San Diego City College Protest Against Budget Cuts, April 15, 2011

by on April 15, 2011 · 16 comments

in California, Economy, Education, San Diego

My faith in the ability of my generation and the one following mine to actually give a damn got a major boost today when I headed down to City College at the (for the under-30 and under-employed set) ungodly hour of 8:00 for the pre-rally to a protest of the educational budget cuts proposed by Governor Jerry Brown.

First off, I’ve got to say that in general, I admire Brown’s apparent willingness to compromise on shrinking the state budget gap with equal measures of cuts and taxes – not tax increases, mind you, any Democratic proposal like that would never fly with the state’s Republicans who represent large chunks of land but small portions of the population – these would just be continuations of tax hikes imposed under Republican leadership that are set to expire. I’m still concerned, though, about the general lack of respect for education the proposed budget seems to show. In addition to what we’ll cover here, there’s talk of shortening the school year in the primary grades (by as much as a month) and increasing class sizes (by as much as 35%), among other concerns that I know other Rag writers are exploring as I type. But on to the show…

The following events take place across campus from where Gov. Brown and Second Lady (is that the proper term?) Jill Biden were to attend a forum focused on improving graduation rates and expanding education opportunities for returning veterans. The topic of the summit seemed particularly relevant, given the contrasting proposals by Brown to slash education funding across the state.

As I approached Gorton Quad at about ten past eight, I encountered a throng of maybe fifty or sixty students, faculty, and community members already gathered and listening to speeches. The free-form demonstration was a refreshing exercise in democracy, as an open-mic format allowed anyone with the gall to speak their mind to line up and take command of the PA.

One of the first speeches I caught (I don’t know how many I missed, as the rally was going strong by the time I showed up just a few minutes late) was a spoken word piece powerfully delivered by a student whose name I didn’t catch – most of those who did identify themselves did so with first names only. The verse that resonated most to me went “Budget cuts feel less like a cut and more like a knife stabbing me in the stomach.”

To visualize the effect of the cuts, a couple girls wandered the crowd with stage blood and paintbrushes, offering to ‘cut’ anyone willing to creatively enhance their support for the cause. Before long I ended up with a dripping gash across my neck.

Hugh, a former student, took the mike and offered up a tale of his own struggles to cover enrollment fees, book costs, and $6/unit tuition as a community college student in the early ‘90s. Before I had a chance to compute that the cost had doubled to $12 by the time I started moonlighting after high school a few years later and actually enrolled full-time in 2000, he informed me (and reminded everyone else) that classes now cost $32/unit. And they’re headed toward $42 by the fall.

Doing some quick math in my head, I determined that a student who wants to graduate with a four-year degree on a four-year timeline (as if that were even possible, given the already-disparate ratio of students to core class offerings) needs to take 15 units a semester, and that those 15 units would cost $630 for a California resident. And that’s before considering general enrollment, books, and transportation – all to attend junior college, not even a full-fledged university!

Abel, a part-time professor of Chicano studies at the City and Mesa campuses, reminded everyone that summer school has been all but eliminated for 2011 – only a small group of students who need to finish studies to transfer to university or attain associate degrees were ‘invited’ to enroll in a very limited class offering. He was set to teach two classes over the summer, but instead will be lining up to draw unemployment. “I’m officially laid off as of May 19,” he told the crowd, visibly shaken. This one really hit me, as the only way I ever was able to knock out any of my classes aside from English, sociology, and cultural studies was through intensive inter-session classes over summer and winter breaks.

It was mentioned several times throughout the event that the crowd gathered was supportive of neither Republicans nor Democrats – heaps of blame was laid upon both parties, with perhaps the lion’s share of the ridicule focused on the Dems. “The Democrats are not your friends!” was a mantra repeated more than a few times, by several different speakers.

Another speaker whose name I didn’t catch reminded us of (or enlightened us as to) several alarming facts. 12% of those age 18-65 live in poverty, but for children under 18 the number is closer to 24%. That doesn’t seem to bode well for future generations striving to excel in a world of continually rising tuition costs. Further, a prominently displayed pie chart on federal spending blamed war costs – $735 billion on the Department of Defense, $125 billion annually in veterans benefits (the only members of our society entitled to socialist-style lifetime cost-free medical care), and $400 billion on general defense expenses – for the vast majority of the national fiscal crisis.

Someone else found it intriguing (and I did too) that these cuts to education are coming at a time when minority participation in higher education is finally approaching a level proportionate to the nation’s population. Too many uppity women and dark-skinned folks getting interested in taking a role in shaping the world’s future? Can’t have that!

Another poignant point was made by a gentleman introduced as Lawrence – “How can they possibly expect us to create world leaders spending three cents of every tax dollar on education?” This was contrasted by looking back to the pie chart, showing 50 cents or more of every dollar going to some aspect of the military.

By the time the 9:00 hour approached (the official start time for the protest) the crowd had more than doubled to a population of 150 or so, and we’d attracted a following of a handful of police officers. After running a few minutes past schedule and squeezing in a few more folks who’d lined up to speak, a small mob joined in a chant of “Whose schools? Our schools!” and marched on Park Boulevard.

