March in March: Somos el Futuro

Somos el Futuro: Voices from the March in March in Sacramento

by Katharine Harer, AFT 1493 Co Vice President, Skyline College, English

Skyline students and faculty showed up in force for the March in March on Monday the 22nd.   The Skyline Against Cuts group brought their huge homemade banner, carried proudly in the March 4th protest in San Francisco.  Combinations of Skyline students and faculty took turns carrying the colorful banner on the short march and into the rally grounds surrounding the Capital.  The spirit we’ve built working together to organize the February teach-in and the March 4 walkout and campus protest grew even stronger as we joined thousands of others from all over California.

I was curious about where we had all come from, so I started talking to students as they milled around us.  The first cluster of students I approached came from the College of the Desert in Palm Desert, close to Palm Springs. They brought over 40 students and a few advisors on the eight-hour pilgrimage, sleeping overnight on the seats of the bus.  They said more than 100 sections were cut this spring and that winter and summer sessions have been cancelled.  Benjamin Pineda, 18, told me:  “I can’t afford any more cuts.  I won’t be able to go to school.”

The next group of students I approached was from Humboldt State, almost as far from Palm Desert as you can get.  They’d brought ten students and a mom.  Their classes are packed and every teacher is forced to take nine furlough days per semester.  “It’s really hurting our classes,” said Holly Johnstone, an Environmental Science major. I spoke briefly to students from CSU Bakersfield who said they’d brought 45 students to Sacramento. The community college in Fresno brought 150.

A group wearing t-shirts from Mendocino told me that they’d brought 100 students and faculty from their north coast community college.  One student, enrolled in the Automotive Program, said that her classes don’t have enough supplies.  Tools are broken, and there’s no money to replace them.  She told me: “We’re asked to bring our own supplies to class, but where’s the money for that?  I’ve already spent over $600 on basic tools.”

Students in tan uniforms from the California Maritime Academy, the CSU in Vallejo, said that lots of sections have been cut.  Two-thirds of their grade is based on attending labs – which in their case means being out on the water.  However, so many labs have been cut that, in one young woman’s words:  “We have less time behind the wheel of a boat.”  Many students talked about the high price of textbooks combined with increased fees and the difficulty of attending class when they are forced to work longer hours to pay for their educations.  Others talked about how the cuts in sections would delay their graduations, taking three years instead of two.

It struck me how assertive and savvy these students are.  Every person I spoke to was clear about why they were there and what the funding cuts mean to their college – and their futures.  As one sign read in Spanish:  Somos El Futuro – We Are The Future.  A popular chant that day was:  If you throw us out, we’ll vote you out.  These students know that education is their right, and they are determined to fight for it.