Students rally to protest budget cuts at State Capitol

While the decision regarding the University System of Georgia’s (USG) budget cuts has yet to be slated for discussion within the state legislature, SGA representatives and students from universities across the state have continued to express their sentiments to legislators following March 15’s rally at the state capitol.

The rally was held in protest of the potential $300 million worth in budget cuts against the University System of Georgia (USG). The rally united students from nearly all of the USG’s 35 public colleges. Also in attendance were SGA presidents from UGA, Tech and Georgia State.

The rally’s events began at 8:00 a.m. in the morning at Hurt Park near the Georgia State University campus, and included a press conference by the presidents. The rally eventually led way to a march to the Capitol building at 10 a.m., where students stood outside the steps in protest.

Students wielded signs as speakers sponsored by the College Democrats of Georgia spoke to the audience about student activism.

“In an increasingly technological world the need for a better education is constantly growing. If we have budget cuts, that makes college education only available to the rich,” said Clark Coleman, first-year CEE major. “We’re all rallying together to stand up for a cause. We’re just standing up for what we believe in.”

Two separately organized rallies met simulatneously at Hurt Park before gathering in front of the state capitol. Initially, a rally was organized by Undergraduate SGA President Alina Staskevicius and SGA presidents from the other 34 USG universities. However, a simultaneous and separate rally was organized by the Young Democrats of Georgia and the Georgia Students for Public Higher Education (GSPHE) at the same location. Overall, the rally remained peaceful, despite its somewhat partisan political tone given both parties’ presence.

“All SGAs across the state have been non-partisan throughout this entire process. We firmly believe that this is not a Republican or Democrat issue; it is simply an issue of preserving the quality of higher education in Ga.,” Staskevicius said.

According to reports, the USG rally organizers had attempted to secure a permit to rally on the steps of the Capitol, but the Young Democrats had attained one before them. As well, some organizers had reported that following the SGA presidents press conference, representatives from the Young Democrats began their own march from Hurt Park after announcing their own rally. Eventually the two rallies merged at the Capitol.

“We saw that the SGA was having, and so I contacted individiuals within the SGAs, the first question that we asked was, ‘Do you guys have a permit?’ They replied that, ‘No we don’t need one.’ As someone who has gotten permits in the past… I went and got that permit ahead of the time,” said Steven Golden, vice president of the College Democrats of Georgia.

When asked about the involvement of Tech’s SGA, Golden responded that he had only been working with UGA’s undergraduate SGA president Katie Barlow in the planning, and was not sure about the extent of Tech’s SGA involvement.

“I think that, fundamentally, we and GSPHE are fighting for the same thing—preserving the quality of higher education in Ga. We do, however, have a different way of going about this,” Staskevicius said. “I truly believe that a part of this process and attracting attention to the issue is the rallying and the protesting; however, I think that we also need the meetings with legislators to be taken as seriously as we can be. The two groups balance out one another.”

While students congregated outside, SGA representatives from the USG schools met inside with state legislators Governor Sonny Perdue’s Director of Communications Bert Brantley, Deputy Executive Council Nels Peterson, and the Speaker of the House, David Ralston. The representatives also delivered a petition signed by 36,000 Georgians to Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle. Following the rally, however, the representatives received criticism from a number of parties concerning the closed-door meetings between the legislators and SGA represenatives and the inclusion of certain conciliatory statements within the petition, including opening up the possibility for a 20 percent increase on tuition.

“We would really love to, we would really love to open this up. What we would like to have open door meetings [with all parites],” Golden said.

State legislators have expressed interest in opening up discussion with students on alternatives to budget reduction, and ask for more student activism.

“There are alternatives on how we collect unreturned sales tax from people who are cheating the system. Tax benefits that have been given to companies who have not fulfilled that mission,” said Dubose Porter, minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives. “To cut education is the wrong message to the rest of the world. We have built a world class university system and we can’t let it get dismantled.”