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'Day of Action' Activities Deliver the Message

Students from Evergreen State College serenaded legislators on March 4, the national "Day of Action to Defend Public Education," with their version of Amazing Grace: "I once could eat, but now I find, I can't afford the food," they sang, before politely filing out of the legislative chambers at the direction of security.

In New York state, parents, students, educators, and community and school board members held 18 press conferences and turned out to tell lawmakers they must reject Gov. Paterson's proposed $1.4 billion cut to public education funding. Students, with labor's participation, held rallies across New York City at City University of New York campuses, and at State University of New York campuses throughout the state. (More coverage of New York events is on the New York State United Teachers Web site.)

students protest education cuts, photo by Russ Curtis
An estimated crowd of 20,000 rallied at the San Francisco Civic Center. Photo by Russ Curtis.

In Urbana-Champaign, Ill., more than 300 members of the University of Illinois UC United Coalition, including students, workers and faculty, staged a march and rally on campus, calling for an accessible, diverse and democratic UI at Urbana-Champaign as part of the March 4 National Day of Action. Chicago students and labor groups sponsored a panel discussion and rally, and then set up a soup kitchen to serve those hurting from job and resource cutbacks. AFT Graduate Employees Organization locals participated in both sets of events.

In Michigan, education supporters rallied at Wayne State University and in Lansing. Both gatherings featured demands for reversals of layoffs and full investment in education, K-12 thru higher education.

Organizers estimate that students, education workers and parents held actions in 30 states. In many, the focus was on higher education budget cuts, but public frustration is building over K-12 funding cuts as well, as the flow of stimulus dollars generated by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act subsides.

In California, the epicenter of a student protest movement that began in September, the state reached critical mass on March 4, with hundreds of actions on college campuses and school districts. There, the public is showing resistance to the notion that decimating public education and other services is a given in a time of recession.

Passions ran high outside University of California central administration headquarters in Oakland, Calif., before 150 demonstrators were arrested for trying to shut down the freeway. Students at UC Santa Cruz so successfully blocked the entrances to the campus at the start of the day that the administrators posted a notice at 7 a.m., telling students and employees to stay away.

Fifteen students were arrested at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, when an assistant chancellor called the police after students pelted a building and security personnel with snowballs. The students were issued citations, but the American Civil Liberties Union is exploring whether free speech and free assembly rights were violated. [Barbara McKenna, Carrie Wadman, Paul Sickel, UW-Milwaukee Graduate Assistants Association, UI Graduate Employees' Organization]

March 8, 2010