Angelica Estacio / Ashley Freitas
Students united, never be divided. They say cutback, we say fight back. No cuts, no fees, education should be free.
The chants are strong, but the power seemed lacking. Five years since it started, the spirit of the “March in March” tradition appeared to have dwindled down. From thousands to a few hundred, can attendance truly reflect how California community college students feel about the importance of fighting for education?
In 2009, an estimated 5 thousand people gathered in Sacramento, Calif. for the first ever “student-run, student-organized march and rally” to support California Community Colleges (CCC). With signs and megaphones in hand, activists all over the state marched from Raley Park to the State Capitol Building, calling out the government to wake up and pay attention to financial issues of higher education.
In 2012, the number went up to 8 thousand. But last year, the turn out was merely over a thousand. This year, the numbers went down. Yet again.
Although a March 4 online article by CBS Sacramento claimed “thousands” have attended the March 3 event, the sight of gathered participants suggested otherwise. The crowd that stood in front of the Capitol building looked less than a thousand. Perhaps even just over 300 — the number of RSVP’s on the event’s official Facebook page.
To many spectators, this may be sufficient evidence to say California community college students are starting to care less. But to others there is more than what meets the eye.
As a matter of fact, Associated Students of Las Positas College (ASLPC) President Christopher Southorn believes that students are as passionate about fighting for the right to education as years before.
“I think this year’s lower attendance has to do with the fact that it’s a relatively good year in terms of higher education funding than in previous years,” Southorn, who marched alongside 23 LPC student government representatives last Monday, said.
In a March 2013 report, Public Policy Institute of California summed that the total budget cuts on CCC was $1.5 billion between the years of 2007-2008 and 2011-2012. This resulted in massive personnel layoff and eradication of programs offered in colleges all over the state.
However, during the 2012 national elections, Proposition 30 passed providing $210 million in additional funding for the academic year 2012–13.
According to the California Community College’s Chancellor’s Office, Proposition 98 is also looking to provide CCC $49.5 million in the academic year 2013-14 and $60 million in the academic year 2014-15.
As Southorn said, the budget for higher education may actually just be seeing a silver lining.
But does positive outlook mean there’s no longer any need for student solidarity?
“When budgets get slashed and things look grim, the passion of the people will be ignited and they will crowd the streets, but this year’s budget situation just didn’t seem to call for that,” Southorn said.
Perhaps in this year’s event, the old adage “quality over quantity” may also be considered.
Students from both Rio Hondo College and Cerritos College of Whittier and Cerritos respectively traveled approx. 400 miles just to have their voices heard.
“Part of my role as a student leader is to advocate for the needs of (my college’s) students, so I feel that going to ‘March in March’ is already a part of my role,” Associated Students of Rio Hondo College Vice President Christopher Santana said in an interview with Los Angeles Wave Newspaper.
“Everybody deserves an education. And it is our goal to make a point to make it affordable or more reduced,” Associated Students of Cerritos College President Juan Ramirez said in an interview with their student paper, The Talon Marks.
So why is it that despite the willingness of students to travel for hours to join in, attendance appeared thin in this year’s march? Southorn suggests that maybe involvement need not be physical.
“I don’t know if young people are growing less interested in politics so much as they’re finding alternative ways to get involved. Maybe social media will some day make it obsolete to protest in person,” he said. “The important thing is to find some way to stay informed and to get your message across to those who make decisions.”