Why we're protesting, part one

March 4 will be a day of strikes and protests to defend public education for students, teachers, faculty, campus workers and members of the community in California. The movement to save our schools is building at every level of the public education system.

We asked some of the people organizing for the day of action to explain what they're fighting for. Read more statements at part two and part three of this feature.

Fresno State protesters demonstrating against budget cuts and furloughs last October (Diane M. Blair)Fresno State protesters demonstrating against budget cuts and furloughs last October (Diane M. Blair)

Brian Malone
Graduate student, University of California Santa Cruz

I AM a graduate student in literature, and my department (along with every other department in the humanities) has been among the hardest hit at University of California Santa Cruz. Funding for graduate students is scarce: I've watched many of my friends and colleagues take leaves of absence this year, and I wonder if I will need to do the same next year.

But I'm not just angry about my own uncertain future; I'm angry for my students. The supposedly prestigious UC education that my students are receiving is merely a ghost of what it was even five years ago.

Course enrollments are already too large, and increasing yearly. Teaching assistants and discussion sections are being cut. Libraries may soon be closed for days at a time. Written assignments are being reduced or replaced with multiple-choice exams. Retention programs for economically disadvantaged students and students of color are being slashed. And for this, my students--those who can afford to remain in school--will pay 32 percent more in tuition. I can't stand for this. And neither should you.

The UCSC March 4 Strike Committee--a body made up of students, faculty, and workers--has made our demands.

We demand that Sacramento enact progressive taxation on the wealthy and corporations to increase funding for all levels of public education. We demand that the UC administration roll back the fee increases, rescind layoffs and furloughs, and restore full funding to all programs, departments, and services. We further demand that the UC join the struggles against California's worsening income inequality and the renewed segregation of public education. Finally, we demand that the UC Santa Cruz administration immediately halt its campaign of intimidation and harassment against politically active students and workers, and that all charges against student activists be dropped.

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José Lara
Social justice educator, Santee Education Complex High School, Los Angeles

EDUCATION IS a field I love, but currently, it is in crisis. The state of California continues to make cuts in education while local school boards continue to raise class sizes, cut teachers and art programs, and simultaneously dismantle adult, career and technical education.

I will be marching on March 4 because I wish to take a stand for quality public education. I wish to show my students that education is worth fighting for, and that they should not take cuts sitting down. I hope to be a model for my students' civic engagement and encourage them to become scholar-activists.

It has never been more important for educators to take a stand. The dignity of our profession, the rights of our students, and the fate of our public schools depends on it.

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Magdalena De Guzman
Teacher, member of the United Educators of San Francisco Executive Board, delegate to the San Francisco Labor Council (organizational affiliation listed for identification purposes only)

SO MUCH talk among parents, students and educators was generated prior to March 4. The sentiments of fear and frustration, shared as a group, gave way to unity and courage. Attending a rally on March 4th is definitely on the list of things to do to fight back against the attack on working families and wage earners.

Our elected officials, businesses and other institutions that support the present system have all glaringly failed us. Our present and future lives are at stake.

March 4th is a moment to be still as well as a moment to act. What I mean is that just before the action on March 4th, before the gathering of forces, before the rally, I know that people will be reflecting on the significance of this day. I think people are thinking that this is going to be a sustained fight--a fight to stop mistreating and abusing working families and wage earners, and a fight to stop ravaging California's wealth, and instead redistribute that wealth for the common good.

March 4th is a point in time when we all need to stop and choose: Should we continue on the ruinous path we are on, or should we create a new path that addresses the basic needs of the masses--socialized health care, housing and education?

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Akasha Perez
Undergraduate student, San Francisco State University

I FIRST jumped into March 4th organizing in late December 2009. And when I say jumped, I mean I literally took a leap of faith. This leap, of course, was driven by the mounting frustrations that I, along with many students, feel due to the budget cuts at SFSU. As a full-time student and full-time worker, I had shied away from most organizing because I didn't have the time to go to meetings, much less the emotional time to become passionate about an issue.

