Protests demand more money for education

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Images from yesterday's protests by Charles Russo

Yesterday’s Day of Action to protest deep cuts in public education and other vital services was far larger – and occasionally more militant – than many had expected, sending a strong message to Sacramento that it’s time to pursue new revenue options instead of simply cutting the public sector to the bone.

More than 150 people were arrested (including Guardian intern Jobert Poblete, who is still among at least 80 awaiting booking this morning at the overwhelmed Santa Rita Jail in Dublin) for allegedly climbing onto the freeway at Interstate 880 in Oakland and blocking traffic around 5 p.m., the most confrontational event in an otherwise peaceful yet forceful day of protest.

The biggest Bay Area event was outside San Francisco City Hall, were more than a dozen smaller events and marches converged at 5 p.m. Civic Center Plaza was filled with thousands of people of all ages, backgrounds, and ethnicities, from sign-wielding kindergarteners to United Educators of San Francisco President Dennis Kelly, who served as MC of a program that explicitly excluded elected officials.

“We’re here today because never again should any of us feel helpless,” Kelly boomed, declaring, “The budgets of California will not be built on the backs of our future.”

It was indeed an inspiring, passionate presentation to the largest crowd that has filled the plaza since the start of the Iraq War in 2003. Some speakers even drew on that connection in scoffing at statements by elected officials that the budget cuts – which have results in hundreds of teacher layoffs and steep tuition hikes -- are unavoidable.

“When the government wants to wage war, the money is there. When the government wants trillions of dollars to bail out the banks, the money is there,” Chabot College teacher Kip Waldo said.

Susan Solomon, a San Francisco kindergarten teacher, said the budget decisions being made today are incredibly myopic and unjust. “We are here today to address a crime, the crime of stealing education from our kids,” she said, going on to attack the belittling mantra that educators need to simply live within the budgets they’re given. “We are sick and tired of doing more with less. Let’s try something new. Let’s try doing more with more.”

Then she spelled out what she – and the majority of people who were out there, people who don’t usually take to the streets in protest – are advocating: “We want progressive taxation. The people and the corporation who have all the money should pay their fair share.”

Whether this nascent movement can help bring that about is yet to be determined, but its leaders sounded confident yesterday. As California Faculty Association President Lil Taiz said, “We have here the seeds of a movement that can lead this state to the kind of future we believe in.”