March 4 Is a National Day of Action To Defend Education

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It started in California: College students, faculty and staff took to the quad and streets last fall to protest unprecedented education cutbacks, layoffs and 32 percent tuition hikes in the University of California system. Now, the protests have spread to the California State University system, California's community colleges and public school systems, and, through grass-roots organizing, to states across the nation.

On Thursday, March 4, students, educators and the public will be participating in rallies, walkouts, teach-ins, leafleting, hearings and visits to state legislators. The message: Cutting back on education in a time of recession is unconscionable, regressive and detrimental to states' ability to re-grow their economies.

In California, hundreds of events are planned at the major campuses of the UC and CSU systems, as well as at K-12 schools and community colleges. United Teachers Los Angeles members will hand out fliers to parents before school and attend four rallies taking place in the district. The California Federation of Teachers' Web site has links to Day of Action events.

To put the Day of Action in context, March 15 is "pink slip" day in California, says CFT director of communications Fred Glass. For example, the United Educators of San Francisco has heard there might be 900 layoffs in its unit of 5,000. The University Council-AFT, representing lecturers and librarians in the UC system, is expecting that up to one-third of its unit of 3,000 could be gone by summer.

UC-AFT has done an analysis of the university system's budget. "The vast majority of UC's overall budget is not state money, so the cuts we are seeing here reflect the misplaced priorities of the office of the president," says UC-AFT vice president of legislation and UC-Davis librarian Axel E. Borg. "We're seeing so much activism at UC because our students and workers understand that alternatives to these cuts exist."

On March 5, a core group of CFT teachers and faculty, together with public employees, will set out on a 48-day March for California's Future. Departing from Bakersfield, outside Los Angeles, the group will trek 260 miles to Sacramento. Sponsored by the CFT, AFSCME and a coalition of education, labor and faith groups, the marchers will relay with hundreds of firefighters, nurses, in-home-care workers, students and police officers along the way. The CFT has set up a special Web site to allow the public to follow along.

Elsewhere in the country, the studentactivism.net Web site counts more than 100 events planned for March 4 in 32 states. (This handy map has links to the events.) AFT members will be involved in many of them.

Illinois. The University of Illinois Graduate Employees' Organizations at both the Urbana-Champaign and Chicago campuses are active participants in coalitions protesting furloughs, layoffs, class cancellations and reduced educational services at the university. A large rally is planned at the UI Urbana-Champaign campus. In Chicago, the GEO chapter is working with a large coalition, United in Campaign Against Budget Cuts, that will sponsor three campus events March 4: a panel exchange with UI-Chicago administrators on the state of the budget, a rally, and a soup kitchen for those in the UI-Chicago community who are in need.

Maryland. The Maryland Teachers and Researchers, the organizing committee of grad employees and adjuncts at the University of Maryland, is supporting March 4 events sponsored by undergraduates. These include student walkouts and teach-ins, a panel on labor in higher education, and a dance party.

Michigan. Students, educators and community activists are converging on the campus of Wayne State University to march and rally on behalf of adequate funding for education. Participants will include members of the WSU Union of Part-Time Faculty and the WSU AFT-American Association of University Professors chapter.

Ohio. The Graduate Employees and Students Organization/AFT at Ohio State is planning a campuswide button-wearing day on March 4, and also will have tables set up centrally to increase visibility and get union cards signed.

New York. The Professional Staff Congress has endorsed a March 4 rally at Gov. David Paterson's Manhattan office. Other rallies and events supporting the day in Defense of Public Education will also occur on some City University of New York and State University of New York campuses.

For more details on the March 4 student movement, go to www.defendeducation.org or on Facebook.

The AFT wants to hear your stories, too. Go to our Facebook page to post news and photos of your events or see what your friends are up to. [Barbara McKenna, California Federation of Teachers]

March 3, 2010