Masses band together for change
Thousands storm capital streets protesting budget cuts, fee increases
Published: Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Updated: Tuesday, March 23, 2010 20:03
"You say cut back, we say fight back!"
Fight back was exactly what students, staff and faculty did at the March in March rally Monday morning, as thousands gathered in Raley Field before marching over to the Capitol and rallying in front of the building.
Students came from colleges as far away as San Diego to protest against potential budget cuts, fee increases and the restoration of categorical programs such as counseling, EOPS and DSPS.
Groups such as the California Federation of Teachers and the Faculty Association for California Community Colleges were also represented.
Chants such as "students united, we'll never be divided!" enthused the crowd as it made the 1.4-mile journey from the field to the Capitol, sporting homemade T-shirts and signs.
Drumbeats, accompanied by clapping and cheering, filled the air as students rallied at the steps of the building to await the speeches.
Representing Contra Costa College was a small contingent of students and faculty members, along with Student Trustee and Los Medanos College student Christina Cannon. Members of the ASU carpooled to Sacramento, and the United Faculty provided a charter bus.
According to Student Life Activity Coordinator Henry Parker, 93 CCC students signed up to attend the rally. Approximately 13, however, showed up on Monday morning.
"I wish more people from our school would have come," CCC student Jose Rivera said. "But I was surprised to see so many students from SoCal and NorCal get together. (Overall), it was a good turnout."
Academic Senate President Richard Akers said he had hoped for a better turnout from the college, but "the vocal minority sometimes speaks for the majority."
Speakers, consisting mostly of various students from all three tiers of higher education, along with professors and state legislators, shared personal stories of their educational successes and struggles with the crowd.
Many stressed the importance of categorical programs and the various forms of financial aid.
Budget cuts, while detrimental to students of all backgrounds, would be particularly harmful toward students who depend on services such as EOPS and DSPS, as well as student-athletes, Dr. Akers said. Without these programs, many of these students would be unable to continue their education, he said.
Also speaking was Assemblyman Warren Furutani (D-Lakewood), who said the solution to the budget crisis lies within the students.
He addressed the importance of finding new revenue to fund higher education, stressing a need for students to write to their legislators to start initiatives and place them on the ballot.
"The answer is not in this building," Furutani said. "There's still more work to be done, and the answer is in the community."
Although he found the event a good opportunity for students to voice their opinions, Parker said he wished there had been more time for a question-and-answer session between the crowd and the legislators.
Frequently mentioned throughout the demonstration was the Master Plan for Higher Education in California, which was established in 1960 by a team appointed by the State Board of Education and the University of California Regents.
Under the original plan, higher education was free, guaranteeing access for everyone. Budget cuts and raised fees, however, have limited this access, College of San Mateo alumnus and former Student Senate for California Community Colleges President Richael Young said
"The Master Plan for Higher Education has been nothing but an unfulfilled promise, and right now we want the state to stop making cuts (to our schools)," Young said. "We can't wait any longer."
Today, there are 112 California community colleges that serve 2.7 full-time equivalent students (FTES), Cannon said.
One of the most noticeable effects of budget cuts on community colleges is the decrease in the number of class offerings and an increase in students, Akers said.
"(At CCC alone), many instructors are teaching 10 percent more students than they're being paid for, because they understand that education is important," he said.
Following the rally, two CCC students, accompanied by Cannon, United Faculty President Jeffrey Michels and Akers, went inside the Capitol to speak with the legislators. They spoke with the staff of Assemblymembers Joan Buchanan (D-Alamo), Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), Alberto Torrico (D-Newark), and spoke directly with Assemblyman Tom Torlakson (D-Contra Costa) and Senators Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) and Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord).
Cannon said that overall, she was pleased by the event.
"I think it showed that students can be passionate and that advocacy works," she said. "I hope we can continue the movement and continue to advocate for education."