For Federico Villalobos, the factors that led to his participating in the Day of Action could no longer be ignored.
“Why am I walking out? You mean aside from struggling to get classes and financial aid, playing the lottery game and hearing that the classes in my department are getting bigger?” asked the 22-year-old art history major. “As a student who’s being affected by these budget cuts, I’m forced to settle for an education I shouldn’t be receiving.”
Villalobos, who will be walking out March 1 with Occupy SFSU, is critical of the low prioritization of education in California on the political agenda.
“It’s disturbing that the state feels it’s more important to militarize its borders than to fund education,” he said. “We have the largest economy in the country. We should have the best universities.”
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Walter Parenteau chose to walk out March 1 not only to express his personal frustration with unprecedented fee hikes; he is also weary for the fate of future generations if nothing changes.
“I’m doing it not so much because of my own hardship, but I fear that an expensive college will keep people out of it,” said the 30-year-old history major.
Parenteau, who admits having had to take out more student loans in order to fund his education, views participating in the Day of Action as an effective way to send a strong message to policymakers.
“As long as we keep paying more and more tuition each semester, it will give lawmakers justification to keep raising it,” he said.
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Joe Kloythanomsup started getting involved when he, like many students at SF State, could not get classes despite constant tuition increases. He is a sociology major and live blogger.
“In the beginning when I started coming here in 2007, I was struggling to find classes because, I believe that’s when the cuts started to begin and on top of that, as tuition rose every semester, it was getting harder for my parents,” he said. “Now I’m just involved in social activism, so that’s why I’m here participating in March 1.”
Kloythanomsup has been heavily involved in many San Francisco protests and is determined to spread the word, despite his parents’ disapproval.
“They are Republicans. They are immigrants and they don’t see too much what’s wrong with the CSU system, but that’s because they aren’t students. They aren’t involved whatsoever,” he said. “My parents don’t feel that protesting or that having any rallies about education or the government or economics is at any point important at all because they feel that the government, how it’s being run already, by Republicans or Democrats, is basically for their personal interests.”
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Kim Geron, California Faculty Association vice president and professor of political science at Cal State East Bay, is protesting because she believes the institution is being turned into a corporation by the elite.
“I support the March 1 Day of Action because quality public higher education is under attack by the 1 percent who want to privatize the public university into a for profit operation where there will soon no longer be professors teaching in the classroom, but ‘facilitators’ who use a standardized curriculum with limited value to students who need a diverse and rigorous liberal arts education to prepare them for multiple careers in the 21st century,” Geron said.
Geron is also walking out to support the students wishing to have their voices heard.
“Students are being short-changed; they are paying sky-high fees and can’t get the courses they need to graduate, so I support their efforts to take action to reclaim the CSU for the students it was designed to serve.”
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Rachel Stower, a third grade teacher at Burbank Elementary in Hayward, Calif., said the Day of Education should be an ongoing process, not just an event.
“Every day should be a day of action for education. I believe it is the most important job we have on this earth, to teach our future generations how to do better than we are doing now,” Stower said. “Change cannot come from learning to ace a test or sit quietly in our seats.”
Stower said she, as an educator, must guide her students to be active citizens.
“We must show them that change comes from questioning, working collectively and having an open mind and heart,” Stower said. “Those are the things I teach my students because I believe that this is what they need to be successful in this world, teaching kids how to be good citizens and to use their skills to help themselves while helping their community. Language arts, math and all those other academic subjects can be learned only after we educate the youth about humanity and love, and when that love presents itself that is where true education comes from.”
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Lauren Stower, a high school teacher in Hayward, Calif., is protesting in support of critiquing the current state of education.
“I support the March 1 Day of Action for Education, and any public action that critically analyzes, publicly discusses and radically re-imagines our social system, especially our failed system of education,” Stower said. “Education is a vital aspect of any true democracy, which makes it our duty to constantly evaluate and change to suit the need of our ever-changing society and its young people.”
Stower also believes that there is a devaluing of education that must be brought to the attention of the public.
“We must evolve from this culture that devalues the vital process of learning, thinking and producing of our own authentic knowledge, a way of knowing that grows organically from our own lived experience and understanding of our world,” Stower said. “This systematically oppressive push away from critical thinking and liberatory education and hyper-fixation on testing and API scores for funding to survive threatens our ability to question authority, think for ourselves and offer younger generations a voice in a national conversation that must include them.”
Stower said that this Day of Action is a call to return to the mission of the education system.
“We need a revolution in education and it starts with actions like this, where youth, educators and the community join to demand what is their human right: access to a quality education!”
