“Fire the politicians, not the teachers” read one woman’s sign at a rally outside Sen. Abel Maldonado’s office in San Luis Obispo, one of hundreds of events that took place all over California and the rest of the nation on March 4, “a day of action for public education.”
Nationwide reports cited protester arrests, shutdown freeways, and police using pepper spray to disperse crowds and car windows were broken throughout the 17 states that held protests.
For Cal Poly, the day began with a walk-out at 10:30 a.m. where a brigade of roughly 60 students, faculty and staff met at Dexter Lawn to march to the Administration building. In front of the building, Jane Lehr, assistant ethnic studies professor, and Jose Montelongo, of the office of education, spoke out against budget cuts. Students also spoke, including social science sophomore Jose Montenegro, an organizer for the days events and member of the group “United to Save Public Education” at Cal Poly.Their demands included admission for all eligible CSU students, democratization of the university and ending furloughs, pay-cuts, tuition hikes and lack of class availability.
The group then went to the third floor of the administration building to talk to Provost Robert Koob. Montenegro said Koob was reluctant to answer questions at first, but ended up marching with the group.
“It shows what organized students can do,” Montenegro said. “I think they were energized that something was finally being done.”
Montenego’s advice for student involvement beyond March 4 is to read up and stay educated on budget cuts.
Following the rally, the group traveled back to Dexter Lawn where anyone was invited to discuss concerns about budget cuts and how to improve the situation. At 2 p.m. there was a teach-in at theUniversity Union on how budget cuts affect students.
Not everyone was on-board with the walk-out or missing class for the day’s events. Jason Iijima, a biomedical engineering senior, said walking out of class was not the most effective solution to make a statement about our education system.
“If the problem is that we’re not getting as good of an education with budget cuts and what not, to walk out on class is to further deprive ourselves of education,” Iijima said. “When you’re taking out thousands of dollars for loans, your classes seem a little more valuable.”
Iijima said he found out about the day of action from a flier he was handed while standing in a line of roughly 300 students and faculty who waited for hours to get free burritos at the restaurant Chipotle’s mock grand opening. Most of the students were throwing the fliers on the ground, Iijima said.
On March 4, the crowd waiting for free burritos was larger than the one that stood in front of Sen. Maldonado’s office to fight for education just a few blocks away.
About 200 individuals, including Cuesta students, Cal Poly students, k-12 students, community members, teachers and academic professionals marched outside the building for two hours. They chanted phrases like “Education is a human right, students and teachers are here to fight” before listening to speeches from students to public educators to Sen. Maldonado himself.
The first to approach the senator’s steps was Glen Thorncraft, vice president for the California Faculty Association. He said the size of the crowd was way more than they anticipated. Some points made in Thorncraft’s speech included the CSU system cutting 40,000 students from enrollment and students paying 182% more for their education since 2000.
“It’s a scary prospect if we don’t invest in education,” Thorncraft said. “We may be the canary in a coal mine.”
Senator Maldonado then spoke briefly.
“I support and I agree with what you’re doing here,” Maldonado said. “I hope Sacramento is hearing you right now.”
Eric Fernandez, architectural engineering junior at Cal Poly and member of the “United to Save Public Education” group spoke as well.
“Our leaders have forced me to miss class in order to demand my education back,” Fernandez said.
He also talked about furloughs creating an incomplete education and the effects of classes being cut.
“They deny us classes of liberal arts … further throwing us into a factory, making drones out of us.”
“We’re not robots,” a protester then yelled from the crowd.
Fernandez said he was glad students were actually speaking up earlier in the day.
Other speakers included Allison Merzon from the Cuesta College Federation of Teachers, James Lynett from Paso Robles Public Educators, Tom Comar from People United for Health Care, Jobs and
Education in Atascadero and Joshua Shepherd, Associated Students of Cuesta College president.
Cal Poly ASI President Kelly Griggs came up at the last minute to speak as the group was beginning to disband.
As members of the crowd shouted “Where were you at Cal Poly today?” Griggs commented through the mega phone that she had class and was unable to attend.
“Education is important to everyone,” Griggs said. “This effects our economy and our community. Fight for education and continue what you guys are doing.”
Natasha Weldon, a senior at Cuesta college attended the the rally. Weldon said she’s upset because she can’t go to summer school now at Cuesta because of budget cuts and she had to wait a month to see a counselor because so many were fired.
“A lot people don’t really think that it affects them when it really does,” Weldon said.
Natalia Walicki, political science junior at Cal Poly and a member of the executive cabinet for ASI came to rally after a day of class and work. Walicki said she’s angry because none of her concentration classes that would normally be offered are being taught next quarter. She also said she wishes there were more city council members at the rally.
“I don’t want them to cut my classes. I’m pissed,” she said.
The group trickled off the sidewalk around 5 p.m. as the lone police car parked across the street drove away.