Two charter buses carried 81 Humboldt State University students to Sacramento early on Monday morning to join with nearly 2,000 concerned California State University, University of California and community college students and other personnel in a rare, if not unprecedented show of solidarity against proposed state budget cuts.
The protesters marched from West Sacramento's Raley Field to the state capitol, flanked by police and supporters. Leading the march were a handful of organizers from the multi-campus Students For California's Future and the California State Student Association, as well as Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi, who later addressed the crowd, imploring them to put education before party politics. Garamendi cited former governors Wilson and Reagan and their contributions to the educational system, despite their otherwise conservative economic policies. The demonstration was large and vocal, but the march and following rally on the north steps of the capitol building were largely civil and conducted without incident. When it had had its say, around 2 p.m., it dispersed.
Also in attendance was HSU President Rollin Richmond. The often-criticized president said that he decided to join the students in the march out of support for the ideals behind it, and because he has witnessed the decline of the California educational system since his days as an undergrad at San Diego State.
"[I'm here because] I believe education is vital to the future of the human race," Richmond said. "When I was a CSU student in the '60s, California was in the top 10 for per-capita education spending. Now we're 46th. I want the next generations to have the same opportunity I did."
Students at the rally not only voiced their opposition to the governor's proposed budget plan, which includes a 10-percent across-the-board cut to public education, but also to the steadily climbing costs of tuition and other student fees. Speakers from schools across the state addressed the lively crowd with their own stories of struggle against the increasing cost of attendance.
"Our state needs to invest in the future," said Constance Mitchell, an HSU student who argued that the CSU system alone produces 64 percent of the state workforce and 89 percent of its teachers. "We need to look for new revenue sources." Mitchell and fellow HSU organizer Rachel Rodriguez met with representatives including Assemblywoman Patty Berg and Senator Pat Wiggins inside the capitol building to discuss their concerns with budget and financial aid legislation.
"Our local representatives took us very well," Rodriguez said. "We told them we wanted them to be more aggressive and vocal about their support of higher education. Sometimes just casting their votes isn't enough, they need to talk to their fellow representatives to build support for their positions."
Rodriguez said that the next step for local activists is among the student community. "We're encouraging HSU students to call their representatives," she said. "Students are voting in higher numbers than before and they need to know that."
Despite the majority showing of college students on Monday, primary education stands to lose the most funding under Schwarzenegger's plan. K-12 schools would lose over 4 billion dollars in funding, as opposed to the combined $1.1 billion cut from public colleges and universities.
Whether the passionate display will have any effect on the budget remains to be seen. Governor Schwarzenegger is expected to submit his budget proposal to the state legislature for debate in three weeks. If California lawmakers heed Monday's repeated warning chant of "Kick us out, we'll vote you out!," it could take a great deal of time to come to a decision.