Berkeley protesters rally against budget cuts

Story by Al Scott

Rain and wind could not keep more than 150 students, parents and teachers from protesting Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed $1.4 billion budget cuts to California’s public higher education system at UC Berkeley Wednesday afternoon.

“Gov. Jerry Brown’s plans to cut $1.4 billion from public higher education is totally unacceptable,” Adarene Hoag, a 28-year-old UC Berkeley alum said. “ We have to start this movement now of students demanding a right to public education.”

Jerry Brown wants his budget passed by March 10. The students’ goal, according to Hoag, is to get the state legislature to intervene and stop the cuts from occurring. She claims that decreasing public education will have a negative trickle down effect to several middle and lower class income because they simply won’t be able to afford to send they’re loved ones to college.

Demonstrators representing Oakland High School, MLK Middle School, UC Berkeley, and Skyline High School spoke on the affects of the massive budget cuts in each of their lives. At UC Berkeley, five athletic programs including men’s baseball have been axed due to budget cutbacks in the last year. Also, if the budget cuts do pass, it will result in the elimination of art and music, along with several sports and after school programs at MLK Middle School and Skyline High.

Oakland High School and Skyline High School students at the rally made signs and posters protesting the budget cuts and lined themselves along the steps of Sproul Hall in one of the main quad areas of the UC Berkeley campus while the speeches commenced. One student held a satirical sign that read “I NEED EJUCACION.”

Yvette Felarka was one of the many representatives of By Any Means Necessary, a student-teacher organization that started in 1995 with a goal of restoring affirmative action in schools and reforming public education. Felarka organized the noon rally and introduced each speaker, consisting mostly of high school students.

“Public education is a right not a privilege,” said Felarka, a MLK Middle School teacher. “We have got to take mass militant direction action to fight for our rights, because any right we have is a right that we’ve fought for and won.”

Many of the high school students didn’t have permission to leave their campus to attend the rally Wednesday.

They left anyway.

These students fear that their high school classes will be cut entirely and they won’t be able to get the best education possible due to lack of funding. Tiffany Kuntze and Irene Gomez, two 14-year-old freshmen students at Skyline High School, were responsible for organizing the walkout of 200 students Wednesday.

“We want to keep the classes that we have right now,” Gomez said. “We love the classes that we have and don’t want them to go to waste.”

UC Berkeley has an average annual tuition cost of $22,878 according to the school’s website. Many students rely on grants, loans, and other forms of financial aid.  Brown’s budget slash poses a huge threat to financial aid, which consequently keeps several students from having to drop out.

“I rely on financial aid 100 percent,” Michal Karmi, a 25-year-old UC Berkeley junior said. “If they take that away, I’m out of here. I’m not going be in $100,000 worth of debt.”

Karmi and other students were disappointed that the demonstration wasn’t nearly on the scale level from a year ago, which involved building lock-ins and multiple arrests.

Brown plans on cutting $500 million from the UC and CSU system alone. If the Brown’s proposal passes, it will mark the first time that students will have to contribute to educational funding than the state of California itself.

As the speeches wound to a close, Ferlaka organized the crowd for a march. They went off through Sproul Plaza into Sather Gate pathway toward the library screaming: “Hey, hey, ho, ho, budget cuts have got to go!” repeatedly as four Berkeley police officers followed closely behind.

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Berkeley protesters rally against budget cuts