Daily Egyptian

Rally against budget cuts reveals resistance

By Sam Beard, @SamBeard_DE

The sun beat down on more than 240 people at the Rally Against Bruce Rauner’s Budget Cuts at noon Wednesday in front of Morris Library.

At a town hall meeting the morning before the protest, SIU President Randy Dunn said he hoped the rally would be a big one, urging more political involvement from the community.

The rally was organized by all four SIU unions — three employee unions and one student union — on campus and drew awareness to the people hurt by the governor’s proposed cuts, organizer Johnathan Flowers said. Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed state budget would cut social services, including higher education, and has led to the university sending potential layoff notices to faculty members and graduate assistants.

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If passed, the governor’s budget would withhold an unprecedented $387 million from Illinois state universities next year, equating to a $44 million slash in state appropriations to SIU.

The governor’s proposed cuts would put hundreds of thousands of citizens at risk, said Flowers, a doctoral candidate in philosophy form Oak Park.

Messages like “Proud Union Member,” “Don’t Cut Students” and “I Love Illinois, Don’t You?” plastered homemade protest signs raised in opposition to the the cuts. Protestors championed school funding, unions and education as a human right. Some said the governor should raise taxes on the wealthy as opposed to cutting the social support services of the poor.

“He is endangering the future of Illinois with these budget cuts,” Flowers said. “It affects the future leaders of Illinois, the future leaders of the United States.”

Jessica Hays, a freshman from Bozeman, Mont., studying forestry and photography, said she came to SIU because of Touch of Nature Environmental Center and WSIU. She was protesting because those two units are facing a potential 50 percent cut in state funding.

“If we lose both of those I will be leaving SIU,” Hays said. “You need more than a degree — you need experience and you need an opportunity.”

The crowd was not limited to those associated with the university as community members and city officials also attended.

Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry was first scheduled speaker and said the city of Carbondale stands with the protestors.

“I’ve been calling this a perfect storm — the budget cuts to the school and to the Amtrack services,” Henry said. “No one deserves this.”

If Rauner’s budget is approved, Amtrak funding would be decreased by $16 million, eliminating two daily trains to Chicago. At the town hall meeting, Dunn said the university plans to fight the Amtrak cuts. 

Former Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon did not make her scheduled appearance.

After the event, a group of about 20 continued the discussion, elaborating on the history of similar movements.

Measures like Rauner’s cut do not lie along party lines, said Nick Smaligo, a doctoral candidate in philosophy from Carbondale. 

“This kind of stuff is called austerity,” Smaligo said. “Which is when politicians and wealthy people try to solve their economic problems by cutting funds and services from poorer people.”

People in the group talked about the 1970 protest at SIU, which received national attention and caused the spring semester to end in March. 

“School starts to cost a lot more after the student revolts in the ’70s,” he said. “This was a specific strategy enforced by former California Gov. Ronald Regan who was elected on the platform of ‘cleaning up that mess in Berkley.’” Reagan was referring to similar protests sweeping California at the time.

He said political strategies of that time were to raise tuition and change the nature of the university itself.

“The university shifted it’s focus from a place where people go and discuss what’s going on, to being a place where you go for job training,” he said. “The point there is that these kids need to think about getting a job and nothing else.”

The governor’s proposed budget cuts endanger higher education’s mission, which is to create responsible citizens of the world, Flowers said.

“Once we realize that the politicians aren’t representing us, is when we start looking to one another and start organizing things that have the capacity to be effective,” Smaligo said.

Sam Beard can be reached at [email protected]

Evan Jones contributed to this report. 

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