“Ain’t no power like the power of the student (unions)
Cuz the power of students (unions) don’t stop!” [sic]
-Chant No. 9 as written on the Unite for Public Education March 4 chant sheet.
The 2000 (plus or minus) protestors gathered at Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles last Thursday proved two things: California’s public education apparatus is really complicated and involves a lot of people, and many of these people are angry with the status quo.
“Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho,
Budget Cuts Have Got to Go!
Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho,
Fee Hikes Have Got to Go!” the crowd chanted.
Of the 111 protests that took place across the nation on National Day of Action to Defend Public Education, this rally was among the largest and most diverse. Unlike the protests taking place at University of California and California State University campuses, this rally attracted unions, students and educators from high schools, community colleges, CSUs, UCs and adult schools. The odd LaRouche evangelist and all five members of the local International Students for Social Equality, a Socialist offshoot, also showed up.
Eighty members of the Los Angeles Police Department were present. One person, not a protestor, was arrested. According to police, the arrested man was a homeless bystander. Angered by LaRouche posters that depicted Obama with a Hitler mustache, the man had gotten into scuffle with LaRouche supporters. When police attempted to stop the altercation, the man hit a police officer and was arrested to chants of “Let him go.”
For the most part, though, interactions between the crowd and police remained calm. The police did not wear riot gear and the protestors followed the March/Rally Guidelines set by the organizers: 1. No violence, 2. No weapons, 3. No alcohol or illegal drugs, 4. No property destruction and 5. No littering.
Instead, the protesters held signs and chanted in support of public education. They milled around Pershing Square until about 4:45 p.m. and then moved down Spring Street to end the rally in front of the Ronald Reagan Government Building.
The crowd was extremely diverse. Some participants were UC alumni like Margaux Cowden, who holds a graduate degree in comparative literature from UCI. Cowden explained that she was protesting because, “I think we need to defend education. It’s really simple. We need to make sure that education is a right, not a privilege.”
In the eight years she spent at UCI, Cowden noticed that “classes got bigger, graduate student stipends started disappearing” and more and more undergraduates began missing classes in order to work.
Others were like Magdalena Garcia, who has two children in the public school system and never had the chance to attend college. She was attending the protest because as a parent, she worries about the cuts to K-12. As a student, she worries about the future of the adult school where she attends English classes.
Garcia thinks that few people appreciate the value of these adult education programs. Cutting these programs hurt not only the adult, but also that adult’s children.
“If I don’t know English, I can’t help my kids with their homework, I can’t talk to their teachers,” Garcia said.
Garcia knows that her daughters face many challenges at school, but said, “I want them to go to college, because then they will get a better job and have a better life. I want them to be leaders, they shouldn’t have to suffer just because we are poor.”
Garica and Margaux represented only two of many perspectives at the rally last Thursday. Custodians and school nurses, student teachers and classroom veterans all gathered in defense of public education.
At times, the protest’s targets seemed nebulous and the solutions offered wildly divergent. Supporters of Assembly Bills 540, which lowers tuition for undocumented students, and 656, which raises oil taxes for education funding, were among the many petitioners circulating. Others called for prison reform and yet others called for the dissolution of the military.
However, all of these groups shared a conviction in the importance of quality education.
From his perch on the back of a yellow Penske truck loaded with protestors, Cal State Los Angeles student Hector Lopez promised, “This is just the beginning. We are making a statement.”