Masses Rally Against Romney

Thousands of students, staff, faculty, and others coming together to decry the impending budget cuts at the steps of Beacon Hill on April 29 and 30. - Photo by Lisa Hickler

Thousands of students, staff, faculty, and others coming together to decry the impending budget cuts at the steps of Beacon Hill on April 29 and 30. – Photo by Lisa Hickler

Gin Dumcius

For two consecutive days thousands of students, faculty, and other victims of the coming budget cuts led fierce protests outside the Statehouse to save their schools and programs.

The last two days of April were busy ones for college students, staff and faculty, especially for those who were from out of town, coming in buses and by subway to converge across the street from the Statehouse. Many were from the various UMass campuses across the state, and others from North Shore Community College and Westfield State College.

The first round of protests took place on Tuesday, April 29. A small band of faculty and students from UMass Boston, with union representative Tom Goodkind on drums and retired staff member Dick Lourie playing the saxophone, made their way up Morrissey Boulevard early Tuesday morning with a campus police escort as they headed to the JFK/UMass T stop and eventually Park Street.

More and more people poured out onto Boston Common by the minute as buses stopped and dropped off professors, union members, and students. Seven to nine buses were reportedly from Amherst.

“We’re really happy with the turnout,” said Rachel Kanter, a major in Communications Disorders at UMass Amherst. A large walkout at UMass Amherst had taken place the day before, and many teachers excused students to going to the rallies.

“[Go] back to school, governor,” lectured Jay Simmons, a UMass Lowell professor, on his message to Governor Mitt Romney. He further accused the governor of cutting taxes for the rich and cutting services for the poor.

Many carried signs saying “How SWIFT Mass Was to Make a MITTstake,” “Stop the Romney Reorganization,” and standbys like “Higher Ed Unions United.”

Placards in hand, the protesters made their way down Tremont Street, annoying at least one driver who said, “Don’t they have something better to do?” The driver, an attorney who had an appointment in the probate court that morning, pointed to the skyscrapers surrounding the area and added, “You think there’s anybody in that $5 million dollar office building who cares?”

Peter Nessen, Romney’s secretary of education, said he thought it was “wonderful” that the students were expressing their concern for higher education, but later told The Boston Herald they were “misinformed.”

Protesters went past One Beacon Street, where embattled UMass president William Bulger’s offices are on the twenty-sixth floor. At one stage of Romney’s reorganization plan, Bulger was set to have his job eliminated. Under the House’s plan, Bulger keeps his job. Romney, with the help of the few Republicans in the State Legislature, is currently pushing for an up and down vote on whether to cut the nearly $5.6 million-a-year office. Romney was across the street at the Omni Parker House at the time, unveiling a new anti-tax commercial.

President Bulger’s absence was noted during the rallies, as presidents of Holyoke Community College and Bridgewater State College got up to the microphone, cries of “Where’s Bulger?” came from the crowd. When asked the whereabouts of the president, Bulger spokesman John Hoey sharply replied, “Doing his job.”

“I wish the campus administration and the president’s office were doing more to head off the cuts,” said UMass Boston’s Goodkind. “A lot of people are extremely angry” about the budget cuts, he said, “and so far it doesn’t look like the legislature is listening.”

During and after the rallies, protesters flooded the Statehouse, looking for representatives and senators. A duo from UMass Amherst had a large box of letters to deliver, while a small group of faculty from the same school were looking around for a committee meeting. Many more sought out their congresspersons, possibly easing the frustrations of politicians like Congressman Barney Frank (4th Congressional District) and State Senator Jarrett Barrios (D. of Cambridge). When each came to UMass Boston to speak earlier this year, both complained about rallies and protests, saying it was difficult for legislators to know who was whose constituents among the teeming masses outside their offices. Both suggested writing letters and calling your congressperson as the best way to get your message across.

Many attended a session of the joint Committee on Education, Arts and Humanities, at one o’clock, where Nessen, Chancellor of the Board of Higher Education Judith Gill, and Ron Kermisch, vice president of Bain & Company’s Boston office, testified on Romney’s reorganization plan.

State Senator Robert Antonioni (D. of Worcester and Middlesex), co-chair of the committee, expressed concerns about rising costs for the students, likening the tuition and fee hikes to tax increases. “It doesn’t seem like a reorganization when students are just being charged more,” he said.

Calling the increases a “fiscal necessity,” Nessen said if all the increases were added up, $94 million would be raised, $44 million of which would be set aside for financial aid for any student who needs it. Even with the increases, Massachusetts would have the cheapest tuition of the region, he added.

The committee meeting was punctuated several times by a protester who at one point yelled “Save UMass!” and “Nessen is the Bain of Higher Education!”

A reported five thousand turned out for the April 29 rally, and nearly the same amount turned up the following day, to protest massive cuts to health services and advocate raising revenue by raising taxes, something much of the state appears to be against, according to current polling data. The data also shows just as many do not want the cuts, either.

As the Budget Cuts Monster (a costumed Nat Stephenson) lumbered around the grassy knoll, a miniature Massachusetts in its claw, Maria Blanco, a UMass Boston student, challenged Romney to balance her checkbook. Because of the numerous cuts, rising transportation costs and much-needed money for the dentist, glasses, and tuition increases, $8,767 was cut from her budget, she says. “I’m offended by the multiple cuts,” she said, as her little daughter played on the steps a few feet away.

Farther down, the Budget Cuts Monster stopped to pose for a picture, its cloth teeth coming down on most of the South Shore and Cape Cod, before it loped back into the crowd.