Rally in Salem draws statewide crowd

Hundreds of students gathered alongside the Oregon Student Association in Salem on Monday to rally against the state’s disinvestment in higher education and the rising costs of college.

Hundreds of students gathered alongside the Oregon Student Association in Salem on Monday to rally against the state’s disinvestment in higher education and the rising costs of college.

On the second floor of the State Capitol Building, Senator Mark Hass listened to demonstrators as they gave testimony to the dire financial straits that the Oregon University System and students are facing.

“I am $18,000 in debt; that’s going to take at least 10 to 15 years to work off. I don’t have time to be an indentured servant,” PSU senior Scott Greene said. “We’re trapped in a cycle of debt.”

For the two hours leading up to the OSA rally, students attended legislative sessions to meet with state representatives and senators. The goal of the meetings was to encourage legislators to vote in favor of Senate Bill 742, which would grant tuition equity to illegal immigrants who graduate from Oregon high schools.

Senators also heard testimony about the rising cost of tuition as Oregon’s higher education budget rests on the chopping block.

With the conclusion of the legislative sessions, students funneled back to the Micah Building in preparation for the rally. The building, capable of holding at least 500 people, slowly filled as buses continued to deliver students throughout the day.

In anticipation for the march, attendees crafted last-minute signs and donned life jackets, keeping with the theme of “drowning in debt.”

At noon, the crowd mobilized in front of the building and began marching eastbound on State Street, stopping only for traffic.

The rally, which OSA optimistically billed as the largest student rally in Oregon’s history, fell short of its turn out mark of 500 students to set the record. However, OSA members were still excited by the results.

“We’re still not exactly sure how many people attended,” said OSA Campus Organizer Casey Dreher. “A lot of the attendees didn’t register with us when they got here, so it’s going to be difficult to count.

Overall, Dreher estimated that approximately 350 participants attended the rally.

After marching three blocks through Wilson Park, protesters stopped at the steps of the capitol building and continued chanting, “No cuts! No fees! Education should be free!”

As demonstrators filled the steps of the building, a large cardboard cutout of a ship was presented to the crowd. Its bow was labeled “S.S. Higher-ed.”

In addition, several attendees sported inflatable pool toys to demonstrate their desire to “stay afloat.”

Despite the serious subject matter, the mood was light; protesters passed beach balls through the audience, and a lone bugler intermittently sounded off, eliciting a collective “Charge!” response from the crowd.

At around 1 p.m., Governor John Kitzhaber addressed the crowd, sharing his desire to continue supporting Oregon’s higher education funding.

Of the nearly 30 PSU students in attendance, two of the five ASPSU presidential candidates—Adam Rahmlow and Corrine Gilbertson—were in attendance. Gilbertson’s running mate, Steve Taylor, also attended the rally.

“I think this is something every student should have taken the time to come and participate in,” Rahmlow said. “You don’t often get a chance to actively take part in the democratic process like this. That’s something of real value.”

Presidential candidate Ethan Allen Smith was unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts, but has been participating in phone banking to request support.

Candidate Jenny Myrick was also in Salem during the event, but was unable to attend because she was working in Representative Jules Bailey’s office.

“It’s amazing to see such a powerful student presence in the capitol,” Myrick said.

Oregon community colleges were well-represented at the event as well. Mario Parker-Milligan, a Lane Community College student, addressed the doubling of community college tuition in the last ten years.

“Students are up to our necks in debt and our schools are sinking,” he said. “Students are paying more and getting less.” ?