Voices of Youth in Protest
One sign read "Our education is wasting away and you're not helping" The one hundred or so youth of the Student Activist Alliance for Social Justice met on the steps of the Capitol Building in Salem hoping to make a strong statement about proposed budget cuts for schools. The group members come from five high schools in the Portland area including Lincoln, Wilson, Cleveland and The Metropolitian Learning Center (MLC).
As it stands millions of dollars will be cut from school budgets and schools in Oregon will have to cut a minimum of 15 school days off the school year. If Measure 28 does not pass, there could be another 9 to 10 days trimmed from the school year. That 25 days could mean that some young people will not be able to graduate in good standing. This could keep them out of colleges.
Programs that teach team playing such as sports and outdoor school have already been cut. The only alternative to a higher education would be to go to a community college to complete their high school education or they could join the miltary.
The youth rallied in front of the Capitol building. One young man climbed a stature and draped a banner for a short time. A state police officer asked him to take it down.
There were musicians and speakers for a time and then the group moved into the Capitol Rotunda. The sound affects were awesome! The youth brougt in some plastic barrels and proceeded to use them as drums. The group locked arms around the state symbol (that is firmly embedded in the floor of the Rotunda).
They then began to chant" Please don't take my school house away, I want to be a educated proletariate". The sound reverbirated into the Capitol building. A few legislators and legislative aides came out to see what was happening.
A group of the students tried to make the rounds of legislators offices and speak to them. They spoke to the Governor for a short time. Many legislators were at lunch or were not available to the students. The chants grew louder in the Rotunda.
I talked to several students and a few teachers today. Here is what they had to say.
WW: Say, I was wondering...what is this all about today?
Elliot: A group of students organized this event. We were all here last week too for a bigger rally but we decided to come back on our own and let these guys know that we don't appreciate what they have decided for Oregon's schools. I am part of the Student Activisit Alliance for Social Justice. We are concerned about a lot of issues including Bush making war on the world.
We came here today to let these elected officials know that it is not O.K. to further destroy Oregon's schools. No matter what the outcome of measure 28, the schools are in trouble. Some kids might think that Measure 28 will solve all the problems of our schools. We know that even if Measure 28 passes many programs will be cut and we will lose days in school per year. Some programs such as the International Baccalaureate program will probably not be allowed to go on. This endangers kids who are in the program because they will not be able to get enough credits to graduate from high school.
Many programs that are really popular with kids like sports and outdoor school are going to be cut...some already have been cut. Outdoor school is really important to us. We get to be out of the city and experience nature. We live in this place with forests, and mountains all around us but many of us never get to go there and learn about it first hand without going to Outdoor school.
Measure 28 will not change these cuts. The Governor and legislators have already made these cuts. We are hear to let them know that this is wrong. We are kids organizing kids to ...most adults just don't care anymore.
WW: I was just wondering why you came today.
Madeline from Wilson High: I am very concerned about the cuts to school days. It will go on our transcripts that we did not complete all the days we need for attendance. We may have to come back an extra part of a school year. We don't know who it will all work out. It's really scary.
I talked to one teacher.
WW: So are you here to support these youth.
Joe the teacher: Yes I am. This is just all so awful. I just can't understand how the legislature could let this happen. I have been a teacher for 31 years. My father was the first African American teacher in the Portland School district. Education of youth of all levels of society is very important to me. I am a teacher in a school for developmentally disable kids now. I have taken a pay cut and I am not only teaching I am the janitor for the school so we can keep teaching the kids. These kids here today think that it's pretty much a done deal...this destruction of the educational system in Oregon. I am here today to tell them they have to speak up and fight for this. They need to know that somethings take a lot of fighting for. I am real proud of them.
WW: Hey, can I talk to you about why you are here today?
WW: So what do you think?
JT: It's about the war. They need lots of soldiers so they are gonna cut the schools back so the only way we can get an education is to join the military. The recruiters are already pounding on the doors telling kids that "isn't it too bad that your school got cut back, but hey...join the military and we will help you complete your education and get some job training." I say it sucks! I say Fuck you George Bush. We don't want your dirty war. Go send your own kids to war if you want to send kids to war.
WW: So how is GW's war causing the schools to go down?
JT: Hey man, he was the one who decided to take our taxes away from schools and people and build up this military. He's taking the money we could use on schools and building tanks and shit like that. Hey, I'm not going. I'll just go and live in the forest before I'd go fight his bullshit war.
We are here today because most adults and voters, they just don't care about us. So we will tell them what we think. And we plan to come back next week for the sleep-in.
WW: What sleep in?
JT: Well all the people who are going to lose something by these cuts..people who are poor and people who are old and students will be here the day after the vote comes in and we will be getting together and taking over this place with a sit in and sleep-in. We will stay until the Governor and the legislators figure out how to fix this shit.
WW: So you will be coming back on January 29th?
I talked to one legislative aide who was watching the event.
WW: Do you work here?
Aide: Yes, I am a legislative aide.
WW: Which legislator do you work for?
Aide: Representative Greg Smith. (Republican from Heppner).
WW: So what does Representative Smith think about the school cuts.
Aide: He does not have any knowledge of all this. He is in his district right now. I don't know what he thinks
WW: You don't know what he thinks even though you work for him and this was the hot issue before the legislative break in December? And "all this" do you mean the kids being here or the school cuts.
Aide: He dosen't have anything to say about the school cuts. I don't have to talk to you.
The group of youth in the Rotunda are becoming louder. Another State Police person appears. Lt. Officer Gower. He demands that the youth stop playing the drums. The kids remind the officer of their Freedom of Speech rights. The officer tells the kids to remove the drum or be removed themselves. The kids put the drums outside. The kids start chanting again. The State Policeman asks the kids to remove their banner from the Rotunda floor. The kids comply. The kids begin to chant again. A young woman leads them in a rousing "Hey Hey, Ho Ho, these budget cuts have got to go". She uses a bullhorn. The State Police officer appears and asks her to stop using the bullhorn. She drops the bullhorn.
The kids go on chanting and singing. They are loud and they clap their hands and stomp their feet to the beat of the chant. The Rotunda vibrates and echos. It is very powerful.
A few more legislative staff people come to watch.
WW: So how is it?
Someones mother: It's good.
WW: So why are you here today?
Someones mother: Oh, I've been here before. In fact I only come to Salem to rally for the schools. The legislature historically is not concerned with the future. Today is the day and they are not very thoughtful about tommorrow. They are not good at managing money or working together. They love to fight amongst each other. They seem to have little concern for the people of this state or the future of the people of the state. They seem only concerned with getting re-elected.
These budget cuts are just terrible. I hear the kids concerns and I want to help them to help themselves. I am here today to be with the kids.
On Wednesday, January 29th at noon people from all over Oregon will descend on the Capitol for a peaceful demonstration sit-in/sleep-in. They will protest budget cuts that are costing the lives of Oregonians due to lack of healthcare and services. They will protest the cut to schools and the forced movement into the military.
They will present thier contract with Oregon
- Preserve our right to life and choice
- Provide security and opportunity
- Prevent budgetary terrorism
- Support Oregon's services alliances
Organizers state they will not go home until the state budget for education and social services is restored!