A Day of Action to Defend Public Education.
Thursday, March 4 (“March Forth”) was the day when educators and the educated united in expressing their outrage over the cuts in funding in education by the government of California this past year.
For weeks, the campuses of California State University (CSU) and the University of California (UC) have been smothered with indicators of impending action. “It’s coming,” a sign on a lamp post read; “March Forth on March 4th!” could be seen scribbled on the ground in chalk (each followed by Google keywords to help confused passerby search for and discover the details). The action has been planned for months.
As furlough days have forced educators to bring home less money, while simultaneously limiting the amount of material that can be taught in the given time period, increased tuition has resulted in students forking out more for less, during the 2009-2010 school year in particular.
There’s more to the problem, though. The California State University system did not accept any new students in the Spring 2010 semester to any of its 23 campuses (California State University).
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, as many as 19,000 pink slips will be given to teachers of public education in the coming months, warning them that they may not have a job waiting for them come next Fall.
On top of that, education is becoming even more restricted, as Universities are allowing fewer students to enter (even in the Fall). California community colleges predict that up to 20,000 students will be turned away in the coming year due to limited classes.
California Statewide Walkout for Education
As a result, March Forth, or A Day of Action to Defend Public Education, was planned at UC Berkeley in Fall 2009. It is called “March Forth” as a play on words, since the day it took place was March 4, 2010.
The protests were statewide and lasted most of the day. Many of them were peaceful, but not all. Road closures occurred near multiple campuses. At CSU Northridge, Reseda Boulevard, just west of the campus, was blocked after protesters took their picketing to a busy intersection and stood in the way of traffic.*
In Oakland, I-880 was closed for nearly an hour when demonstrators marched onto the freeway. Countless arrests were made in both locations (San Francisco Chronicle).
Picket lines were formed in Eureka with protesters from Humboldt State University and educators from area public schools for grades K-12. In Fresno, students occupied the offices of the Vice President of Student Affairs, and at Sonoma State, the Financial Administration Building was occupied for approximately two hours. Hundreds marched outside of the administrative offices of the Berkeley Unified School District.
At UCLA, the hallway to the Chancellor’s office was packed tight with demonstrators making verbal statements. In Irvine, hundreds marched down University Drive, effectively blocking it for regular use. Hundreds rallied all over the state, including at UC Riverside, UCLA, UC Santa Cruz, and a plethora of other campuses (Facts from The Daily Californian).
Although mostly peaceful, some demonstrations caused disruptions.
Employees of UC Santa Cruz were instructed not to come to work due to possible violence. Employees at the time were blocked from leaving the campus, entering the campus, and one vehicle was reportedly vandalized with a driver inside, who remained uninjured.
Injuries were reported elsewhere, though. Pepper spray balls were launched to keep UC Davis protesters from disrupting traffic on I-80. In Northridge, a CSUN professor, in her 70s, was in the hospital with a broken arm due to the actions of the police responding to the protest (CSUN Sundial).
The day’s protests will, in the end, have cost the state an extreme amount of money. Police officers, called in by the hundreds, indicated that they were working overtime, and multiple police helicopters were dispatched to various schools—all of this adding up to quite a sum total for the state of California.
The monetary cost is one way that the message will have been made clear, though, along with media attention.
The Cost of Funding Education
However, this was just the physical cost the actual day of protest incurred. It may have been a day of action to defend public education in California, but what could defending public education cost other areas of the state’s budget?
In his proposed budget plan for 2010-2011, Gov. Schwarzenegger announced in January that he hoped to return large amounts of funding to the public school systems in California. In order for this to occur, though, spending must be cut elsewhere; healthcare and prison systems could be facing budget cuts in the year to come.
To read more about the Governor’s plan for funding education in 2010-2011, read California Universities 2010-11: Schwarzenegger’s New Plan for Funding Higher Education.
The Right Way to Make Change in California’s Education
Some students and faculty disagree with the protests, seeing them as ineffective and uninformed. One criticism is that students and faculty are protesting without providing the guidelines that would allow positive change to occur in the education system.
One professor at UC Berkeley, however, did provide a roadmap in the form of a ballot initiative. It was created by linguistics Professor George Lakoff, and would affect the way the state passes budgets and alters taxes.
Whatever the state of California decides to do, it has been made clear that those in the field of education, whether they are the educators or the educated, will not stand for the continuation of the recent budget mayhem. Although education is not the only area facing enormous financial difficulties, it is one area that won’t be hit without a fight.
*Unless otherwise stated, facts about California State University Northridge are stated based on eyewitness accounts of the author of this article, or conversations with eyewitnesses in the area.