Student conference against cuts in Wash.

February 25, 2010

OLYMPIA, Wash.--Around 40 students, workers and community members gathered at a conference February 14 at Evergreen College to discuss the Washington state budget and its implications for higher education.

The two groups that were primarily represented were the University of Washington (UW) Student/Worker Coalition and the Olympia Coalition for a Fair Budget (a group based at Evergreen College). There was also a representative from Tacoma.

The conference was designed to bring together groups fighting higher education budget cuts at their own schools. Both the UW and Evergreen groups have organized actions in the past few months to protest these issues, including a rally at a UW Board of Regents meeting in late January and a walkout at Evergreen on February 5.

Much of the day was spent discussing goals, tactics and strategies for building a statewide movement. It was largely agreed that our aim is to create a mass, sustainable movement that utilizes direct action over other tactics such as lobbying.

The question was raised over whether to form a statewide coalition, but the group agreed that the movement in Washington is not yet large enough to justify extensive coordination across campuses--the focus of each group at this point should still be on mobilizing students at their respective campuses.

Keynote speaker Aaron Dixon, a former leader of the Seattle Black Panthers and 2006 Senate candidate for the Green Party, offered advice for building the movement, stressing that there needs to be a focus on long-term strategies. He emphasized the need to analyze the world, have conversations with people and reach out to youth.

At the end of the conference, the group considered proposals to hold another statewide conference in the near future and call for a statewide day of action following the national day of action on March 4. The UW and Evergreen coalitions said they would take these proposals back their respective groups.

On February 18, the UW Student/Worker Coalition voted to host a conference in Seattle on April 3, with the intention of reaching out to more universities and community colleges to have a broader representation. The UW coalition also decided to postpone making a decision on a statewide day of action until after March 4.

Overall, the conference in Olympia was a positive step in the statewide movement to fight budget cuts in education. The ability to network across different campuses will be crucial in building opposition. However, the limited representation shows that we have more to do in our organizing.

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