Occupy Colleges Planning Walkout To Support Higher Education

NEW YORK -- Thousands of U.S. college students will walk out of class Thursday in a coordinated day of protest against what may be another year of significant higher-education budget cuts by state legislatures.

College-student groups have organized a national day of action with unions and local Occupy Wall Street offshoots, as well as the Occupy Colleges group. Students nationwide will protest ever-increasing student debt and continued budget cuts. In addition, they'll raise awareness of campus-specific issues.

"Occupy has been based around the interaction of local issues and global issues," says Artem Raskin of Occupy UCDavis. "We try to tie it to specific issues on our campus, but at the same time keeping in mind that these local issues have implications as well."

In California, where students have been demonstrating since 2009 against schools raising fees, laying off staff, hiring outside contractors for services and partnering with U.S. Bank to turn student ID cards into debit cards, a coalition of unions and student groups are protesting at 20 campuses. A unifying goal is to build support for a ballot initiative that would raise taxes on millionaires that organizers say would increase state revenue and curtail further budget cuts.

Each California campus is also identifying its own issues. University of California-San Diego protesters have issued demands for increased funding for a variety of groups and services, as well as for office space for these groups on campus. The students also demand that UC reverse all funding cuts, tuition hikes and layoffs over the past several years.

Demonstrators with Occupy UCDavis plan to hold a "funeral for public education" at 11 a.m. on their campus.

Meanwhile, community colleges in the state are watching for further cuts after the campuses were forced to reduce already enrolled spring-semester classes at the last minute. Over the last decade, the cost of attending California's community colleges has risen four-fold -- 30 years ago, attending school there was free.

Students in Ohio will be protesting against the state's enterprise university plan, which they say would be a step toward privatizing public universities.

"We want trustees not appointed by the governor, but rather elected by the students," says Jacob Chaffin, an education major at Ohio University, referring to the board that sets tuition for Ohio's public universities. Chaffin says they're also seeking voting rights for the students who serve on the board of trustees.

Michael Blosser says his Occupy group at the University of South Florida will hold walkouts and teach-ins as a response to significant state budget cuts. Blosser says students on campus are "enraged" that the state Senate proposed an additional 60 percent cut to USF.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett (R) is asking for a 20 percent cut to the state's public universities. Protesters, including Lucas Lyons with Occupy Pitt, complain that the governor wants to cut education to make up a budget deficit rather than increase taxes on corporations. The governor "is trying to squeeze us off and make us a fully private organization," says Lyons.

Students in Pennsylvania plan to walk out of class and protest outside of Corbett's office Thursday afternoon, and Occupy Pitt will hold a teach-in on March 3.

New York City students will have walkouts and teach-ins, as well. They'll march on the city Department of Education and over the Brooklyn Bridge.

Students at the University of Texas say they've invited protesters from the 1960s to join them in their effort. They will be asking the student government to pass a tuition referendum against increases proposed by both their student-body president and university president.

Occupy Education confirmed the participation of at least 80 campuses and other labor and community-action groups. They will seek to collect at least 10,000 signatures on a petition asking governors not to cut higher education.

A March 4, 2010, national day of action at college campuses drew significant media coverage when more than 120 campuses staged walk-outs. The protest this year may get more media attention thanks to the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Stephan Georgiou, a 25-year-old San Francisco City College student, says the Occupy movement's focus on education shows it's evolving beyond encampments.

Occupy Colleges formed in October 2011, a couple weeks after the Occupy Wall Street movement started. Occupy Colleges began holding national conference calls in December.

"It's taken a lot of conference calls," says Georgiou about coordinating the March 1 protest. "Just to kind of bridge Northern and Southern California is challenging."

Members of Occupy Wall Street groups traveled to different locations around the country to help students organize. So too did the U.S. Student Association, trying to get students to form local groups.

Students in Ohio formed the Ohio Student Association in January and began working toward the March 1 demonstration with Occupy Colleges.

"It's an attempt to solve some of the problems in student activism," says Stuart McIntyre, a student at Ohio State University. "When you have leaders graduate, you lose your coordination and momentum."

Students say they hope to build support for funding higher education as state legislatures begin work on budgets for the fiscal year that starts in July. President Barack Obama told a gathering of governors Monday they need to stop cutting higher education.

California and New York students are also prepping for large demonstrations at their state capitals on March 5. Those actions have been endorsed by university officials.

California students will begin a 99-mile march for "Education and Social Justice" from the Bay Area to Sacramento on Thursday. Protesters say at least 80 students plan to march the distance on foot.

HuffPost's Caitlin Brown contributed reporting.

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