By Brady Welch
The scene was relatively quiet around 1:45 p.m. on March 4—just another sunny afternoon in the Mission District. Fifteen minutes later, things got much louder. Hundreds of Mission High students, accompanied by faculty and staff, poured out upon Dolores Street near the intersection of 18th, banging drums, blowing whistles, chanting, and holding handmade signs reading “Stop Crippling Public Education,” and “DREAM: Act Now.” Cars halted at the intersection honked in support, and the marching students, invariably stoked to have left school almost an hour early, grew louder in response.
It was one of the first actions in the Mission in conjunction with dozens of others across the state in protest against massive budget cuts in public education. The Mission High marchers continued their march south along Valencia Street, eventually converging with numerous other school and civic groups at the 24th and Mission BART station. In preview of the boisterousness that was to follow, a group of students from Cupertino was chanting, “You say cut backs, we say fuck that!”
One of them, Lucas Ho, told me that with the massive budget cuts, “The chances for student success are being limited,” citing rollbacks in honor programs and not hiring tutors. Another student who only gave her name as Stacey, came with about 30 other students from Balboa High School. “Our education is important,” she said emphatically, before our conversation was cut short by more chanting and drumming.
Particularly heartening were the large number of enthusiastic elementary school students, who at many points during the day's rallies, seemed to be leading the charge. The San Francisco Community School, in particular, seemed to come armed with a number of assertive youngsters, one of whom on the verge of yelling themselves hoarse with crowd-hyping chants over a megaphone.
Fifth-grader Deontay Harper stood by holding a large banner. “We're protesting for justice and to save our teachers,” he told me with surprising erudition. Without proper funding, “it's gonna be harder for us to learn.” SF Community School 4th and 5th grade teacher Robin Yorkey concurred. The budget cuts “are going to ruin us,” she told me over the din. “They're going to make class size huge, and we're incredibly concerned.” In the background, the aforementioned pint-sized Eugene Debs on the megaphone engaged in the classic call-and-response, “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”
Across the street, 11th grader Moneace Smith came with fellow students and teachers from June Jordan School for Equity. “It is our future money—we need that,” she told me, showing a level of recognition of the cuts' long-term impact. “We want our education. We want to go to college.”