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Raleigh, N.C.: 8,000 rally against budget cuts

Published May 15, 2011 11:16 PM

Youth and students march in support of
teachers on May 3 in Raleigh, N.C.
WW photo: Dante Strobino

As the North Carolina House met inside the General Assembly building in Raleigh on May 3 to debate a state budget filled with devastating across-the-board cuts, more than 8,000 teachers, young people, students, parents and community members packed the main plaza outside to stop the cuts to education.

The rally was organized by the North Carolina Association of Educators, a statewide teachers’ union with more than 60,000 members. Teachers and education workers came from across the state, with representation from all of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

Many other organizations were on hand to stand with the teachers and to protest attacks on the broader public sector, including the Labor-Faith-Civil Rights Coalition in Defense of the Public Sector; the NC NAACP; Raleigh Fight Imperialism, Stand Together; Farm Labor Organizing Committee; Students for a Democratic Society; and NC Heroes Emerging Among Teens.

The day ended with the arrest of five young protesters as the House voted to pass the draconian budget, which cuts more than $1 billion for public education and slashes more than 18,000 public jobs.

Young people mobilize to stand with public workers

Prior to the start of the protest, more than 150 young people from across North Carolina gathered for a spirited rally at the nearby campus of North Carolina State University. The Student and Youth Rally for Public Education and All Public Services was organized by the NC Defend Education Coalition, a statewide coalition of youth and students united around the struggles to stop budget cuts, fight against resegregation, and demand full and equal access to education for undocumented students.

High school and college students alike mobilized to participate in the youth rally and march, with some coming from as far as Appalachian State University in Boone and East Carolina University in Greenville.

Gathered on the side of a busy street, the students were greeted with supportive honks and fists raised by passing motorists. A number of student speakers took the podium to denounce the deep cuts to education and public services, to oppose war funding and bank bailouts while education is slashed and public workers are laid off, and to speak on the need for unity among students, teachers and all public workers to fight back against the cuts.

“It is amazing that, with marches like May 3, students from different grades and different parts of North Carolina can come together and raise awareness of the attacks on our school systems,” speaker Maria Padilla, a high school student at Cary High and an organizer with NC HEAT, said of the march. “We must all stand up and fight the struggles of the students and teachers who are being affected by all the cuts and rising tuition rates and help provide a better education for all.”

With chants of “They say cutback, we say fight back” and “Education is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!” the students stepped off for a lively march through downtown to meet up with the main rally at the legislature. The march swelled into the streets, stopping traffic for a time on a busy thoroughfare before being pushed back on the sidewalks by the cops. When students arrived at the main demonstration, they were greeted with cheers and applause by the thousands of teachers who were already gathered there. The teachers cleared a path through the center of the rally for the students and joined in their chant of “No cuts! No fees! Education should be free!”

‘We must fight back!’

The crowd of teachers, education workers and community members — all dressed in red shirts to signify the bleeding of public education — continued to grow as more than 30 speakers addressed the rally. Speakers outlined how devastating the more than $1 billion education cuts in the House’s budget would be, including larger classes, laying off thousands of teachers and teacher assistants, and cutting money to already underfunded schools.

“Budget cuts to education that would increase class size will make it even more challenging for teachers to differentiate and accommodate student needs at an effective and in-depth level,” said Cathey Stanley, a student-teacher at Carrboro High School. “The cuts will serve to widen the achievement gap between students who are culturally, fiscally, socially and academically privileged and the students whose needs are already not adequately accommodated by our underfunded education system.”

The Rev. Dr. William Barber, statewide president of the NC NAACP, delivered a powerful and clear message to the rally: “We must fight back!” Rev. Barber drew connections among many of the struggles to stop the Tea Party and the right wing in NC, from the fight against resegregation — which is bankrolled by multimillionaire Art Pope, a chief funder of Americans for Prosperity — to the attacks on the public sector.

Following the rally, several dozen teachers and students entered the legislature and packed the gallery that overlooked the House floor as legislators were debating the budget. As they neared the end of debate, several students with the NC Defend Education Coalition unfurled a banner that read: “Tax Corporations! Bail out the People! Defend the Public Sector!” Five youth were subsequently arrested for taking this important act of resistance against the devastating cuts that the House later passed.

May 3 was undoubtedly the most significant demonstration, in both its size and its character, against the budget cuts and austerity measures being shoved onto the backs of workers and students in North Carolina. It represented a very important step forward. The budget still has a long way to go before it is enacted, and the NC Defend Education Coalition, along with many other organizations, has vowed to continue the struggle. Groups across the state are already gearing up for the next major day of action against the cuts on May 24.