Beginning at noon today, March 4, students and faculty alike gathered on UCSB’s campus to protest the fee increases and furloughs that have recently been imposed on the university by the state government and UC Regents. With picket signs and megaphones, the group swelled as hundreds of intrigued onlookers joined the crowd to hear organizers speak.
The participants were primarily UCSB students holding picket signs that condemned the fee hikes, grant reductions, and diminished course offerings, but professors and university workers also joined their ranks in order to bring awareness to the plight of California’s public education system. Although Governor Schwarzenegger has consistently slashed funding to public education in recent years — reducing its budget by nearly $2 billion in 2008-09 and $4.2 billion in 2009-10 — his recent proposal to cut $2 billion more hit especially hard as it came just days after he publicly pledged to not cut into public education.
After a couple of hours spent on campus, the activists dispersed in order to stage a larger protest in downtown Santa Barbara. Busses arrived to transport the enthusiastic protesters to State Street where local police officers blocked off the streets for the hundreds of peaceful demonstrators to march from De La Guerra Plaza, down State Street, to the front steps of the Santa Barbara Courthouse.
Though the majority of the activists and organizers were students at the University of California Santa Barbara, there were also students from all grammar and high school levels grade levels as well as representatives from community colleges and California State Universities. Within the past four years, the state budget cuts have resulted in approximately $18 million being taken from the Santa Barbara School District’s General Fund, with $6 million slashed just last month. The implications of the cuts countywide include fewer workers and professors, larger class sizes, and fewer available classes overall.
As the group marched from De La Guerra Plaza to the courthouse, their chanting, shouting, bells, whistles, and drums could be heard along with the intermittent speech over a megaphone. Chants included, “No cuts, no fees! Education should be free!” and “Whose education?! Our education!” Hundreds of signs could be read throughout the crowd as well including “No More School Cuts”, “Don’t Bankrupt Our Students’ Future”, and even a couple of signs indicating that we should “Lay Off Yudof”, the president of the University of California system.
With dozens of local police officers videotaping the protesters and escorting the peaceful rally to its final destination, the excited group of men, women, and children finally reached the front lawn of the Santa Barbara Courthouse where they heard organizers and special guests speak. Among the speakers were SBCC and UCSB students along with former mayor Marty Blum and Santa Barbara City Councilmember Das Williams. After addressing the crowd, Das Williams sounded optimistic about the future but did warn that, “People shouldn’t forget our children’s future… It’s not only our children that are at stake…but the recovery of our economy.”