May Day rally coupled with budget woes
May 8, 2008 1:47 PM
In a May Day rally that touched base at SF State, Dolores Park and City Hall, three Muni trains’ worth of students left campus last Thursday to voice opposition to the budget cuts expected to hit the California State University system.
The 600-strong student contingent doubled the size of a group already forming at Dolores Park, adding their voices to the concerns of others who gathered during the unofficial workers’ holiday. In the rally and the 90-minute march to City Hall, groups also called for immigration reform and an end to the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The noon walkout also included an unplanned half-hour blockade of 19th Avenue and a short march around the campus before leaving for the park, participants said.
With the solidification of groups like Fight the Fees and the New Front Coalition, he walkout is the most recent example of growing activism and collaboration among students to oppose Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget. While state legislators are still debating the final decision, many officials expect there to be drastic cuts to funding for SF State and other schools in California’s higher education system.
“At the CSU, we’re losing hundreds of millions of dollars in the richest country and the richest state,” said 24-year-old Fight the Fees activist Alex Mejia, from the truck bed that served as the speakers’ stage.
Most of the day’s orators spoke in both Spanish and English, making connections between the rise in immigration crackdowns in the U.S. and the worsening situation in Iraq.
“Creating multi-racial alliances is extremely important,” Mejia said, describing how the student fee movements at SF State are networking with other causes like immigration reform.
Students at the rally generally agreed that the risk of higher fees, lower class availability and the firing of popular faculty were their primary concerns.
“It isn’t like we have money to just throw away,” said Misha Cornelius, 18, who said her family has a comfortable financial background. For students like her, with family incomes that are even a notch too high for financial aid, the impact of higher fees can be even more severe.
After a series of speakers at Dolores Park, the sound of drums attracted the 1,000-strong mass toward their 19th Street sendoff in the Mission District. Protesters began flourishing their instruments, noisemakers, signs and voices, and the block of participants found a place among their respective contingents and between the walls of police that would follow them to City Hall.
For SF State, a large sign reading “Stop Fees & Cuts. Student Workers Unite” was the rallying point, and
“No borders, no walls—education is free for all” became the chant that carried the march into its first steps.
“No cuts, no fees—education should be free” was another chant, recalling the belief of many in the demonstration that California public higher education should be entirely cost-free.
The two-mile trek blocked two lanes of traffic as it moved through the Mission District, with police and some participants working to keep the group from crossing over into the other lanes.
“I’m surprised—there’s a lot of people here,” said Cecily Alfar, 16, who was in a furniture store with her mother but stepped out to watch the march. Alfar had heard about the rally at school and said she thought some of her friends might be in the group.
Lita Blanc, a 20-year teaching veteran at George R. Moscone Elementary School, said she supported the efforts at SF State. A long-time participant in progressive demonstrations, Blanc said that her biggest concern was the well-being of students who are going to school as undocumented immigrants.
Passing under the Central Freeway, participants let out an even greater cacophony of noise, an echo of cheers and drums that reverberated far beyond the overpass. Minutes later, they had arrived.
It was a festive scene at City Hall, with a performance from a Spanish-language ska band, and speeches from Clarence Thomas of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.
Upon arrival, SF State students picked a spot on the grass to rest.
“It kept momentum, which is really important for a rally,” said Bryan Tin, 22-year-old environmental studies major.
“This is the first step,” Mejia said. “One walk-out is not going to solve our budget crisis.”
Spot new editor Jerold Chinn contributed to this report.
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