "Money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation!"

The Party for Socialism and Liberation and Students Fight Back helped lead contingents at each of these actions, speaking at the downtown L.A. event and other actions in L.A., Long Beach and Orange County.

 

Chicago

 

 

Hundreds of students, members of the Service Employees International Union, faculty and community members marched on the quad in the east campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) on March 4 in solidarity with the actions around the country and against the proposed cuts at the school.

 


Chicago

"Chop from the top!" was demanded by the demonstrators as well as, "They say furlough, we say hell no!"

 

The State of Illinois is using its own budget crisis as an excuse for not paying out the three-quarters of a billion dollars that it still owes to the University. But instead of taking the shortfall out of their pockets, the administration has decided to pass the bill onto students and teachers by forcing 11,000 workers to take unpaid furlough days, cutting student organizations, raising the cost of campus housing and by possibly pushing the cost of tuition by almost 20 percent.

One UIC student, Brit Reed, said, "It's outrageous that because of the economy people can't afford an education-which is a basic right. Capitalism is not working. Workers and students need to rise up and change the way our government works. Everyone needs an education; low income, working people and people of color."

Baltimore

On the morning of March 4, members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation joined hundreds of young students, teachers, and community activists in a vigilant march and rally from Camden Yards through downtown Baltimore all the way to the Juvenile Detention Center, known to the community as "Baby Booking," where 13 activists courageously staged a sit-in.

 


Baltimore

The march was jointly led by the Peer-to-Peer Coalition and the Baltimore Algebra Project, two youth-led one-on-one tutoring and mentoring organizations waging the "End the School to Prison Pipeline" Campaign against Maryland’s Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley’s decision to allocate $300 million towards the construction of three brand new juvenile detention centers.

 

While taking to the streets and shutting down traffic protesters chanted "If you don’t want us to fail, don’t put money in our jails!" "Arrest O’Malley!" "We don’t want your pity we want money for our city!" and "No Education, No Life!" while demanding youth empowerment in schools, that education be a constitutional right, and that $100 million of the funds toward juvenile centers be diverted towards a plan of $800 million for education and education-based youth jobs.

"I’m out here fighting for education. I don’t see why the state can put so much money towards something negative and not something positive," said a student from Western High School. "I really thought about it and … they really want more of us to go to jail," commented another.

Boston

On March 4, over 100 students participated in a successful rally for education at UMass Boston.

 


Boston

On March 3, activists, teachers, union members, and community members rallied outside of a budget hearing of the Boston School Committee. The press conference and picket was organized by the Coalition for Equal, Quality Education, demanding full funding for Boston Public Schools and an end to the corporate takeover of education. Coalition members called for money for education, not for war and Wall Street.

 

The Boston School Committee is set to vote on its budget on March 24—a budget that has at least a $33 million gap.  The BSC has proposed "solutions" to this gap that include turning the heat down in schools and cutting bus transportation for students. The cuts in transportation would lead to a further segregation of the school system, a possibility that members of the community fought against in the spring, when the school committee threatened to rezone the school district.

As the group rallied outside of the committee meeting, some of the chants included, "They say cut back, we say fight back!" and "Money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation!" 

Speakers at the rally included City Councilor Chuck Turner, a representative of the Bus Drivers' Union, BPS educator and activist Sandra McIntosh, and Emily MacMillan, ANSWER Coalition organizer and member of the PSL.

MacMillan said, "Students are going to suffer because of this $33 million gap. And yet the U.S. government spends close to $500 million a day on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is almost $1 billion every two days that is spent on war, occupation, and destruction. The budget gap of BPS could be closed for what it costs to wage war for less than 2 hours. And these budget gaps in BPS and in countless other public school districts will only continue to widen if we allow the attack on public education and the privatization of education to continue." 

 

As Sandra McIntosh, a leading member of CEQE said of the March 3 action, "This is just a dress rehearsal," as we will be back in the streets for a large march and rally on March 24.

New York

The streets of mid-town Manhattan were alive March 4th with militant chants of "Mike Bloomberg, the Mayor, the Public School Slayer!" and "Save Our Schools!" as roughly 1,000 students and workers rallied and marched to oppose cuts to public schools.

The New York City event was organized in response to a national call for a day of protest to defend public education. It came on the heels of the recent announcement that 19 public schools in predominantly African-American and Latino communities would be closing. The rally began in the late afternoon at Governor Patterson's office, and the energy was soon electric as hundreds of young people began arriving in large groups. City Councilman Charles Barron spoke passionately about the necessity of viewing education as a right, and attacked capitalism itself as the cause of the education crisis. Organizers from various CUNY schools from a cross the five boroughs also took the podium to share their views on how the budget cuts have affected their campuses.

Members of the Party for Socialism and Liberation and the ANSWER Coalition distributed hundreds of flyers for the March 20th March on Washington, making the connections between the cuts to education and the roughly $8,000 per second that are spent on the criminal imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

As the large crowd began marching through the streets of Manhattan, many onlookers applauded and some actually joined the march, inspired by the energy of the people. The demonstration of strength by students and workers shows that poor and working people will not sit idle while greedy politicians go about the business of privatizing education.

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