California legislators faced a wave of student lobbyists this week, as both the UC Student Association and UC Davis Lobby Corps sent representatives to the capitol to sway budget cut decisions.
On Monday, members of UCSA rallied at the capitol, marching through downtown Sacramento and performing a dance at the steps of the building. Groups of students lobbied the offices of over 75 legislators with testimonies and talking points on how the proposed budget cuts will affect public education.
“They’re cutting our budget and we’re not seeing a difference in the quality of our education,” said UC Santa Barbara student Shayna Platt, who lobbied at the office of Assemblymember Katcho Achadjian (R-Arroyo Grande) on Monday.
Tuesday, Lobby Corps joined hundreds of alumni, regents and UC administrators, who spoke with members of the California legislature. The corps did not attend the UCSA rally and lobby day because ASUCD is not a paying member of UCSA. They chose instead to lobby on UC Day – a day designated by regents for UC-affiliates to meet in Sacramento.
UC Day took a less-aggressive approach to lobbying, starting off with a reception, where the Cal Aggie Band-uh! performed and UC President Mark Yudof gave a speech. UC alumni met with student lobbyists – which included undergraduates, graduates and law students – to brief them on how UC contributes to California’s economy. Lobbyists gave the example of how UC telemedicine centers reach patients in remote districts for specialized and reasonable healthcare.
“We pushed the fact that UC is not a cost, but an investment,” said Lobby Corps volunteer Bihter Ozedirne, who lobbied two legislators and met with several others. “The university system has a large impact across California, and it provides so much training and innovation to the rest of the state.”
Lobby Corps stated they did not take a firm stance on controversial issues, rather they focused on presenting the facts that supported UC funding.
The UCSA rally concluded a weekend-long conference organized by UCSA, where students received information on budget cuts and lobbying techniques. Over 200 students attended the rally. When a group of elementary school students on a field trip stopped to watch the protest, the size of the group nearly doubled – but not literally; the children were very small.
In addition to opposing the proposed tax cuts, UCSA students lobbied to support the DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented students financial aid and other educational rights afforded by U.S. citizenship. They also encouraged legislators to approve Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed tax increase.
In an effort to close a $26.6 billion budget deficit, Brown has already proposed a $500 million cut to the University of California. The cut will be more drastic, Brown said, if voters do not approve his proposed $9 billion tax extension. Students encouraged lawmakers to allow this extension onto the special election ballot in June.
“Californians should at least have a choice of whether they will continue paying the same taxes they’ve been paying, or to pay more to mitigate these awful, devastating cuts to public education,” said Matthew Haney, executive director of UCSA.
Students also performed a flash mob style dance number to the BeeGee’s “Stayin’ Alive” as a way of bringing more awareness for their cause.
“We have the ability to bring attention to issues in ways that no one else can,” said Student-Regent Designate Alfredo Mireles. “I guarantee the press coverage of this flash mob is going to help bring lots of attention to the student movement.”
During the dance routine, Sen. Leland Yee said he was impressed with the energy of students, and hoped they would transfer that energy to their lobbying efforts.
“You know, the dance that you did – what you’ve got to do now is to translate that energy and you knock on every single assemblymember’s door, you go and knock on every senator’s door, and then finally you break down the governor’s door,” Yee said in a speech to UCSA students.
Yee was one of several legislators who spoke at the rally. Others included Assemblymembers Marty Block, Warren Furutani and Susan Bonilla.
ASUCD President-Elect Adam Thongsavat, Vice President-Elect Bree Rombi, former senator Don Ho and External Affairs Chair Dana Percoco also attended the rally. Despite former executive offices’ staunch opposition to UCSA lobbying efforts, Thongsavat said he was impressed with the association’s hard work, and was glad he gave them a chance.
LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.