OLYMPIA - Students from The Evergreen State College dressed in black funeral garb and sang a parody of "Amazing Grace" in the Senate gallery Thursday to criticize state budget cuts.
After several warnings to not interrupt proceedings, Lt. Gov. Brad Owen tried to gavel down the group. The lyrics to the parody included the words, “The bright young minds of our country, Now wake to meet their doom; So why should we apply to school, When close ahead lies gloom?”
Washington State Patrol troopers and security guards escorted 50 to 60 protesters from the Senate gallery as they continued singing, and Sens. Rosa Franklin, D-South Tacoma, and Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, stood and clapped after the students were kicked out. Sen. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, also smiled and clapped.
The protest started at Red Square on Evergreen’s campus, with a mock funeral with a cardboard coffin marked “R.I.P. Education” and eulogies for the state’s Basic Health program, as well as higher education. A funeral procession wound through Olympia, with the coffin atop a Volvo station wagon, and an entourage of seven cars and several bicycles.
The protest was one of more than 100 student rallies, protests, strikes and walkouts nationwide Thursday that decried cuts to education in what was called the National Day of Action for Public Education.
States have slashed funding to grade schools through community colleges and universities to cope with plummeting tax revenue.
In Washington, the 2010 supplemental budget proposals from Gov. Chris Gregoire, the Senate and the House include between $81 million and $230 million in cuts to higher education. These cuts come on top of 14 percent tuition increases that were approved by the Legislature for this school year and the next one.
To the state, this would mean reductions in work-study programs, which provide money to students who have certain campus jobs, and cuts in services at public colleges and universities.
To Evergreen student Tanner Milliren, a freshman, it could affect his ability to attend school.
“I’m here today to mourn the passing of Tanner Milliren’s education, and in consequence, his future,” Milliren announced to the crowd, as he described how he had been hoping to become a high school psychology teacher. But cuts to the work-study program threaten his job in the college’s woodshop, he said.
Milliren, from Goldendale, said before the rally that he supports his education through the work-study grants and financial aid.
Decreased hours for the work-study students also might mean fewer hours that the woodshop can be open for class projects, he added.
“Even the kids who are in classes and not in work-study aren’t going to have as much time in the woodshop,” he said.
Evergreen senior Miguel Rodriguez said he worried about how the cuts will affect his sisters, who are 14-, 16- and 17-year-old high school students in Mattawa, southeast of Ellensburg.
“I think how difficult it was for me to get through public education,” he said. “I can’t fathom what it will be like for my little sisters. They are going to have to face a huge financial burden.”
Rodriguez said his extended family’s push for education is coming into conflict with the financial realities.
“Some of my cousins, they’re wondering if they should go to trade school or go to college, because they can’t afford it.”
There were no reports of damage or arrests at the Capitol; the same couldn’t be said of protests held elsewhere Thursday.
Students staged raucous rallies on college campuses nationwide. Some turned violent; demonstrators threw punches and ice chunks in Wisconsin and blocked university gates and smashed car windows in California.
At least 15 protesters were arrested by University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee police after as many as 150 students gathered at the student union, then moved to an administrative building to deliver petitions to the school chancellor.
A woman who was allowed to go inside encouraged protesters to rush the building after she emerged, university spokesman Tom Luljak said.
No serious injuries were reported in the melee that followed.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.