A new movement of students and education workers has erupted in response to the vicious budget cuts raining down on public education in state after state. The media coverage of March 4th actions across the country – and particularly in California, the epicenter of the new movement – was extensive. But this was by no means a spontaneous outburst of resistance. The protests were organized by student and public sector union activists who are on the front lines of this growing movement.
Below is a compilation of reports from activists with Socialist Alternative, many of whom played leading roles in their areas building for March 4th actions. Check back on socialistalternative.org for further analysis and reports which will be published in coming days.
NEW YORK, NY
Multiple Protests Erupt Across the City as Movement Builds
By Leon Pinsky
Over 700 students, transit workers, school teachers, left activists and socialists participated in a high-energy day of action to defend public education, mass transit and jobs and fight against the massive budget cuts proposed by state and city hall officials. Several unions including the Transit Workers Union (TWU) and Professional Staff Congress (PSC) endorsed the action, connecting their struggles into a united action against the attempt to make working people paying for the capitalist crisis.
About five colleges had local actions, including hundreds of demonstrators in Hunter Community College, Brooklyn College, City University of NY and Borough of Manhattan Community College. Over 100 people also took part in a protest outside city hall.
After gathering in front of Governor Paterson’s office in Midtown for the central rally we marched to the M.T.A hearing, chanting “From NY to California – Save our schools!” and “Hands off my MetroCard!”, a reference to the vicious cancellation of free MetroCards for students.
Standing outside the Hearing, we demanded “Let us in!” but were prevented from getting in by a large police force.
This successful mobilization was only the first of many in the next period. Workers around the city, especially school teachers and transit workers are under serious threat of losing their jobs. More struggles are expected in the next period around issues of education, transit and union democracy.
Workers and Students Rally on Three Campuses
By Genevieve Morse
March 4th was a new turning point in the fight to defend education. In Massachusetts students on three campuses in the University of Massachusetts system held rallies and teach-ins to discuss and take action against crippling budget cuts.
Socialist Alternative played a leading role in organizing the rally and teach-in at UMass Boston. Despite the snowy conditions, students, union staff members and activists totaling about 150 people rallied for two hours. The event had a lot of energy with people chanting slogans like, “We don’t want no corporation, we want our education” or “Education under attack, what do we do? Stand up fight back!
The highlight of the rally was when people decided to march through the buildings. We chanted in and out of the buildings, marching around the campus with banners and signs. It was obvious by the end of the rally that people wanted to do more but with out larger forces we ended the rally and prepared for the teach-in.
During the teach-in students, union activists and community members totaling about 75 were again present. The discussion had a strong anti-privatization and anti-corporate message, and it was broadly agreed that the UMass administration has been crystal clear about its agenda to privatize. An example was Robert Manning, the chairman of the UMass Board of Trustees, who has stated that UMass is “privatizing whether we like it or not.” During both events people were outraged about the recent raise that the president of the UMass system received. His bonus came after asking all the unions on all the campuses to take further concessions in their contracts!
It was raised a number of times during both events that workers and students have the same interests. Everyone saw these actions as a first step in an ongoing campaign to stop the cuts and fee increases. A coalition was formed to build for these actions. Coming away from March 4th the coalition will be meeting again to discuss the next steps in building a broader movement of pre-K–12 teachers, working more closely with the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts and continuing unity with the unions and students. Education is under attack and Massachusetts is fighting back!
State Legislature Disrupted by Funeral for Public Education
By Ben Gallup
Our protest in Olympia began with a funeral ceremony, which at least 100 people attended over the course of the ceremony. The scene was complete with funeral music, a coffin, and most people in black clothes. Workers in the campus cafes wore black armbands that we provided to show their solidarity. Three members of Socialist Alternative gave eulogies for education, jobs, health care, etc.
Next we had a funeral procession to the capitol with 25 to 30 cars, all of which had purple flags and on their windows were written things like, “R.I.P. Education . . . the bankers got all the bailouts,” and “R.I.P. Jobs . . . the government thought war was important.”
When we got to the capitol the cops were expecting us. We marched in silence, pallbearers at the front with 75 people behind (number according Huffington Post), and brought the coffin up to the capitol. They wouldn't let us bring it in, but eventually they said we could go in but that if we disrupted the legislature we'd be arrested. We went in quietly, and filed up to the senate balcony. After a couple minutes, all 75 of us started singing “Amazing Grace,” but with new leftist lyrics.
