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Oct. 7 national day of protest

Activists defend public education

Published Oct 14, 2010 8:56 AM

Nearly 80 demonstrations in 25 states were organized on Oct. 7, the second National Day of Action to Defend Education, as thousands of students and workers took to the streets to fight back against the attacks on education being leveled across the country in the form of devastating budget cuts, tuition hikes and the growing threat of privatization.

Harlem, N.Y.
WW photo: John Catalinotto

As the economic crisis drags into its fourth year with no end in sight, public services like education are once again in the crosshairs to be drastically cut, with many states facing the worst budget shortfalls yet seen as federal stimulus money dries up. The burden of the crisis is forced onto students and workers, yet the federal government continues to pour billions upon billions into bank bailouts and the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

With Oct. 7 also marking the ninth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, many demonstrations drew the connections between funding for wars and corporate bailouts versus funding for education, jobs, and other public services and social needs. The Oct. 7 protests were significant as an indication of the growing will to fight back against the effects of this crisis and also for the unity that was built between education struggles against cutbacks, privatization and the rise of charter schools, and with the struggle being led by immigrant youth to pass the DREAM Act.

Buffalo, N.Y.
WW photo: Ellie Dorritie

The following are reports from some of these actions that took place across the country.

In New York, demonstrations on campuses across the city throughout the day convened for a central rally and march in Harlem later that afternoon. A march of several hundred drew students from universities and high schools, teachers, organizations fighting against gentrification, a doctors group from Harlem Hospital, a Harlem group against police brutality and community members from nearly every borough. Dwight Peters, the president of the Bronx Community College Student Government Association, announced from the stage that students at his school conducted a boycott of classes and walked out of class to protest the cuts to education. As the march swelled through the streets of Harlem, chants of “Education is a right — Fight, fight, fight!” and “Schools, not jails!” filled the air. Many who spoke at the demonstration drew the connections between the billions being given to the Pentagon to wage wars abroad and the lack of funding for education, health care, jobs and other human needs here at home.

WW photo: Jerry Goldberg

In Detroit, a diverse range of labor-community-student supporters rallied against education cuts at Wayne State University. Chanting, “Bail out the students, not the banks!” in the center of campus, the protesters held a speak-out, passed out fliers and held aloft placards with slogans such as “Cancel student debt,” “Solidarity with LGBTQ students,” “Money for education, not war,” and “You can’t cut solidarity.” Representatives of organizations at the rally included all American Federation of Teacher locals at Wayne State; the Union of Part-Time Faculty and the Graduate Employee Organizing Committee, which represent teaching assistants; the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice; the Moratorium NOW! Coalition; Workers World Party; the Green Party; the Socialist Party; By Any Means Necessary; and the National Lawyers Guild-Wayne State Chapter. Later in the day, BAMN and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees held a rally at Cass Technical High School in Detroit and marched to the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center.

In Raleigh, N.C., more than 100 young people and community members came out to a demonstration that linked the struggles against the cutbacks to education and tuition hikes, the struggle in Wake County to stop resegregation and privatization, and the fight to pass the DREAM Act and win full access to higher education for undocumented students in the state. Many different organizations mobilized for and spoke at the demonstration, including NC HEAT, an organization of high school students in Wake County fighting back against resegregation; the NC DREAM Team, a group of mostly immigrant youth organizing around access to education; students from several area universities including UNC Chapel Hill Students for a Democratic Society; Raleigh FIST; Black Workers for Justice; and many more. A spirited march through downtown filled the streets with chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, resegregation’s got to go!” “Education, not deportation!” and “No cuts, no fees, education should be free!”

The march hit three targets: the Civitas Institute, a group funded and controlled by right-wing millionaire Art Pope, who orchestrated a Wake school board takeover and is behind the move toward resegregation and privatization; the State Legislature, to protest the cuts to education and tuition hikes at universities; and the Federal Building, to denounce Sen. Kay Hagan, a national target of the push to pass the DREAM Act, as well as to draw the connections between funding for education and war. Organizers from the groups involved in the demonstration plan to continue working together to build a statewide education coalition.

In Buffalo, N.Y., a coalition of student organizations — including groups from the University of Buffalo and Buffalo State — community organizations and unions rallied in downtown Buffalo. They denounced the “UB 2020” plan to raise tuition, contract out campus jobs for lower wages and privatize this public SUNY school. When they chanted, “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts!” passing motorists honked nonstop in support.

In Atlanta, demonstrations were organized at several campuses around the city. These protests later convened in Woodruff Park. More than 100 students, anti-war activists, DREAM activists, and Sodexo workers turned out for the rally. The Sodexo workers are currently engaged in a fierce battle to win union rights at the cafeterias of five schools in the area.

Speakers at the demonstration drew connections between education cuts and the cost of war, spoke out against the pending decision by the Board of Regents to ban any undocumented student from attending a public college or university, and put together a giant report card that gave the Georgia Legislature failing grades on education. The demonstration marched through the Georgia State campus and on to the State Capitol building to deliver the failing report card to legislators.

At the University of California-Berkeley, a protest attended by more than 1,000 people turned into a sit-in at the library, with more than 600 students participating. Signs saying “DREAM Act Now! Build the Movement to fight the new Jim Crow!” and “Public education for all!” were held as students shouted, “Whose university? Our university!” Students are protesting against the continued privatization of education as well as the recent announcement that 200 more staff positions are to be cut, as well as the imposition of a freeze in faculty hiring and a rise in out-of-state student enrollment.

At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where a March 4 protest for education rights ended in police violence and the arrest of 16 students, more than 250 rallied to make their demands clear to the incoming chancellor. As a result of the education rights campaign, the former chancellor resigned this fall. As protestors marched down the street past an elementary school, children on the playground ran to the fence and gave high-fives to the graduate and undergraduate students, faculty, and workers who were marching for education rights.

Ellie Dorritie, Larry Hales, Dianne Mathiowetz and Bryan Pfeifer contributed to this article. Information on the protests at U.C. Berkeley and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee were taken from a Fight Back! News article written by Chapin Gray.