The crowd spilled into the street and proceeded to shut down the southbound side of Park, gathering honks and fist pumps from northbound cars as we proceeded down C Street and parked in front of Saville Theatre, the site of the meeting of well-heeled politicos. Police could do nothing but stand by and watch, until the force, by now twenty or more members strong, was forced to cordon off C Street due to the gathering in the street and erect barricades in front of all staircases leading to the theatre entrance. When the meetings broke, men with jackets and ties and women in pantsuits milled about surrounded by uniformed officers on the hill above to look down upon the constituency they ostensibly represented.

I caught one police officer darting around the outskirts of the crowd, wielding a camera and hiding behind bushes, trees, and signs while snapping off photos of the most vocal demonstrators. It wouldn’t surprise me if I’m on candid camera next time for pointing him out this time..

Banned by the uniforms from transporting the public address system (allegedly due to lack of proper permits), the free-flow speeches continued via bullhorn, punctuated by boisterous chants of “Si se puede [yes we can], tax the rich!” and “We want money for education, not for wars and incarceration!”

Sandra, a single mother of three, took the mike and described her reluctant return to school, for the sake of “the hope of giving my daughters a life of dignity.” Due to the class cutbacks, she expects to be forced to return to her former occupation as a housekeeper.

Around this time, a rumor milled around the crowd that Gov. Brown and Mrs. Biden, alerted to the negative atmosphere, decided to cancel their scheduled appearances. I couldn’t, however, confirm the accuracy of this allegation.

Daniel, another student speaker, described his attempt to break away from the crowd and actually listen in on the meetings. “I had the police tell me ‘You need to leave. That is an order!’ The police are here because they’re scared of us! Why? We’re students! We just want to talk to you!” The bullhorn was then turned toward the suits gazing down on the masses from atop the hill. “We’re not going to bother you! We’re not going to attack you! Come talk to us!”

Richard Dittbenner, officially billed as the San Diego Community College District’s Director of Public Information and Governmental Relations (now there’s a mouthful of a title), was gracious enough to brave the crowd. He tried to explain the state’s proposed cuts that would ultimately cost the district $10.3 million in the next year, and attempted to offer sympathy. “The state wants to de-fund up to 5,000 classes in a school year . . . 10,000 students are going to be adversely affected.” He also attempted to push the talking point that the forum was more about education opportunities for veterans than anything else. Amidst a scattering of boos and insults, the majority of the crowd clamored for silence during his speech, and respect for the man whose attention they’d managed to muster. One student, however, traded turns on the bullhorn, respectfully expressing his disrespect for the official position.

After Dittbenner dismissed himself from the impromptu debate, the TV cameras rolled in and, as the lunch hour neared, the crowd elected to allow the street to be reopened, instead electing to continue their march back to the quad, where a banquet luncheon was being prepared for the forum attendees. I had to depart at that point, but the protest organizers continued documenting the hilarity that ensued. You can catch that all here…

View the photos at full size by clicking on the images below. All photos by Dave Rice

Saville Theatre

{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Andy Cohen April 15, 2011 at 9:11 pm

Nice, Dave! I wish I would have known earlier that you did this…….I wouldn’t have put the other one up!


Dave Rice April 15, 2011 at 9:22 pm

So you’re the fill-in editor! No worries Andy, no problem linking to outside sources – I didn’t want to do a write-up at first for fear of stealing thunder from another staffer that might’ve been working on it, so I stalled off on putting a piece together…


Rick Ward aka mr.rick April 15, 2011 at 9:44 pm

We could have political rally’s at a park. Any large park would do. Disguise it as a “Love In” in the old school tradition and try to activate some youngsters.Most of us ‘Boomers” have some pretty hip younger people in our families. Focus on getting one more term out of Obama for the express purpose of Medicare part E (for every one . Every one in, like social security. Automatically, 30% comes off the top.The vig united health care etc. gets. Then if someone wanted to change jobs or start a co. or ? It would also free up alot for any one who is in the hireing business.


Dave Rice April 15, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Tell me how to get it done and I’m on board, Mr. Rick! I ran around for two hours in the middle of the night posting flyers all over town to try and drag some youngsters and outsiders to the last Rag-sponsored rally in the park – heck, I even bought a ton of food (subsidized by the site), cooked it, and offered to give it away free to anyone who’d come get it! We brought in a few new faces, which is a start…but we need to do it again, and do it bigger, then do it again, bigger, then… You Boomers still have heart after all these years and if it wasn’t for my dad kicking my ass into gear I probably wouldn’t, but people my age are apathetic – and I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that it’s my job to figure out how to reach them…


Patty Jones April 16, 2011 at 2:10 pm

“and I’m starting to come to terms with the fact that it’s my job to figure out how to reach them…”

I feel like a proud mama!


Rick Ward aka mr.rick April 15, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Why was that column on Obamas budget ideas cut off?