They then proceeded to kick us out, but the singing, which began quietly, became a roar, and we sang it all the way through the halls and out of the building. No one was arrested.
After we were removed, many mourners went to testify for legislation that would significantly shift the state tax burden from workers and the poor onto the shoulders of big-business and the rich. Washington has the most regressive tax system of all 50 states (http://www.ctj.org/itep/).
All in all the funeral was a great media stunt and there were many journalists there from campus all the way to the capitol. Democracy Now! reported on us and, today, we are on the front page of The Olympian, the local newspaper here in Olympia.
The funeral event solved a number of problems. It allowed us to have a high-profile event on campus, a high-profile event in town, and a high-profile event at the capitol building too, all with strong media coverage. It was plenty disruptive enough to make a statement, display slogans, etc. but innocent enough to get away with it.
Also important is that on Tuesday, March 2, we had an all-night study-in at the Evergreen State College computer center, which is supposed to close at midnight. The workers helped organize it and the cops didn't hassle us. There was a teach-in about the budget cuts and the Evergreen Board of Trustees, a group of ruling-class elements with deep connection to Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, the FBI, etc. We estimate 40-50 people attended.
Here's a video of us getting kicked out of the capitol! http://www.youtube.com/v/0ojNkOPkftw&color1=0xb1b1b1&color2=0xcfcfcf&hl=en_US&feature=player_embedded&fs=1
http://www.publicbroadcasting.net/kplu/news.newsmain/article/0/1/1620141/KPLU.Local.News/Students.Protest.Higher.Education.Cuts (great photo)
Community College Students Take the Halls
By Aditi Kaushik
The Seattle branch of Socialist Alternative organized a March 4th Day of action to save public education at the Seattle Central Community College (SCCC).
We began the day's action inside the main college building in a common lunch and gathering area for students, faculty, and staff. The action began with the emcee standing up with a bullhorn in the atrium and addressing the audience present about the state budget cuts and the national day of action, and saying “Join us in telling Governor Gregoire that we will not accept the budget cuts.” The crowd of students, initially small, grew as the enthusiasm and the energy of the students rose, and the chants became louder and stronger.
After a few other short speeches interspersed with chants, the protesters marched through the hallways of the third and fourth floors, their chants reverberating. The march was led outside into the plaza, where the main rally began.
The emcee explained how public education was facing cuts of $90 million dollars in the state of Washington and how the Democrats had proven to be “loyal servants of big business.” Her speech, as well as that of speaker Philip Locker, rejected the Democrats' excuse that there was no money, pointing out that big banks were given bailout gifts and the war machine was kept running, while public education and social services were being attacked.
Also speaking were SCCC students, Richard Curtis, a 2010 independent candidate for Washington state senatorial race, who is also a professor of philosophy at SCCC, and Kraig Schwartz, a professor of history.
An estimated 80-85 people participated in the rally. The audience was constantly engaged with the speakers, cheering each other, booing the Democrats and the budget cuts, and raising their fists in the air and chanting loudly. Some of the chants that went over well were “No cuts, no fees, education should be free,” “They say cutback, we say fightback; They say layoff, we say back off.”, and “Whose schools? Our Schools; Whose College? Our College”, “Money for jobs and education; Not for war and occupation.”
We then marched across the streets of Capitol Hill. The protesters remained enthused all through the march, unfazed in their chanting.
The march culminated at the plaza, with the emcee exhorting the crowd to continue their activism beyond March 4th. As the emcee concluded, one of the new and energized members of SA stuck his fist up in the air and shouted, “We will win!” The crowd dispersed on that high note.
Students Confront University President
By Logan Steele and Ramy Khalil
The rally on March 4th at Western Washington University spearheaded by Socialist Alternative drew a crowd of over 50 students and workers eager to protest the state government’s proposed tuition hikes and cuts to campus services and jobs. Students spoke of how cuts to financial aid and the Work Study program would seriously jeopardize our education.
Students marched through campus chanting loudly, not only outdoors but also as we marched through the Old Main building where all the top university administrators have their offices. As soon as we entered the Old Main building, we marched right up to the president’s office and asked to see the president.
The president came out, walked around to shake every protester’s hand, and he thanked us for our efforts.
We presented him and three university vice presidents with 200 signatures on petitions against education cuts and told the administrators we needed them to do more to stop the budget cuts.
The president claimed, however, that they were doing all that they could to push for more state funding for education.
So a working-class Latino student asked the president if he would be willing to issue a public statement against the tuition hikes – to which the president adamantly replied “No.”
