Protesters stage education walkout
The event, which drew about 100 from Penn, was part of Thursday's National Day of Action for Education
March 1, 2012, 7:04 pm·
Justin Cohen | DP
Students, faculty and staff at Penn — as well as from schools across Philadelphia — walked out of their classrooms Thursday for the National Day of Action for Education, joining together in solidarity for a march to Center City.
At around 1 p.m. Thursday, a group of about 100 from Penn circled around the Button outside of Van Pelt Library. They held up cardboard signs and chanted “Mic Check!” with a list of demands that included fair financial principles, full forgiveness of student loan debt, transparent relationships between colleges and corporations and union representation.
Those gathered shouted chants such as “Show me what democracy looks like!,” “Corbett beware, student power is everywhere!” and “Education is a right — not just for the rich and white!”
The walkout — which comes at a time when schools throughout the state are facing major cuts at the hands of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2013 — is sponsored by the Occupy movement.
English professor Ania Loomba, a supporter of the Occupy movement who participated in the walkout on Thursday, said that “we’re in a very privileged institution here. Elite colleges have a special responsibility to spread the advantages we have, and not to stay in the bubble.”
College senior Allyson Gasdaska was in a large Economics lecture at the time of the walkout.
Along with five or six other students, she stood up at 1 p.m. sharp, holding a banner that read “Educate, not incarcerate.”
The students then proceeded to walk out of the lecture hall.
“We really don’t have a say on tuition or the context of our classrooms,” Gasdaska said. “We are here to democratize the process.”
At the Button, Allied Barton security officers also announced that they wanted to unionize.
One officer, dressed in flannel, used a megaphone and shouted, “to those who say to pull yourself up by your boot straps, I can’t afford a pair of boots!”
Another officer added that “if we get unionized, we’ll have a voice. We come here to help you guys on campus and we feel we should be treated well, too.”
For Chris Taylor, an English graduate student who was one of the main organizers of the walkout at Penn, Thursday’s walkout was a symbolic occasion.
“We know that nothing will be immediately accomplished today,” he said. “The point is to start empowering ourselves so it can happen in the future.”
After about 30 minutes of demonstrating next to the button, the march began at around 1:30 p.m. Protesters first walked together to 30th Street Station, where the Penn group met up with marchers from Villanova University and Bryn Mawr and Haverford colleges.
Evan Hoffman, a 2005 Temple University graduate, called for taxation on corporations, big banks and Wall Street. Education budget cuts will affect him directly because he wants to return to Temple for further study, he said.
“Philly is going to be hit hard by these cuts,” he added.
The marchers then continued east down Market Street, chanting and making stops to protest outside Wells Fargo and PNC banks.
Throughout the afternoon, the protesters stopped traffic, and cars beeped in support.
The protesters arrived at City Hall at around 2:30 p.m. The group of marchers doubled in size as more than 100 Temple University students joined.
The crowd chanted, “we’re not waiting for you, Mayor Nutter. We’re taking what we need.”
Ashanti Stewart — a senior from Benjamin Franklin High School at 550 N. Broad Street — said that “my school has been through a budget cut … 31 kids to one class is too much.”
The crowd was enthused to hear from a high school student who is being directly impacted by the education budget cuts.
The marchers then continued on to the offices of the School District of Philadelphia at 440 N. Broad Street.
This article has been updated to reflect that the National Day of Action for Education took place on Thursday, not Friday.