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Sheila Tully, anthropology lecturer and vice president of SF State’s California Faculty Association chapter, is urging mutual awareness and action from students and faculty.
“The state of California is in crisis and this has serious implications for the future of our state,” Tully said “As faculty, we need to stand up for our students and for ourselves because we are educators and this is our responsibility.”
Tully said that she has benefited from California’s education system and it used to be treated as a destination.
“I’m the product of California higher education. I’m the first girl in my family to go to college and to have a Ph.D. and that wouldn’t have been possible if I wasn’t able to take advantage of the affordable quality education this state provided,” Tully said. “The state invested in me and my dreams and I don’t see why the people of California are not invested in your dreams as well. It seems incredibly selfish and extremely short sighted.”
But Tully highlighted that this trend has been in decline because of a discrediting of teachers.
“I’ve been here since 1996, on and off, and I have watched my ability to provide quality education in the classroom diminish because my ability is really being stretched; my classes are larger than they are in the past, students are not being supported and working too much,” Tully said. “Our working conditions are student’s learning conditions. I’m an educator. I know what works in the classroom and what doesn’t; the state needs to shift its priorities. There’s been a whole drum beat against teachers and it shouldn’t be so. If you can read, thank a teacher. If you can think, thank a teacher.”
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Sadaf Malik of Students for Quality Education will participate in the Day of Action protest not only because she is a student activist, but because she is being pushed to her limits.
“I pay for tuition out of my pocket and I work three jobs (35-40 hours a week) just to pay for school,” Malik said. “Silence is just acceptance.”
Malik states that in order to achieve change, education must be made a priority.
“If we can’t fix our own problems at the state system, how are we supposed to fix global problems?” Malik said. “Education is the basis for a lot of power in this country.”
But with the current budget cut and rising tuition, Malik is forced to take drastic measures to finish her degree.
“I’m taking 22 units right now just because I want to graduate.”
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Siraj Shabber of Students for Quality Education prepared signs for the March 1 Day of Action protest against budget cuts because he remembers the fees getting higher and higher.
“The first semester I got here, my tuition was $2,612. The next semester it went up by $400, and the next semester after that it went up another $300. So now I’m paying $3,298,” Shabber said.
Shabber highlights that SQE, the student branch of the California Faculty Association, is different in its methods when trying to achieve change in the higher education system.
“This is our University and we’re going to be very peaceful, very non-violent: no tagging, no vandalism of any kind,” Shabber said. “We’re not going to have any hate speech against any entity, including police or any organization.”
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Jocelyn Palenco is an SF State sophomore who has difficulty declaring her major of choice because of the restrictions departments have to implement due to a lack of funding and professors.
“I’m trying to be a child development major, and I can’t declare it because there’s a two year process,” Palenco said.
Palenco stated that education is a method of escaping social disadvantages and is walking out March 1 to advocate for affordable higher education.
“I personally come from a disadvantaged community, and I see what kind of effect higher education can have on communities like that,” Palenco said. “I think it’s very important to fight for the future children and people who come after me.”
But Palenco does add that although it is difficult to attend college, getting to the finish line is even harder due to cutbacks.
“It was enough of a struggle for me to get to college, and now that I’m here, it’s a struggle to get out of there.”
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Ann Robertson, a lecturer in the SF State philosophy department, supports the March 1 Day of Action because it focuses the public’s attention on the troublesome state of higher education.
“I am supporting the March 1 Day of Action in order to bring to the attention of the public and politicians the plight of students and faculty in the CSU,” Robertson said. “Tuition has risen almost 300 percent since 2000, forcing students to go deeper into debt and placing them under additional stress.”
Robertson also noted that this struggle is a double edged sword, affecting not only students, but faculty as well.
“Meanwhile, because of the draconian budget cuts, we faculty are being burdened with much larger class sizes, which both increase our stress with a work overload and undermine the quality of education we are able to deliver.”
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James Quesada, an SF State assistant professor in anthropology, commends students-led organizations that are trying to have their voices heard by those in power.
“I commend our students and only hope their actions will help trigger greater actions and awareness on the part of many social and political actors who really want a better society, and that we demand our public governing officials to invest in proven public goods like community colleges, CSU and UC as engines of a better life and society, and not gamble with the destinies of so many,” Quesda said.
Quesada added that this Day of Action may be discounted as another mass protest, but this movement is different because it highlights the universal plights of students.
“Mass demonstrations, like the Occupy movement, are discounted or typified as malcontents, anarchists, free loaders, etc., but the fact is governments are only as legitimate as the peoples’ will,” Quesada said. “And while pundits and talking heads like to marginalize or depreciate popular expressions of wide discontent as fringe politics, that is where student-led movements can be the ignition to broader base expressions of discontent that cannot be ignored.”
