Why we're protesting, part two

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 one 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)

David Patterson
Librarian, Cañada College, Redwood City

WHY PROTEST on March 4? That's easy. At Cañada College, we've been struggling to offer a decent education to our students for years, and so the March 4 protests are, for me, about the ongoing unwillingness of some in positions of power to offer a decent gateway to education.

It's a sin that our college, which literally overlooks the riches of Silicon Valley and the affluence of Woodside, is unable to give our students, who are primarily from historically underserved segments of the population, a decent education.

As a librarian at Cañada, I see this firsthand. We don't have enough money for a proper library. There aren't enough librarians, there aren't enough library support workers, and there isn't enough money for books. The money we use to pay for subscriptions to databases has completely evaporated.

What will we do on March 4? There's a student committee planning the specifics. A lot of our students have never attended a protest. They haven't had the thrill of being part of a noisy, energized, angry crowd. I'm hoping that on March 4, that will change.

Imagine students new to the world of protest feeling the power of a chant, of a great speech, of a march, of a civil rights song. That's what I'm hoping for. I'm hoping that students on March 4th feel connected to Montgomery, to Selma, to the Salt March to the Dandi, to the sit-ins, to Freedom Riders, to the farmworkers' struggle at Delano.

Now that's an education: To see your fight against oppression connected to a long line of others' fights. That's a lesson you'll remember. I want the students to see that rights are fought for--that they are gained through insisting, through protesting, through demanding.

I want our students to ask: Hey? Why is it that two exits down the freeway, the students at Stanford have a palatial library full of books, full of databases, full of librarians, full of resources, while our college barely has the basics? Why is it that rich students, who come to higher education with great K-12 education under their belts, get all the advantages at private, well-funded universities and colleges? Why is it that we, who generally come from the underfunded schools of East Palo Alto and Redwood City; we whose parents generally don't have the education, the connections or the money that the rich students' parents have; we who have to work one or two jobs just to pay the rent and eat--why do we go to a college where the library is run on a shoestring?

Oppression against historically underserved students doesn't only happen in the classroom. In the library, oppression works beautifully--students need help, but can't find a librarian to help them; students need high quality sources of information, but find limited resources.

March 4th is a chance to demand a change for our students--in the classrooms, in the library stacks and all across California campuses.

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Katharina Neuseidler
Student, San Francisco State University

I'M LOOKING at the struggle for public education from a global perspective. I came to study at San Francisco State from Vienna, Austria, where students currently are fighting against what they call the "economization" of higher education.

University used to be free in my country, but since Austria joined the European Union, successive governments have financially starved public education, and then started charging tuition fees. Now programs are being cut and modified in order to make them comparable to and competitive with programs of other countries, which in turn makes it easier for industries to compare candidates from an international pool of applicants.

The students in Vienna are addressing not only their government, but society as a whole, with the question: What function is education supposed to have? Fulfilling the economic needs of a country, or enhancing the intellectual and spiritual development of the individual in particular, and humanity in general?

It seems to me that Europe is trying to Americanize their public education system, and if students don't put up a fierce fight right now as those changes are taking place, we will very soon see many people excluded from higher education, and inequality in society dramatically increasing.

To me, the state of public education in California, where the two main public university systems raised tuition by 32 percent last year, serves as a warning of what will happen in Europe if we do not fight back now. Public education is under attack globally, and therefore, I will fight to keep or make it accessible for everyone--no matter where in the world I am.

March 4th is the kickoff of this movement in California that will connect our fight to the global struggle for public education.

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Kathleen Cecil
Teacher, Mission High School, San Francisco

TEACHING HAS never been a job where you can get comfortable. Each year, the job changes. Teachers adapt, spend more of their own money on basic supplies for their students, bring in food, boxes of tissues, take on larger class sizes, grade and plan on evenings and weekends and tutor students after school and through lunch.

But many teachers have the exact same line in the sand for when the job is no longer worth doing. That line is the inability to teach in a meaningful way. Large class sizes make it impossible to track student progress, to offer authentic feedback or to move students forward. Lack of books, photocopying and space makes instruction impossible.

The perfect storm that over the years has eroded wages, housing, food and health care has washed up at the schoolhouse doors again to take what's left. The arguments about how to salvage the few services that remain in California don't impress anyone here. We have stretched to the breaking point, and our students can't afford to lose any more.

