(FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE TRACKS)
Once again, community colleges and universities across California are facing drastic cut backs due to the state’s budgetary crisis. On March 14, students from a community college in Fullerton made their voices heard by staging a walk-out and protest.
Making their way through the busy restaurant and bar district of downtown Fullerton, roughly 200 demonstrators, consisting of Fullerton College students and their supporters, marched to defend funding for higher education.
Demonstrators carried a wooden casket on the protest route to symbolize the death of education. Their destination was the office of Chris Norby (R-Fullerton), the vice-chairman on the state Assembly’s education committee and a former alumni of Fullerton College.
Protesters demanded that Norby back Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed special election, which would allow Californians to vote on tax extensions that would prevent additional cuts to social programs.
According to the Mercury News, Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing a special election in June to ask voters for a five-year renewal of temporary tax increases enacted two years ago. The Democratic governor wants to solve the nearly $27 billion deficit by balancing the tax extensions with about $14 billion in spending cuts and fund transfers, some of which he signed into law last week.
If legislators agree on the special June election and voters approve the tax package, Brown said he would spare some cuts to education, according to The Orange County Register. As it is, the governor’s proposed budget includes $400 million in budget cuts to community colleges.
Protesters tried to take the symbolic coffin up to Norby’s office located in the Fullerton Towers building, but were advised by police they were on private property and would need to stay on public sidewalks to continue their protest.
Norby’s representatives Bruce Whitaker and Craig Green spoke to the protesters and read a prepared statement by the Assemblyman. Norby had a scheduling conflict in which he could not appear, according to his representatives.
“Any budget plan before the Legislature, or placed on the ballot, must balance our highest ideal with our sobering economic realities,” Norby’s statement read. “I welcome your involvement and that of all my constituents.”
Fullerton College student Christopher Sanchez, 25, led the protest. He asked the representatives if Norby will vote for the special election.
Green told the crowd they do not know how he will vote and Norby was looking forward to the input of students on the matter. He encouraged the protesters to write Norby, stating that it gives the assemblyman more leverage the more documents he has to present on the Assembly floor.
Bruce Whitaker said every aspect of the state budget will be affected.
“As you know in Sacramento, it is very partisan. It’s a team sport,” Whitaker told the crowd. “[Norby] has pressure on both sides. He wants to make the best decision he can.”
After the meeting with Norby’s representatives, students continued their protest as they walked back to the college.
“I was very excited, moved, and passionate about what was going on,” Sanchez said after the protest. “Our action showed the students actually care despite what most statistics show about youth being politically involved in society.”
He said for Norby to send his staff out to speak with the protesters was a positive step. He hopes that the showing of support from his representatives and the community sends a message to Sacramento about community college education in California.
“It is very crucial that students from the community colleges be involved in this process,” he said. “We will be hurt by cuts a second time when attending a CSU or UC.”
Joseph McIntosh is a first year nursing major at Fullerton College. He is a trustee on the Associated Student body and participated in the protest.
“We know cuts are going to happen,” he said. “We are focusing on education because we are students and it is important to us. But if the issue of tax extension does not get voted on by the people, these cuts could potentially double all across the board.”
He said the cuts could worsen the economic situation overtime, as universities will be turning down qualified transfer students and not be able to contribute to society adequately.
“We are not asking to raise taxes,” he said. “We are asking them to extend the taxes that have already been put into place to prevent additional cuts to education.”
Watch video below to see more of the protests and the meeting with Norby’s representatives.