The ‘March’ for Higher Education

Published in print and online at City on a Hill Press February 25, 2010

On March 1 and 4, members of the University of California community will rally at UC campuses and in Sacramento in an effort to gain support for higher education.

In the first week of what the University of California Student Association (UCSA) has declared “a month of action,” large numbers of students are expected to converge on the state Capitol.

“It’s the same realm of action,” said Victor Sanchez, external vice chair of UC Santa Cruz’s Student Union Assembly (SUA). “There’ll be opportunities on both days for folks to express their voice.”

Sanchez, who also serves as president of the UCSA, said the close proximity of the two events will make them that much more effective in gaining support for higher education. He predicted that this month, named the “March for Higher Education” by the UCSA, will see “continual waves” of student action.

March 1, UC Student Lobby Day, follows a weekend of workshops — beginning on Saturday in Sacramento — designed to teach students to lobby their legislators. The annual UC Student Lobby Conference provides students with opportunities to learn more about effectively lobbying their elected representatives. Attendees from UCSC were chosen by the SUA through an application process.

Lobby Day will begin with a rally at the Capitol. Following the rally, students will put the skills they learned at the conference to use, advocating for higher education.

UCSC spokesperson Jim Burns said in an e-mail to City on a Hill Press that several UC chancellors will join student lobbyists, including UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal.

In response to a request from SUA, the UC Office of the President (UCOP) has agreed to provide up to $2,500 in non-state funds to the campus to go toward the cost of student transportation to the Capitol on March 1, Burns said. The money is part of a $10,000 expenditure that UCOP is making in an effort to help students attend the event.

Lobby Day will be followed by the March 4 Day of Action in defense of public education.

Sanchez said that though there will be a difference in tactics used by protesters on the two days, the geographically broader scope of action on Thursday, March 4 will be the most significant distinction between them.

While actions on March 1 will be centralized in Sacramento, on March 4 protests will take place all over California.

Across the state, high school and college students, teachers and workers will be striking for public education. While many intend to march on Sacramento, student organizations have plans for on-campus activism as well.

“We have 1,700 signatures from students pledging to strike on March 4,” said Mary Virginia Watson, a member of both the Graduate Student Organizing Committee and the March 4 Strike Committee. “We plan to have gatherings at the main and west entrances to shut down campus.”

Watson said her group has and will continue to make a serious effort to warn the community that transportation to and from campus will be hindered by the protest. This preemptive move was made in light of criticism directed toward protesters who blocked campus entrances in last November’s demonstrations against fee increases.

However, Watson said, sending this message to the administration is worth the trouble it might cause people going to and from campus.

“What the government and the UC are trying to do is shut the doors to the campus,” she said. “One day of inconvenience is worth it.”

Watson would like to warn students that though the protesters intend to let certain people through the barricades — like parents with children in on-campus childcare — there is a chance the police will close down streets near campus. She said her group has sent a representative to talk to local law enforcement in hopes that this scenario can be prevented.

Watson advises UCSC students who want to get involved on March 4 not to attend classes, and to ask teaching assistants and professors to cancel classes. She also invites students to attend the gatherings at the main and west entrances of campus. The March 4 Strike Committee will be meeting on Tuesday, March 2 at 6:30 p.m. in Kresge 327 to discuss plans for the day of action, and Watson hopes interested students will attend that as well.

In Sacramento, actions will begin with a rally at the Capitol building at 11 a.m.

Protests will include an “Educate the State” rally hosted by California Faculty Association (CFO) representatives from California State University, Sacramento (CSUS). Kevin Wehr, CSUS CFO president and a UCSC alumnus, said protesters will hold mock classes for legislators on the importance of public education to California — complete with a lectern, desks and a chalkboard — on the north steps of the Capitol.

Transportation from UCSC to the Capitol will be available through SAVE the University, a UC Berkeley faculty group. Students can sign up for limited seating at SaveUC.org.

Wehr said the actions planned for March 4 were designed to send a message to the government about preserving the state’s already limited education funds and to advocate for additional state support.

“Our message is simple,” he said. “We want to demonstrate the importance of public education, K-16, throughout California, and send a message to the legislature to protect and expand education funding: … Hands off that money.”

Read online at cityonahillpress.com

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