Story and photos by Nima Maghame
San Francisco State University added pageantry to the Day of Action protest, one of the many schools from around the Bay Area from Kindergarten to Ph.D that united on the steps of San Francisco City Hall yesterday.
Students, faculty and staff painted their faces, wore colorful t-shirts and paraded 10-feet high puppets depicting a skull-faced grad, a crying queen and a fossilized dinosaur; each representing greedy politics and the killing of education.
SF State students started the day with blocking traffic on Holloway and 19th streets, an echo of the 1968 student strike when SF State students did the same thing to protest civil rights. Police were ordered to clear the protesters out of the streets, but students continued on the sidewalk before merging with several other organized demonstrations in Malcolm X plaza.
Hundreds of students filled the open-air plaza to dance to music, hear spoken word poetry and chant. By 3:30 p.m. the festivities moved to City Hall where university students marched along side elementary, middle and high school students. “We're in solidarity with everyone in this protest. Not centralized but many coming together to send one message. We have elementary students protesting, for the first time ever all facets of education are joining up. It's beautiful and it's healthy,” Phil Lassky, an Ethnic Studies teacher.
Empowerment was the feeling in the air. Many who participated had stories about how budget cuts have kept them from graduating, sitting on the floor in classrooms and not receiving their financial aid checks. “They have forgotten about us. Here we are paying for the bank's debt and we get our budgets cut? Time for this to stop,” said Andrea Thomas a senior at SF State. Some teachers were uncertain if they'll have work in the fall, and some were certain they would have no classes to teach.
Not all on the Gator campus were eager to spray paint a sign. Some students said they thought the Day of Action was futile and contradictory. “Ditching class is a hypocritical message that goes against what we are all trying to do,” said Travis Northup, SF State sophomore. “Instead of posters with vague statements we should be trying to find solutions that are reasonable.”
But most of the campus community seemed down with the cause. Ramon Castellblanch, health professor and California Faculty Association president for the university, was one of the leading protest organizers for SF State. Planning had begun back in January and he was astounded by the number of students willing to volunteer. Speaking on those who have chosen not to join in, Castellblanch remarked, “They need to decide the best way to spend their time, usually it’s being in the classroom, other times it's not. If something doesn't happen, there may not be any classes left to be in.”