Frank Gormlie April 15, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Kudos to both Andy and Dave for filling in. This action just happened today while Patty and I are on a mountain in northern Georgia in a thunderstorm and we’re reading all about this while the rain rattles the windows and the thunder rolls through the stormy heavens. We’re visiting relatives who own the house and they’re asleep. We seem to be still on West Coast time. There’s a tornado watch in this area until 3am this morning. Just had to unplug the laptop for fear of a lightening strike taking out our computer. We shall return on the 19th. But we’re really proud of our fellow Ragsters picking up the slack while we’re gone. Nice doin’ youse guys.


doug Porter April 16, 2011 at 9:10 am

anybody notice the nice article in the Union-Tribune about this rally? No? That’s because there wasn’t any article.
How about the teabagger rallies in Oceanside? Oh, yeah, they were all over that.


Shane Finneran April 16, 2011 at 10:46 am

And Doug, don’t forget the UT’s captivating and critically important front-page article about how the Zoo might get two new baby pandas! Pandas are so cute! LOL


Shane Finneran April 16, 2011 at 10:40 am

Awesome reporting, Dave.

The photo of the SDPD shutterbug is priceless and also more than a little frightening. Why are our police taking pictures of people protesting? That’s scary.

And wow, I hope Obama apologists caught your note about how several speakers repeated the theme, “The Democrats are not your friends!” I’m happy to see more and more people waking up to how the Democratic Party has embraced corporate profits instead of social justice — maybe, just maybe, that will eventually lead to some real change in the party’s (and our country’s) priorities.


dave rice April 16, 2011 at 11:41 am

Thanks Shane! And yeah, I was definitely weirded out by some of the police actions, especially the guy with the camera.

I was also refreshed to hear so many young people waking up to the fact that any meaningful change isn’t going to come about through the endorsement of either mainstream political party – maybe someday we’ll actually see a true opposition party emerge with enough clout to actually influence politics.


Patty Jones April 16, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Maybe that cop secretly has his own blog…


Rick April 18, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Wow! You got it really wrong. The Governor was not at City College and was never planning to be there for the summit on service to veterans. Jill Biden was invited but could not attend. So, the community protesters and some students showed up at the outdoor tables where the summit guests (from 14 states) would planning to eat lunch. They tossed silverware and napkins onto the ground and made a mess of things. Some news outlets said hundred of students were there. Not so, no more that 75 people were doing this. It was a shame. The attendees were there to figure out how to improve services to people who had come back from their military service. And, then in a real show of child-like behavior, the shouted down the college staff who tried to speak with them. I cannot imagine that the US Department of Education would want to come back to San Diego City College again after the way students, faculty and staff from other states were received there.


Shane Finneran April 19, 2011 at 8:57 am

I think you missed the broader point, Rick. I think the protesters were noting that summits like the one on Friday are probably pointless when massive amounts of money are being diverted from education.

Just a few days before Friday’s rally, the San Diego Community College District announced the cancellation of most of its summer school offerings because of more funding cuts. The move short-changed thousands of local students’ education plans, after plenty of short-changing in semesters past, and more short-changing coming in the future.

Overall, in recent years, military students and all other students have been repeatedly screwed by our leadership at local, state, and federal level. I commend the protesters at City College for recognizing that the crisis is at the point where we have to fight back at every chance we get.


dave rice April 19, 2011 at 9:32 am

I don’t think I was too far off, Rick. I went off information that I was provided saying Brown and Biden were to show, and heard repeatedly at the event that they were to appear. I also think I covered the fact that they weren’t actually in attendance, and specified that I wasn’t able to confirm why they weren’t there rather than reporting the statements provided to me as fact. But if you’re indeed correct in your assertion that Brown was never invited and Biden had declined her invitation long before the event, I certainly apologize for the confusion and thank you for providing as much documentation to back up your claim as the other side did when they got me into this mess in the first place.

On the larger picture, I think Shane covers it pretty well on my behalf, but to sum up: schools are already overcrowded. Students are already having a hard time enrolling in the core classes they need to qualify for university transfers or associate degrees. On top of this, literally thousands of classes are being slashed in San Diego alone. It’s nice to use words to talk about giving military vets educational opportunities, but it’s immensely hypocritical when you’re using actions at the same time to express to the world that you’re actually more interested in taking those opportunities away. Unless the summit attendees were plotting some plan to bar all civilians from enrolling in junior college as a way to relieve overcrowding and extend opportunities to veterans – I don’t know, the forum wasn’t open to the public and so far I’ve seen no comment as to what went on.

And there were indeed hundreds of people (well, maybe 175-200) at the rally. Maybe there were only 75 or so that decided to hang around and storm the white-linen banquet for the bureaucrats – I left the protest around the time someone got the idea to do this, and I know others did as well – if you’re right, it was half the original crowd or less.


dave rice April 19, 2011 at 9:34 am

Oh, and I don’t think the aim of the protests was to create a cozy, boot-kissing environment for the Dept. of Education, so my guess is that they won’t be bothered if the district doesn’t get the opportunity to pay some police for crowd detail and buy a handful of bigwigs lunch.


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