However, once I began organizing with the students, faculty, staff and community members at San Francisco State University, I realized that this issue was much bigger than me, and it would be selfish for me not to be involved.

Once I started organizing, it became more than just a political issue--it's a very practical one to me. I have been a student of California's public education system for almost 16 years. If I'm not willing to fight for the education I deserve, then I surely can't complain about the system.

March 4th is a stage to engage others in this fight, and to show that organizing is not just for the radical and militant--it is for the passionate and the frustrated and even those who are simply curious.

For this movement to be successful, we must engage and appeal to all students on the political spectrum, especially those who do not necessarily see a place for themselves in organizing. It's my hope that March 4 will allow the students of California and all others affected by the budget cuts to rise up and become engaged in a fight that is ours to win.

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John Green
History teacher, Castro Valley High School

FREDERICK DOUGLASS once said, "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." In a nutshell, this quote explains why my co-workers and I are protesting on March 4: we want to save public education for all of the boys and girls in Castro Valley and beyond.

The schools where I teach have lost nearly $2,000 per student over the past three years. Valuable student programs are being downsized or eliminated, and hardworking staff are getting pink-slipped.

Every teacher already knew far too many kids who slipped through the cracks before the recession hit. Now, at a time when more families need our help than ever before, we're basically cutting huge holes in the safety net. For example, one of the programs slated for elimination next year is the 9th-grade opportunity program for at-risk youth, where I worked for three years before going back to the traditional classroom.

California's public education system has been put at peril by a man-made catastrophe. Politicians in Sacramento don't have the spine to tax the rich, so they go after those who don't have a voice: the disabled, the poor and the children.

So on March 4, teachers, parents and students in Castro Valley are going to find a voice--a very loud voice. We're joining the California Teachers Association call to "start the day for students" with morning pickets at every school in the district. But we're also organizing a community rally after school on March 4 and sponsoring a town-hall meeting on the budget crisis later in the month.

We're reaching out to the community like never before, inviting parent clubs, civic organizations, houses of worship and our fellow unions to join us on March 4. We're putting up fliers at friendly local businesses, and we leafleted outside a student production at the high school and at a community crab feed.

We're demanding more funding for education from the state. We're demanding that our school district use up its entire rainy day fund before laying off staff. We're demanding that education be made a priority in the state of California--not providing more tax breaks to wealthy corporations.

For way too long, we've been beaten down, cut to pieces and blamed for the fallout. On March 4, we finally get to take the initiative.

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Nina Lawit
Teacher, San Miguel Child Development Center, San Francisco

I'M MARCHING to fight cuts to the budget that are so destructive to our lives, and to fight for a fair tax system that will allow us to fully fund education and social services.

It feels good to take action with others--to feel our solidarity and our strength in coming together. March 4 is an opportunity to unite as teachers, students and parents, from pre-K through college--to build our relationships, to discuss and question together what we can do to create a quality educational system that is accessible to all.

I feel March 4 is the beginning of a process to understand what is broken in our system, and to work together and inspire each other to create a better one.

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Gillian Russom
Teacher, Roosevelt High School, in East Los Angeles

IT'S DISGUSTING that in the school district where I teach, they're increasing class sizes for Kindergarten students to at least 25 students or more per class. I teach high school, and last year, when we lost one of our teachers to budget cuts, she wasn't replaced. Our class sizes went up in English from 20 students to almost 30. We're expecting at least 2,000 more layoffs this spring, which will increase class sizes even further.

My students who have worked so hard to be able to go to college are facing tuition increases that will make it nearly impossible to go. The government of California acts like there's nothing else they can do besides destroying the future of our young people, and we refuse to accept that this is the only solution to this budget crisis.

In United Teachers Los Angeles, we've been fighting many battles of our own over the last two years, and March 4 is a chance to take a stand together with thousands of other people affected by these cuts. It can give us a glimpse of the kind of mass actions it will take to force the governor and state legislature to fix the budget by taxing the rich, not by attacking public education.

Read more statements at part two and part three of this feature.