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News and reports

June 4, 2004 | Pages 10 and 11

Defend abortion rights
California State University budget cuts
Stop the antigay bigots

Providence, R.I., public schools
By Brian Chidester, Bristol-Warren Education Association

PROVIDENCE, R.I.--About 200 people rallied in front of the State House on May 25 to demand better funding for Providence Public Schools and to celebrate the governor's retreat on cuts to state education spending.

The rally was sponsored by Save Our Schools (SOS), a parent organization, and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN). Speakers included parents, students, teachers, and politicians, including Providence Teachers' Union president and state representative Steven Smith.

In February, Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri--a hard right Republican--proposed $8 million in cuts to state education spending, while increasing state aid to charter schools by an almost equal amount. On the chopping block: music, arts, foreign languages, and elementary school counselors. On the day of the rally, Carcieri magically "found" $45 million extra in the state budget and rescinded the cuts--but then proposed ridiculous new "fiscal accountability standards" for local school districts.

The rally was a good step toward building a movement for better public schools. Now we need to demand the repeal of George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind law, and put pressure on both Republicans and Democrats to fully fund our public schools.

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Defend abortion rights
By John Green

DAVIS, Calif.--Nearly 60 women and men rallied here for a woman's right to choose on May 26. Demonstrators carried signs calling to "Keep Abortion Safe and Legal" and "Reproductive Justice For All."

University of California sophomore Sarah Barnes denounced restrictions placed on abortion access that disproportionately effect the poor and women of color. Barnes called for "an end to attacks on affordable health care and women's reproductive rights."

Choice USA, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and the National Organization sponsored the rally for Women. That night, 30 students and community members gathered on campus for a panel meeting to discuss strategies for saving abortion rights in the U.S. Many debated the merits of the Democrat John Kerry campaign in the context of preserving access to abortion. The panel featured Jenny Olson of the ISO and Solana Phillips of Choice USA.

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California State University budget cuts
By Scott Johnson

HAYWARD, Calif.--For the second time in less than a month, students at a Bay Area university walked out of classes to protest state budget cuts.

Inspired by the walkout of 1,500 students at San Francisco State University the week before, about 400 students at California State University (CSU)-Hayward rallied on May 26. This action came after the CSU system Chancellor Charles Reed agreed to raise tuition by 14 percent next year to offset the budget cuts. This follows a 40 percent tuition increase over the last year. It was also announced that thousands of students who qualified for admission would be turned away because the system couldn't afford to accept them.

Reed agreed to the budget cuts on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's "promise" that there would be no cuts next year. But Sacramento has a history of making--and then breaking--these "promises."

Already, the budget has fallen short for this year. The work-study program ran out of money the week before the walkout, resulting in hundreds of layoffs of part-time work-study students. Fearing that financial aid would be cut too, a student at the rally commented, "Without financial aid, there is no way I am going to be here next year."

"Education is right, not a privilege for the rich," Diane Peterson from the Equal Opportunity Program told the crowd. After the rally, many students marched off campus to the main street in Hayward, where dozens of drivers honked their horns in support. The next event is a forum against budget cuts with Arianna Huffington, American Idol judge Randy Jackson and State Treasurer Phil Angelides.

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Stop the antigay bigots

IOWA CITY, Iowa--More than 200 lesbians, gays and their supporters came from across eastern Iowa to protest antigay bigot Fred Phelps on May 29. Twenty-two members of Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church came to protest at City High School's graduation ceremony because a lesbian student was awarded a Matthew Shepard Scholarship.

While the turnout was great, it could have been larger. Before the event, debate raged among gay rights supporters about how to respond. One group, Hate Acts Rapid Response Network (HARRT), asked people to wear school colors, bring non-political signs congratulating the graduates and encouraged people to turn their backs on Phelps' gang. When other activists tried to chant over Westboro's hate messages; HARRT leaders shushed and gay-baited them.

Others argued for showing respect for the graduation ceremony by staying away. This meant that leading members of the University of Iowa's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Allies Union didn't show at all.

Nevertheless, as one graduating senior, Stephanie, told Socialist Worker, she was surprised by the large number of gay rights supporters. "This is a great thing for all of them to do," she said.

Supporters of a more vocal response were accused of not considering the wishes of the students and their families. But when antigay bigots like Phelps come to town with their "God Hates Fags" signs, it becomes more than an attack on one lesbian student. If Phelps is allowed to appear while gay rights supporters stand silently by, it only encourages gay-bashers.

If gays and lesbians are to gain equal rights--including the right to marry--we have to be prepared to face to face with hate mongers and force them to back down.

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