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Campuses rocked by education rights protests March 4

By Kati Ketz

March 4 protest at UCLA

Thousands of students, workers and faculty at over 100 campuses in at least 39 states participated in a national day of action March 4. One demand was that administrators and chancellors must quit raising tuition and fees. Another demand was that theycut the salaries of the highest-paid administrators instead of the lowest-paid staffers on campus. Many of the protests opposed layoffs. Actions ranged from walkouts and marches, to occupations and shut-downs, to teach-ins and movie showings.

At UCLA, where cuts have been especially severe, over 300 students have staged a sit-in at the administrators’ building where the chancellor refuses to come out and meet with the protesters. Eric Gardner from UCLA Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) says, “We don’t accept the explanation that their hands are tied by the crisis. There are a lot of things they can do right now to alleviate the situation for students and workers, but they refuse – so we are confronting them and will continue to do so, today and in the future. Our struggle is not over yet. We make this university run, so they cannot ignore us for long.”

Charla Schlueter from UCLA SDS was also at the protest. “Five hours later, students are still here protesting the cuts with spirit. Later tonight, there will be a march with both UCLA and high school students demanding an end to the furloughs, and no more pink slips for high school teachers [who are expecting 5000 more pink slips this spring]. This whole day has been incredible – I have never seen so much unity amongst students, workers and professors working together to defend public education. Professors have brought their classes to the protests, people have been bringing food at water, workers have been taking their furlough days to protest.”

Schlueter continued, “ The most inspiring moment to me was when a group of visiting grade school kids came to the protest and talked about how nobody in their family has had the opportunity to attend college. That’s when I realized that if we don’t fight this now, then those children might never get that opportunity.”

Protests happened across California. At UC-Davis, police were firing rubber bullets into the ground as students tried to take over Interstate 80 in a dramatic effort to force the administration to listen to their demands. UC-Berkeley had a rally of hundreds and blocked the campus’s main gates. Students at UC-Santa Cruz held a day-long strike, blocking intersections starting at 5:00 a.m. and shutting down the university for the day. Students held a rally chanting, “Whose university? Our university!”

At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, a peaceful speak-out and march to the chancellor’s office ended with the police arresting 18 people, including the student body president and a member of the press. Police were overheard saying “Let’s go arrest some hippies,” and demanding that protesters put away cameras and video equipment.

Rachel Matteson, an SDS member and a leader of the UWM march, was one of the arrested students. She stated, “All of the arrests were completely unjust and unnecessarily forceful. I was pepper-sprayed in the mouth and kicked repeatedly in the shins before being arrested – my throat is still burning hours later. However, all the arrested students were in high spirits and chanting in our cells. Everybody here is ready to come to the next protest, because this fight is not over. I am proud to have been arrested for standing up for our right to education.”

Students at Syracuse University in New York held a sit-in at Bird Library to demand an end to cuts in workers’ benefits and a tuition freeze. They have more than 1000 signatures on a petition they are going to present to administrators. SDS member Mariel Fiedler says, “We figured we would do something at the library because we saw it as symbolic and action-oriented. The sit-in is the culmination of everything.”

In Maryland, over 700 students, mostly high-school students, marched to a juvenile detention center, stopping at the state school board where more students joined to rally with them. Students demanded the state divert $100 million from the juvenile detention center to education-based jobs. Once at the detention center, 15 youths and adult allies initiated an occupation of the building that lasted for over an hour. Activist Chris Goodman from the Baltimore Algebra Project said that he was excited about the protest and the amount of people there, and is looking forward to next steps to pressure Governor O’Malley to invest in students and young people.

Steph Taylor from the University of Minnesota SDS said about their protest, “Over 400 students, staff and faculty rallied at the University of Minnesota demanding the administration take a pay cut before laying off thousands of workers, forcing furloughs on faculty and staff or raising students’ already inflated tuition and fees. After the rally SDS led the masses into the student union and out into the streets chanting, ‘Fund education, not administration!’ The University’s regents will be meeting next week to discuss the state of the university in this trying economic time and SDS plans to be there with our banners and voices to demand a say in how our university is run and to keep the student movement growing.”

In Chicago there was a forceful protest of over 250 people at the University of Illinois-Chicago who came out to defend education and fight for fair contracts. Chanting, “Chop from the top!” and “Whose university? Our university!” students, members of SEIU Local 73, the Graduate Employees Organization and faculty joined in unison against the administration placing the budget crisis on their backs. “This is the first step toward more militant actions,” says Kait McIntyre, a student at UIC and member of Chicago SDS. “Today we showed that you can’t put this on the backs of students and workers, and you can't cut our diversity centers without a fight.”

As more information about the day of action unfolds, Fight Back! will be here to report on the heroic struggles of students and workers to demand a right to education and to resist cuts and furlough days.

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