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Cutting classes to keep them

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Student protesters hang a sign out the window of the Art Building. Several-hundred UW students and workers gathered at the strike.

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Student protester Ralon Donahue walks in front of the main body of the protest as it moves up the Ave. The protest then turned and continued down 45th Avenue Northeast to the UW Tower.

A giant poster hung from the art building windows that read “Emmert, Another Budget is Possible.” Numerous booths lined the Quad, their representatives passing out flier after flier to passersby. A man on stilts held a long stick with a sick-looking mask sitting atop it, his sign reading, “Emmert’s salary makes the UW sick.” And, surrounding all this were the protestors and strikers — hundreds of people holding signs, chanting and marching together around the Quad.

“Hey, hey, ho, ho, budget cuts have got to go!” they yelled in unison.

The strike and protest, planned in solidarity with the March 4th National Day of Action to Defend Public Education, was put on yesterday at 1 p.m. by the UW Student-Worker Coalition (SWC), a coalition of workers, students and community members that encompasses several different UW groups. Students were encouraged to skip class and join the demonstration. After the 26-percent state-funding cut to the university, as well as a possible annual 14-percent increase in tuition, the coalition found it necessary to fight back.

“The main points of the protest are, one, to emphasize that the budget cuts and the way the university has administered them are not inevitable — if we don’t respond collectively, the rank-and-file workers and students will bear the brunt of the cuts,” said Jennifer Fletcher, a graduate student and member of the SWC. “The second point is that this strike in particular is for people to be in solidarity with each other; to see what our power is when we work together.”

While the protest was only slated to run until 2 p.m., the greater turnout allowed for an extended event. Participants marched in a circle around the Quad with picket signs and megaphones and eventually moved to Red Square, marching through classes in Kane Hall. After this, the group reconvened and marched to the Ave, turned onto Northeast 45th Street, debated going toward the freeway and then backtracked toward the UW tower. The UW Police Department (UWPD) and Seattle Police Department followed the strikers in order to direct intersections. The group took a vote on whether they should enter the tower or go back to the freeway, but it was later decided that they would head back to the Quad and march through Savery and Miller Halls .

UWPD officials estimated that there were between 400 and 500 participants in the protest at its peak. In comparison, the SWC’s first demonstration, a rally protesting the Jan. 21 Board of Regents meeting, had about 80 participants.

“I think that by choosing to do a strike, it was a lot stronger than doing just a rally,” said Michelle Woo, a graduate student and member of the SWC. “People didn’t feel like they were just standing around shouting — they were actively leaving their classrooms and being a part of trying to shut down the university.”

Many students were pleased with the turnout.

“I think the protest went overwhelmingly well,” said Russell Monteiro, a junior who participated in the demonstration. “It was greater than anything I could’ve expected or imagined.” Monteiro had sent an e-mail to his fraternity, Sigma Lambda Beta, asking them to attend and was surprised to see half of them participating as well.

Like most people at the protest, Monteiro had reasons of his own for participating. As a student of color, he found it very important to voice how the budget cuts are affecting minority students.

“The U.S., compared to any other developed country, funds our education at a very low rate,” he said. “We’re willing to spend money to build bombs and drop them on other countries, and yet we’re not willing to provide incentive and means for students of color, disabled students, the middle class and the lower class to feel involved and motivated in getting an education.”

Woo takes issue with increasing class size due to budget cuts. One of her classes in the Evans School of Public Affairs has 60 people, which she says is large for a graduate class.

“The infrastructure can’t hold up, so the chairs break and people have to stand in the middle of class — we’re grad students paying to go to class and we have to stand,” she said. “It’s ridiculous.”

As a collective group, the SWC seeks to promote their own seven demands to prevent the alleged privatization of the university, including transparent and democratic budget allocation, capping administrative salaries at $150,000, no more layoffs, no speed-ups (extra work) for workers, accessible public education for all, frozen tuition and a replacement of loans with grants. The protest was another effort to make these demands known.

Though President Mark Emmert’s salary and budgetary decisions were a bone of contention for many protestors, the SWC requested that he offer his support for the movement. On Feb. 19, the SWC sent an open letter to Emmert making several demands.

“First, publicly announce your support,” the letter said. “Secondly, mandate that all professors and managers not retaliate against those that participate in the action. Make it clear that if any professor or manager fires, disciplines, grades down, or otherwise punishes a student or worker for participating in the strike, then you will fire that person. Finally, walk the picket lines with us to truly show your support for students on this campus.”

Emmert replied on March 1. While he commended their “passionate support” for better funding, he also expressed disagreement with their method of protest.

“I do not believe attempting to put a stop to the work of the University will accomplish very much,” Emmert said in his e-mail reply. “Rather, it will hamper and inhibit the educational process, which is of course the reason students come here.”

Despite the lack of support from Emmert, Fletcher stood by the SWC’s goals.

“If we miss school one day and that could help build a movement that would make it so that we could still come to school next year, then it’s worth it,” she said.

Although the protest garnered a great amount of attendees, the SWC plans to expand their efforts even further. On March 11, at 6 p.m., a general assembly will be held in Smith 205 to help plan the next steps in the movement. Plans for a protest during the Statewide Conference Against Budget Cuts, on Saturday, April 3, were also announced during yesterday’s demonstration.

“We’re hoping that the student strike can be something that can build power among students and workers on campus toward a larger strike,” Fletcher said.

Reach reporter Kristen Steenbeeke at news@dailyuw.com.

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