I will walk out on March 4 to join my students, to see them fight for a voice and some control over their lives. California, one of the top 10 economies in the world, is dead last in per-pupil spending. California has abandoned its children.

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Omar Hussein
Teacher, Los Angeles Unified School District

FRANKLY, AS an educator, I've had enough. Traditional union activism has failed to stem the wave of cuts, layoffs and takeovers. The privatizers and labor-bashers are winning, and if they continue to win, education in this country may end up looking like health care in this country, or worse.

We cannot stand idly by as our communities--including students, parents and teachers--are blamed for the underfunding of our so-called "failing" schools and the deliberate structural violence that has been inflicted on the people of color who work in and attend those schools.

Those of us active in planning March 4th are trying to build a grassroots social movement that will be able to challenge these racist policies from the bottom up. We cannot wait for elected political parties or traditional union bureaucracies to lead the struggle. We have to build the struggle ourselves.

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Marcos Perez and Antonio Perez
Students, San Diego City College

INSPIRED BY the actions and picket lines that took place on September 24 across the 10 University of California campuses, active faculty at San Diego City College called for the formation of a coalition, "Education For All," among students and faculty to respond to the implementation of the draconian budget cuts.

The San Diego Community College District (SDCCD)--which includes three campuses, Miramar College, Mesa College and City College--has seen an increase in student enrollment by over 6 percent since 2007, while the district has cut 1,200 classes over the last two years.

Students have not been the only victims of the budget cuts. SDCCD has defunded 217 full-time workers and has yet to rehire 214 part-time professors. This has lead to 10,000 potential students being turned away because classes are too full, according to SDCCD spokesperson Richard Dittbenner.

At San Diego City College, the Education for All (EFA) coalition has stepped up to lead the student movement against the budget cuts. EFA called for and organized a regional summit on January 27, with the purpose of uniting all San Diego campuses fighting the budget cuts. The regional summit drew out over 80 people, including representatives from all public education sectors, and also community-based activist groups. The result was a democratic decision to have a centralized march to the governors' office on March 4 in the late afternoon while each campus around the county plan specific actions in the mid-day.

Calls were made by faculty and student organizations at San Diego State University, University of California San Diego and San Diego City College to walk out and shut down business as usual. After the walkouts, students, faculty, and workers will be engaging in speak-outs and teach-outs to address and agitate the many students that are radicalizing around this struggle and developing strategies on continuing the fightback efforts.

We are protesting on March 4th because we understand that what we have is a crisis of priorities. The ruling class would rather make us, workers and students, pay for their crises while they bail out the banks and large corporations. There is plenty of wealth to ensure everybody daily meals, a place to live, somewhere to work and absolutely free education for all. We need to let our voices be heard.

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Kevin Chojczak
Special Education paraprofessional, Lincoln High School, San Francisco

PARAPROFESSIONALS PLAY an important role in the classroom. Coordinating with teachers, paraprofessionals focus on students who need the extra support to be successful in the classroom.

With a massive budget shortfall of $113 million for the next two years, our district's superintendent is proposing deep cuts. We're told that "there will be pain," and to expect hundreds of teacher and para layoffs. But as educators, we need to say, "No cuts, no layoffs and emergency funding for education."

The issue is not that there isn't enough money. There is plenty of money to fully fund public education. We live in the richest country on the planet. The Pentagon budget will increase to $708 billion for 2011. California is one of the top 10 economies in the world, and 47 billionaires reside in the Bay Area alone!

In the last 30 years, our state's tax structure has shifted the burden of taxes onto working families and the poor, and has left top corporations and the rich off the hook. In 1980, 15 percent of the state budget came from taxes on California-based corporations. Now, it's less than 11 percent. Due to Proposition 13, billions of dollars are lost by corporations evading taxes on commercial real estate holdings.

We need a long-term vision for education that will turn this situation around. We need a movement that will depend on us as educators at the rank-and-file level in our union to organize in our schools and communities.

March 4th is a major first step for building a grassroots movement to stop the cuts and layoffs, and ultimately put the kind of pressure that will make the politicians in Sacramento put in place a much-needed progressive tax structure to fully fund public education.

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