By Raymond R. Beltrán
Students from community colleges and high schools across San Diego County participated in the second annual National Day of Campus Walk-Out yesterday, Thursday, March 4, in opposition to the war in Iraq and in support of more school funding. “Books Not Bombs!” was the peace cry from San Diego City College through Downtown San Diego as approximately thirty students of all ages held signs, beat drums and implored city dwellers to recognize the state of education during a time of mass budget cuts and violence abroad.
“We’re here to bring awareness to people in general about the budget cuts and programs being cut from high schools, which leaves JROTC (Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) instead of college outreach,” said 22-year-old Fernanda Rios, a Southwestern Community College arts student.
Rios is also a co-organizer of the action yesterday and a member of CCAP (California Coalition Against Poverty), an organization that “promotes direct action in order to challenge unfair policies against poor working people and students.” In outreaching to student youth, CCAP gathered students from high schools such as Patrick Henry, Hoover, Will C. Crawford, San Diego High and Chula Vista High as well as community colleges like City College and Southwestern.
15-year-old Patrick Henry High School freshman, Federico, approached the crowd of activists to relay the conditions in his high school, noting that out of the many bathrooms on his campus, only one is regularly available to students. He highlighted that his textbooks are extremely tattered and that his history books are missing pages with vital information necessary to pass the course.
Federico says he’s witnessed people he knows in JROTC (a program that recruits and prepares students for an adult life in the military) being yelled at to the extent that students begin to cry. He says money would be put to better use if diverted to buying computers, newer student equipment and a relevant education.
“In [high] schools, they teach us a history that doesn’t relate to us,” says Federico. “They should at least teach a course in Mexican history, or something.”
Enrique de la Cruz, CCAP organizer and 24-year-old student from San Diego City College, expressed concern about the recent elections, where voters favored California Governor Schwarzenegger’s Propositions 57 and 58. In hopes of being an elementary school teacher someday, de la Cruz is worried that the propositions’ spending caps on state funding for particular programs will target education, coinciding with recent tuition increases at selected CSU (California State University) campuses like San Diego State University.
“I think we’re going to continue to see more cuts on education,” says de la Cruz. “In the long term, it’s going to hurt students because they’re going to have less and less access to college programs.”
Within CCAP’s list of demands, they would like to see the abolishment of the JROTC program. Rios and de la Cruz attribute their opposition to the program to its targeting students of color and to its opportunistic approach in promising college money for students in low-income communities, whose children have less of a chance of making it to universities without governmental financial aid.
They would like to see a sincere effort, on a state and federal level, to make education a top priority with the inclusion of student and parent input. CCAP also urges for the implementation of the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors), which would grant citizenship to student children of undocumented people working in the U.S. “by deleting a federal provision that interferes with a state’s right to determine which students qualify as residents for purposes of in-state tuition or other state education benefits” (National Immigration Law Center).
Students of various ethnicities attended the rally to express distain for the media and its lack of honest depictions of the occupation in Iraq. Before marching the downtown streets, speakers took turns addressing the crowd to also highlight the dilapidated health care system and its present billion-dollar deficit in San Diego County, one man noting the fact that “education is a key for human development, not just a privilege.”
“Instead of money going to war, it should be going to education,” said CCAP organizer Fernanda Rios. “I just know if high schools are suffering now, the governor’s propositions aren’t going to help the situation … Now, there’ll just be less of an opportunity for going to a university without having to join the military.”