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Education Rights: Thousands Across the Country Protest Against Cuts to Education

By Chapin Gray

Students, Faculty, and Workers Take to the Streets on National Day of Action

Education rights protest at University of Minnesota

Thousands of students, faculty, and campus workers on over 40 different campuses took action today, Oct. 7, to fight back against the cuts to education. Across the country, people are saying ‘no!’ to the cuts to education, to furloughs and layoffs, to tuition and fee hikes, to cuts to programs and services, and to privatization schemes. The protests are part of a unified day of action in defense of public education.

Since the economic crisis began in 2007, funding for schools in many states has been drastically cut. Last year, massive protests erupted in California when the UC system tried to implement draconian cuts. Since then, a nation-wide movement to stop the attacks on education has emerged, encompassing schools from California to Alabama to New York. Over twenty chapters of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) participated in the Oct. 7 national day of action, some showing films, while others held protests on campus.

At the University of Illinois – Chicago (UIC), over a hundred people, including members of SDS, graduate students in the Graduate Employees Organization (GEO), faculty, and campus workers in SEIU Local 73, rallied on the quad to send their message to the university.

“The U of I system president Mike Hogan got a 37% pay increase this year, while incoming freshman were slammed with tuition hikes and workers in SEIU 73 are fighting for a fair contract and job security,” said Kait McIntyre of the UIC chapter of SDS. “We are demanding that Hogan rescind his pay raise. We are saying 'chop from the top' – that is, the bloated costs of the university bureaucracy and top administrators should be cut, not our diversity centers, our jobs, our transportation services.”

At the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, where the protest for education rights on March 4th ended in police violence and the arrest of 16 students, over 250 rallied to make their demands clear to the incoming Chancellor – as a result of the education rights campaign, the former Chancellor resigned this fall. As protestors marched down the street past an elementary school, children on the playground ran to the fence and gave high-fives to the graduate and undergraduate students, faculty, and workers who were marching for education rights.

“We were victorious in getting the charges against the 'Milwaukee 16' dropped, and forcing Chancellor Santiago to resign,” said Jacob Flom of Milwaukee SDS. “But we won’t stop there. We want the incoming chancellor to know that we won’t stand for having the budget balanced on the backs of students, faculty, and campus workers.”

At the University of California – Los Angela (UCLA), where last March a coalition of students, faculty, and workers occupied the administration building in response to sharp cuts, SDS along with unions and the UC Fights Back Coalition brought together over 100 people to speak-out against the budget cuts and privatization proposals, and solidarity with campus workers. They also put out hundreds of helium balloons in lecture halls and cafeterias across campus letting people know about the attack on public education. Protestors then marched into the administration building, through the chancellor's office and other buildings on campus, chanting and giving speeches about how the cuts were affecting UCLA, and about the important victories won through struggle at the school in the past.

At UC-Berkeley a protest with over 1000 people turned into a sit-in at the library with over 600 students participating. Signs saying “DREAM Act Now! Build the Movement to fight the New Jim Crow!” and “Public Education for All!” were held as students shouted “Whose University? Our University!” Students are protesting against the continued privatization of education as well as the recent announcement that 200 more staff positions are going to be cut, as well as a freeze in faculty hiring, and a rise in out-of-state student enrollment.

At the University of Minnesota, a rally organized by the Chop from the Top Coalition brought out two hundred people to demand no tuition and fee hikes, no layoffs to instructional and support staff, and shared power in governance.

A march from the State Capitol building in Raleigh, NC was organized by Raleigh FIST and SDS, as well as DREAM Team NC. Over 100 people came to the rally and marched downtown. Demands included stopping the cuts to education, no to tuition hikes, for Congress to pass the DREAM Act, and money for jobs and education – not war and occupation.

At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, over 100 protestors “graded” the university administration on their quality of defending public education, then marched to drop off the grades, entering the administration building chanting “They say furlough, we say hell no!” and “who’s university? Our university!”

Other SDS chapters in Syracuse, Rochester, Waukesha, Chapel-Hill, Tuscaloosa, and at the University of Oklahoma, James Madison University, Wilbur Wright City College, and Clarkstown South High School, along with many others, participated in the national day of action.

For SDS, Oct. 7 was also a day to speak out against the recent FBI raids and subpoenas of antiwar and solidarity activists in the U.S., including members of SDS.

“Protesting the U.S. government is not a crime” Justin Wooten of Gainesville SDS. “Whether we are speaking out against U.S. occupation or fighting back against attacks to education, the FBI has no right to spy and infiltrate our movements, to raid the homes of activists and their families, to threaten them with jail time if they don’t cooperate with the unfair grand jury. SDS won’t let the raids intimidate us or scare us into silence. We will continue to fight against U.S. wars and occupation, and to fight for education rights.”

At many rallies across the country, students noted that Oct. 7 is the 9th anniversary of U.S. government’s invasion of Afghanistan. That trillions are being spent on the wars and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, while funding for public education gets slashed, is not lost on students. At the University of North Carolina – Asheville (UNCA), over 50 students demonstrated on the quad and marched through the student union, demanding “education, not occupation.”

“From who and what the U.S. government funds, it's clear what their priorities are,” said Sarah Buchner of UNCA SDS. “They bailout Wall Street and big bankers, give billions every week to fight wars and maintain occupations overseas, but won’t adequately fund education. Accessible, affordable, quality education is a right. And we’re not going to stop fighting for that right.”

#UnitedStates #EducationRights #StudentsForADemocraticSocietySDS #DefendEducation