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Evelyn Mendoza is a 21-year-old Bay Area native and junior at SF State who feels quantity is outweighing quality in the entire education system.
“I am participating in the March 1 walkout because I feel like it’s time to say enough is enough. We need to stop the accelerating tuition rates and diminishing education that we’re being offered and the lack of job security,” Mendoza said. “We pay more for less. Where quantity seems to beat quality, and it seems to never end. Being stuck in school with 20 science units and a part-time job to keep up with the rising rates, I have no time to occupy or chase down the rich corporations, so joining this march with the rest of my fellow classmates I can be one more and raise the awareness that we had enough and change must be done since we do have the resources for high-quality education, job security and reverse the budget cuts.”
Juggling work and school, Mendoza hopes this is the year that makes a difference. She hopes to continue her education stress-free and remembers the advice her mom told her.
“I just want a better situation for all and that all our work finally pays off,” Mendoza said. “We should be worrying about our classes and staying on track to graduate, not put on a heavier stress load and take on more work shifts to cover those extra, never-ending increasing fees. Like my mom always told me, ‘El que no habla nadie lo escucha’ – One who doesn’t speak for one’s self will never be heard.”
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Salma Elshakre is a 22-year-old political science major. She is a senior and has been frustrated with her education.
“I am participating in the March 1 walk out because I think it is time that the students be heard. And everyone should come out because the continuous increase in tuition, semester after semester,” Elshakre said. “I started here with $2,800 and now it’s over $3,000 [for tuition] per semester. I think people aren’t able to continue their education with this continuous hike of tuition prices, and I think it is also important that we stand up and say that enough is enough and that the perspective of the student be heard.”
Elshakre and her family feel that education should be a free tool offered by the government. They see the protests that happened in the Middle East and they support their daughter.
“Education should be a right; actually, education should be free because it is my right to be educated. If I am here seeking knowledge, it should be provided for me and money should not be an issue,” she said.
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Zachariah Barghouti is a 26-year-old international relations student, and is excited to march to Sacramento.
“I am a Palestinian as well and my tax dollars are being used not for my education, but a lot of it is being funneled to the state of Israel and military aid and as we learned today at the event, Israel is number two in military aid, U.S. military aid; California actually pays $3 billion between 2009 and 2018. California is slated to pay $3 billion in taxes from California tax payers and from students like me to oppress Palestinians back home, where I’m from, instead of supporting my education here,” he said.
Barghouti hopes people in Sacramento choose to make education a priority and join the march.
“We are demolishing schools around the world and helping do that, and are complicit in helping other countries in war crimes against humanity instead of educating our own folks here at home, and so it doesn’t make any sense. It’s time for us to take a stand together as a community. No more injustices, no more oppression and back to education, which is square one. This is something that is affecting everyone, and I feel like its very important for students all around the country to understand where their tax dollars are going.”
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Although he had already obtained a degree in theatre and film and media studies from Northwestern University, Stephen Georgiou became involved with the Occupy movement, and ultimately the March 1 Day of Action, after enrolling at the City College of San Francisco.
“October 25 we were protesting against massive police brutality in Oakland,” said Georgiou, 25. “The next week I quit my job (as a cashier at Bi-Rite Market) to devote myself to organizing.”
Georgiou also dropped out of the philosophy and creative writing classes he had been taking this semester in order to free up his schedule. He believes that community colleges will be just as affected by tuition hikes and budget cuts as California State Universities and Universities of California are.
“Community college is supposed to be a place that everybody can come to,” he said. “There is so much diversity here, but a lot of those people will be largely shut out.”
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Alejandro Murguia, a professor of Latina/o studies, will be speaking at the rally on Malcolm X PlazaMarch 1 and he is actively participating because of his concerns with the state of education.“I’m concerned, I would say, on a variety of levels. On one hand the education system implodes and collapses, and that affects all of us,” Murguia said. “But I feel even more concerned about my students, about their families, about the incredible sacrifice that they go through right now, and about their future in this society right now.”Murguia admits that there are a variety of issues being addressed on the Day Of Action but that the day provides a outlet for these voices to join forces.“I know that there are a lot of issues but in a round-about way, they all impact education,” Murguia said. “Although it seems that the issues are varied and scattered, they all come down to the question of priorities and what they are going to fund. It’s going to take our families, it’s going to take our communities, our students, the faculty, everyone, at once, in one giant voice, saying, ‘You know what? Enough of this! Let’s do right for this future generation.”
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