Getting on the bus at UC Berkeley on March 5, Desiree Angelo acknowledged how hard it has been to get to her senior year there. “I was a transfer student, a high school dropout, and a low-income student too,” she recalled.

“Because I dropped out, I don’t quality for a lot of financial aid. To afford the fees, which have gone from $5100 to $7100 a semester while I’ve been here, I’ve had to work in the dining hall. The discussion sessions for my classes have been cut, and with 500 students in a class, we really need them. So I’m paying more, getting less, and working like crazy just to stay here.”

When Angelo got off her bus in Sacramento later that morning, she found herself in a crowd of over 10,000 people. Prominent in Southside Park was a large contingent of faculty and students from all the campuses of San Francisco City College.

Teresa Pon, who’s taught ESL at the downtown campus since 1977, described the cutbacks resulting from the state’s budget crisis. “We can’t get paper or toner for the copy machine,” she said. “When custodians call in for more toilet paper, the business office tells them they’ll send it when they get it in. Our students are fearful of the increase in fees, and don’t see an end in sight. Are we in America anymore?”

City College administrators and classifieds are already taking 15 furlough days, and the administration has made a proposal to the faculty union, AFT Local 2121, for a salary cut.

Other faculty had their own horror stories. Classes were canceled four weeks into the semester, leaving students who’d bought books out on a limb. There are no longer any substutes, so if a teacher gets sick, the class is canceled. “I’m two years into a four-year tenure review,” said Eileen Adamian, “and now there’s no more money to pay for my evaluation.”

Pon said the union had mobilized members to go to Sacramento, as it has many times in the past. “It’s very on top of things,” she explained. “We get better and quicker information about the crisis from the union than we do from the district.”

Christine Alvarado, president of the Associated Students at Consumnes River College, worked with the faculty union there, the Los Rios College Federation of Teachers, to get students to the march. “The union paid for our busses, provided lunches and gave out tee-shirts,” she said. Her fellow student, Sucoyia Granderson, added that because fees last semester were over $400 she’s working two jobs to stay in school.

Students, teachers, and administrators from higher education institutions throughout the state then marched down to the state Capitol building, where a rally made visible the opposition to education cuts and fee increases.

Nora Ramos, a mother of six from the San Joaquin Valley, feels the devastating cuts to elementary schools. “They’re laying off Ms. Pedraza, who was my son’s first grade teacher,” she explained. “We’re here to save her job.” Her 9-year-old daughter Alondra added, “They’re taking our teachers away. Who will teach us now?”

Listening to elected officials addressing the rally, Sonja Franeta, an ESL teacher at Laney College in Oakland, concluded, “these budget cuts are unjust and undemocratic. How can we spend so much on the military, and starve the schools?”

“Even before the cuts, California was third from the bottom nationally in the amount we spend on students,” said her friend Christine Will, who teaches math at Laney. “We have the money in our society, but we have to prioritize. That’s why we need to tax the rich.”

— By David Bacon, CFT Reporter