Rally Round Jah School

Photo by Nick SchouMike Merrifield, a ponytailed professor at Mission Viejo's Saddleback College, struggled to gain the attention of the 80 or so bored-looking students sprawled on the grass in front of him.

"The state is going to raise your tuition, and you are going to pay for the shortfall on this particular campus," he said. "The summer session has been cut, so if you need to transfer to another university and if you need one of those classes, you may not be able to get that credit. The district hired a vice chancellor at $135,000 per year to run a campus in Tustin, and here we are cutting services for students, cutting summer school and closing tutorial programs. How many of you want to pay more for parking?"

No answer.

Remarkably, few students bothered to attend the lunchtime rally last Wednesday to protest Governor Gray Davis' proposal to slash the budget for the state's community-college system—cuts that would shut out 206,000 low-income students.

According to the students who organized the rally, the low turnout was predictable: students who will be most hurt by those cuts don't have time for protests; they're busy working off-campus jobs to pay for school.

And while they've been working, Saddleback College trustees recently announced they'll cut classes up to 20 percent, cancel the first session of summer school and double fees. The board has also warned that it might slash several programs that benefit students on financial aid, as well as such services as the transfer center, which helps students determine eligibility to enter universities.

The only students who spoke at the rally were members of such groups as Class Action and the Chicano & Latin American Students Association. They took turns passing out fliers and gathering signatures for a petition demanding the trustees find ways to minimize the impact of the funding cuts.

But those students won't be hurt by the cuts—they're all about to graduate or transfer to bigger schools such as UC Irvine.

The highlight of the rally was a fiery speech by Chicano studies professor Ray Reyes, who shouted into the microphone in a hopeless effort to shock his audience into action. "When the first community college opened in Fresno in 1910, its purpose was to be for people seeking to expand their knowledge, education and skills but who didn't have the opportunity to go to a four-year college," he argued. "California came up with this mechanism so people would have access to education. An educated society is a necessity if you plan to have a functioning democracy!

"There are 20,000 people attending this institution," Reyes continued. "With these cuts, there will be more people crammed into each classroom and less working people able to afford an education."

When that failed to motivate his audience, Reyes brought up the looming U.S. war in Iraq, warning students that the governor's proposed budget cuts will make education the province of an increasingly elite class of people whose decisions would send working people to die in battle.

"Who will be deciding who gets killed in the war in Iraq?" Reyes asked. "What will be their class background?"

His listless audience didn't seem to care, and the rally, scheduled to run two hours, petered out after just 45 minutes—good news for Rascalin and the Roots Rockers. The Roots Rockers were nowhere to be seen, but Rascalin—backed by a drum machine and playing an electric guitar—filled out the remainder of the time, crooning "Legalize It," the marijuana-legalization anthem by Peter Tosh.


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