Raleigh stands up to the cuts

May 8, 2013

Juan Miranda reports on a May 1 demonstration against budget cuts in Raleigh, N.C.

ON MAY 1, known around the world as International Workers Day, the North Carolina Student Power Union mobilized over 350 students from 10 colleges from around the state to participate in a demonstration in Raleigh, N.C., against attacks being carried out by the Republican controlled legislature.

The day began around 1:30 p.m., when people gathered at North Carolina State's Bell Tower. Speakers at the rally laid out the political environment in North Carolina, referencing the avalanche of attacks and backward policies being pushed forward by the conservative super-majority in the general assembly. The main focus of the rally, however, was the austerity-plagued fiscal budget of Gov. Pat McCrory and his team of ideologues.

The proposed budget calls for another almost $200 million in cuts to the University of North Carolina (UNC) system, in addition to the devastating $400 million cut implemented two years ago. This will result in the inevitable loss of hundreds of jobs, thousands of dollars in tuition hikes while kicking nearly 8,500 students off of financial aid.

Students sit in against budget cuts in Raleigh
Students sit in against budget cuts in Raleigh (NC Policy Watch)

This will put students further into debt and make it more difficult for youth, especially youth of color and working-class students to access public higher education. Tuition increases will particularly hurt undocumented youth, who by state law are forced to pay out-of-state tuition, regardless of how long they have lived in the state.

Outraged by these and many other attacks on the people of North Carolina, students, young people and the young at heart marched down the streets of Raleigh chanting "No cuts, no fees, education should be free" and "They say cut back, we say fight back."

The march made a few stops in significant locations such as the Civitas Institute, a far-right think tank funded by multimillionaire Tea Party benefactor and current Deputy State Budget Director Art Pope.

Protesters eventually arrived at Moore Square, where they met up with a broader coalition of workers; immigrant rights groups, and other community organizations to then march to the state Legislature.

When the march arrived at Jones Street, protesters took over the street, defying the orders of the police. As they arrived in front of the legislative building, five students sat down, blocking the road, with a banner that read "We Demand a Future! Stop budget cuts! Stop racist voter laws! Stop attacks on workers!"

OVERWHELMED BY the energized crowd, the police officers (many of whom were on horses) had no choice but to retreat. After a moving and powerful rally, the five students rose up and led the way to the "People's House," the (paradoxically named) legislative building, where a line of police had formed to block the entrance. The five were then arrested as they attempted to cross the line to bring their demands into the legislature.

In a statement released by the NC Student Power Union they explained:

As North Carolina students, we have watched our beloved state taken over by dangerous and backward political leadership. Instead of serving the people of North Carolina by providing health care, education and jobs, Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, Governor Pat McCrory, Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger, and Deputy Budget Director Art Pope have proposed a racist, backwards vision for N.C...

We have tried using "proper" channels to communicate our grievances and demands...but we have consistently been ignored, repressed, and shut out of the process. We have been left no other option than to take action.

We believe it is our time, and our duty, to fight for our futures and the futures of all youth in N.C. We are mobilizing to take back the power from the failed leaders on Jones Street....

We are tired of the attacks on our communities and we will not watch silently as our futures are stolen away from us.

The five students arrested were Zaina Alsous and Carissa Morrison from UNC Chapel Hill, Dhruv Pathak and Tristan Munchel from UNC Greensboro, and Jessica Injejikian from UNC Charlotte. All five were charged with disorderly conduct, and Morrison and Pathak were additionally charged with misdemeanor assault on a government official.

In a statement, Pathak explained why he participated in civil disobedience:

Education should be affordable and accessible to all students. The right-wing legislature and current budget proposal will make it harder for students to get into school and stay in school. My family struggles with finances everyday and has trouble making ends meet. The last thing I need is a multimillionaire writing the state budget who wants to take away my financial aid...That's why I took this action today.

These actions happened only two days after Bryan Perlmutter and Molly McDonough, members of the N.C. Student Power Union, were arrested along with 15 others during a civil disobedience organized by the North Carolina chapter of the NAACP in opposition to voter suppression laws being introduced at the legislature.

Students have vowed that they will be back to continue demonstrations throughout the summer with other organizations, and as long as is needed.

AFTER SEVERAL millions of dollars invested by Art Pope and the like, and an elaborate plan which included introducing anti-gay marriage legislation into the state constitution to scare conservatives and a misinformed electorate to vote for the straight Republican ticket, Republicans today control both chambers of the state government. While very unlikely to face a veto from an increasingly conservative McCrory, they can count on their super-majority to override one.

From cutting 170,000 North Carolinians from jobless benefits to blocking Medicaid expansion that would have provided health care to 500,000 low-income North Carolinians, to attacks on workers' and union rights, to racist
voter suppression laws, right-wingers in the legislature have made it clear: Our needs have no place in their agenda.

Moreover, while the governor's proposed budget cuts nearly $200 million from education, it also eliminates the estate tax--which only applies to 23 of the richest estates in the state, but will cost the state over $50 million in lost revenue per year.

In addition to the removal of the earned-income tax credit, which has already hurt low-income families, those in power continue to push to gut the tax system to further shift the financial burden onto working people and give the rich and corporations a free ride.

While mostly centered on education, the May Day demonstration sought to draw the connections between the struggles of students, workers, immigrants, women, the LGBTQ community, people of color and other North Carolinians. During the street occupation that lasted for nearly an hour, leaders of the state's Legislative Black Caucus, the NAACP, the AFL-CIO and the Southern Workers Assembly, among others, delivered messages of support and solidarity as students spoke out against the attacks.

The march brought out students, many whom previously had little or no political involvement but felt that they could not remain silent while their futures and the livelihood of the people of their state was in danger.

One student said:

May Day was empowering for me. To march alongside hundreds of other students and workers was something that I think will mark the beginning of new wave of direct action against the corporate take over of the public sector of the state...As a student, I am prepared to continue the type of direction that took place on May Day in solidarity with the rest of the working class in order to achieve a real democracy.

In general, the level of energy surprised the most optimistic of the organizers. Until the very last second (of a demonstration lasting more than seven hours), people were chanting, beating their drums and waving their fists in the air.

Even though the exact impact of these actions cannot be measured, one thing is clear: When the economic and social conditions expose the contradictions of a system that feeds off inequality and injustice, there is no telling how quickly political consciousness can develop both at the individual and collective levels.

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