Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.
Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.

“I have class.” “It won’t make a difference.” “I’m not an anarchist.” “I don’t even know what’s happening.”

These are just some of the excuses UC Santa Cruz students can use to justify not going to Sacramento on March 1 and 4 to speak up for higher education. As UC students, we are excellent at complaining. And for good reason — dissent is a vital part of democracy, and Lord knows we have plenty to bemoan. But grumbling alone will never change anything.

When Student Regent designate Jesse Cheng came to speak at UCSC several weeks ago, he echoed a scary truth. “The public seems to think that we are the entitlement generation,” he said.

We deserve quality educational institutions that are affordable and accessible, but we can’t sit back and wait for someone else to defend our opportunities. We need to show California voters and decision-makers that we back up our demands with action by marching on the Capitol on March 1 and 4. They won’t listen unless we make them, and words are not enough.

For many of us at UCSC, it’s not that we don’t care. We constantly see protests and demonstrations that go disregarded and seem to have no effect. But it’s important to remember the power that we as a student body have always had. In 1985, UC student protests helped convince the regents to divest $1.7 billion from companies operating in apartheid South Africa. This was a key part of a global movement that eventually forced the end of the racist apartheid system.

This year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed to restore $370 million to the UC budget. This isn’t the full amount that has been cut from the UC, but higher education is one of the only areas of the budget where there is any increase at all. Social programs, prisons and public transportation, among other things, are all facing cuts even larger than last year’s.

A Schwarzenegger staff member said that the widespread demonstrations around the state in support of higher education this year contributed to the governor’s decision to restore funding, even though the state’s fiscal situation is in an ever-deepening downward spiral. Now is our chance to demand even more support.

Any type of action that you can participate in on March 1 and 4 is positive. Demonstrating on campuses is better than doing nothing, but showing our presence on the steps of the Capitol is really key. It’s important that we keep our local administrators alert, but there will be no money for them to be accountable for if it does not come from Sacramento. The legislature holds our fate in its hands much more than our chancellors do.

March 1 is Lobby Day, when members of the UC Student Association and other students will speak directly with legislative leaders. March 4 is a march on the Capitol made up of a coalition of educational supporters, from K-12 to higher education. Both have different event plans, but both are opportunities for students to show up and voice their opinions.

Some of the excuses you come up with to stay at home might be legitimate. But think about what your sacrifice of one day could mean for the future of the state.

The legislature is currently in the process of passing the 2010 budget. Even the small increases to higher education that the governor has proposed could easily be chopped. Our presence can make or break higher education’s budget for next year, and the coming years after that. The budget isn’t just a number — it’s one more student who is accepted to school, one more who gets a scholarship, and one more student who will be the first in his or her family to attend college.

Think about everything you hate seeing at UCSC now: packed classes, students going back to community college or their home states, piles and piles of loan debt accruing in young people’s names. History has shown that together, we can stop injustices in our state and even the world. California is a democracy, but it might as well not be if none of us claim our democratic rights and duties. No one else is going to do it for us. We can’t afford to be lazy.