The president tried hard to convince students that it was in their interest to raise tuition because it would prevent the quality of education from deteriorating as state funding for education “inevitably” declined.
He also argued that raising tuition would mainly affect upper-middle class students because working-class students could supposedly obtain financial aid.
Students argued back (although the president tried to dominate the discussion and made it difficult to get a word in.) Students questioned the logic of how it could be in students’ interest for tuition to increase, particularly as financial aid has been consistently reduced year after year.
Students insisted that administrators needed to demand an increase in funding for education from state politicians who should tax the wealthy and corporations or get a bailout from Obama, like the $14 trillion in bailouts that banks received.
However, the president claimed that it was not politically realistic or popular for politicians to tax the wealthy. This argument was also challenged by students who pointed out that taxing the working class and middle class may not be popular, but taxing the rich certainly was. In fact, a majority of Oregon voters just voted in recent months to tax the rich.
Yet one of the vice presidents still talked down to us, saying we “needed to be better educated on the issues and get more informed.”
After debating back and forth for 20 minutes, it became clear to most students that the administrators were either too well paid and/or unwilling to agree with our point of view. (The president receives annually a $300,000 salary, $25,000 for stock investments, and a house—all paid for by our tuition and taxes.)
This successful protest was sponsored by Western United to Defend Education—a coalition created by Socialist Alternative that includes the Black Student Union, Students for Educational Equality, and Western Votes. It was also endorsed by the United Faculty of Washington State, Veterans for Peace-111, and Whatcom Peace and Justice Center.
The rally had a diverse range of speakers from the Public School Employees union of WWU, the Black Student Union, and MEChA (a Latino student organization). Of all the people at the rally, the members of the Black Student Union, MEChA, and Socialist Alternative seemed the most determined to confront those in power about the budget cuts.
Reports were published in at least the Bellingham Herald, Tacoma News Tribune, and the Western Front campus newspaper. A number of journalism students also interviewed Socialist Alternative members for their class.
We sincerely thank everyone who helped with this protest for their support, and we hope more people will contact us to get involved in the struggle to defend education and social justice:
(713) 458-0366 Bellingham@SocialistAlternative.org
Photos and 2-min. audio recording:
CEDAR RAPIDS, IA
By Marlon Pierre-Antoine
The Cedar Rapids branch of Socialist Alternative contributed its part to the March 4th Day of Action by organizing a protest and rally outside of Kirkwood Community College. About a dozen workers and high school students, carrying signs with slogans such as "The rich made this crisis, let them pay for it!" and "March 4 our education, March 4 our futures", stood outside the campus building, receiving an enthusiastic response from passers-by. We even received media attention, with a speech by S.A. member and alternative high school student Tiffany Van Tomme being listened to by participants and news reporters. That evening, the local stations reported that the struggle of the students and workers was alive in Iowa, if small, and that there are those in the state who are standing up and saying NO to the endless tide of cuts, hikes and layoffs.
200 Students and Workers Demand “Chop from the Top”
By Brandon Madsen
The March 4th demonstration in Minneapolis was an impressive and exciting event, despite the late start in building for it and the limited overall level of mobilization. Over 200 people showed up for an outdoor rally at the University of Minnesota, where youth, students, and university workers spoke out against the budget cuts and tuition hikes while calling for good jobs and affordable education for all. This was followed up by a march that went through Coffman Student Union and eventually took to the streets on Washington Avenue, pausing to point out the location of a follow-up demonstration next week when the Regents are meeting.
The demonstration was built by a number of campus and community groups, including Students for a Democratic Society, who initiated planning for the event, Women's Student Activist Collective (WSAC), AFSCME 3800, Black Student Union (BSU), Graduate Student Workers United (GSWU), and ourselves in Socialist Alternative, all of whom had speakers at the rally. Also present were members of SEIU Local 26, fresh out of a bitter contract struggle with the cleaning companies.
During the march, the most common chants were: "Chop from the top!", "Fund education, not administration!", "Education is a right! Now is the time to fight!", "Hey hey, ho ho! Tuition hikes have got to go!", and "Whose university? Our university! Whose crisis? Their crisis!"
This demonstration showed the potential that currently exists to build around anti-cuts, affordable education demands, and reflects a changed situation from this same time last year, when the mood to fight budget cuts was less. This national movement appears to have some real momentum behind it and in Minnesota, socialists should continue to organize a fight-back.