BOSTON--About 700 college students from across the state--including approximately 40 from Harvard--held a rally here yesterday morning to protest pending Congressional cuts in financial aid.
The protest began outside Government Center with a series of short speeches by students, a professor from the university of Massachusetts at Amherst and a state senator.
Carrying a multitude of signs and chanting a variety of slogans, the students then marched to 114 State St., the site of the Republican National Committee's state headquarters.
Students also registered to vote, sent postcards to their parents asking them to call Congress about the cuts and signed a giant "scroll" to Republican Senate leaders demanding restoration of cuts passed in the House.
The rally lasted about three hours.
The U.S. House of Representatives, largely along party lines, approved a federal budget that would cut $10.2 billion in student aid while the U.S. Senate passed a plan that would cut $5 billion.
Republicans have argued that the benefits of a smaller budget deficit outweigh the costs of the short-term pain from the cuts.
One of the most emotional speeches of the morning was delivered by Dan Rivera, a junior at UMass-Amherst.
Rivera said he spent three and a half years in the military, including six months with Operation Desert Storm.
"Now, I have to hold three jobs, and I still can't make ends meet," he said.
Rivera criticized students for failing in the past to act on social causes such as Proposition 187 and cutbacks in support for the poor. But he said they now had the chance to make up for their passivity by rallying students on their campuses.
Richard Rogers, a statistics professor at UMass-Amherst, said that art affordable, state-subsidized education allowed him to avoid the fate of his father--a lifelong bus drive who longed to be an academic.
He urged the students to protest the cuts vigorously.
"The faculty will survive," Rogers said. "The graduate students will survive. But the undergraduates are not fully represented at the table. You must make your voices hears. You must complain about the pain."
No students from Harvard spoke at the rally.
Much of the day's rhetoric was aimed squarely at Republicans--particularly Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.).
Leif Utne and Mike Nolan, two UMass-Amherst students, opened the rally donning masks of Dole and Gingrich, respectively, and delivering a sarcastic speech about why cuts to student aid were good for the country. the crowd booed resoundingly and eventually broke out into a "Bob Dole sucks" chant.
(By the end of the afternoon, Utne had scrawled "I suck" on the face of the Gingrich mask and "Fuck Newt" on the backside.)
Another student carried a sign reading "Hey Newt Get your slimy hands off my diploma." still another waved a banner saying, "Weld, not all of us were born with a silver spoon in out mouths," in reference to Massachusetts Gov. William F. weld '66, also a Republican.
Other signs such as "Wat doo yoo mene Kutbaks?" addressed the issue on a more direct level.
The Harvard contingent was relatively quiet, but the turnout of around 40 was must larger than that of similar rallies in the past.
The Undergraduate Council, the Harvard-Radcliffe College Democrats and the Progressive Action Network (PAN) were all represented at the rally.
"I thought Harvard's participation...was quite impressive, especially considering that it was from 10 to 2 on a Tuesday during midterm season," said Scott L. Shuchart '97. "It was a very good showing on a rally of that size."
The council's participation and $100 contribution marked a new interest in activism for the organization.
Several council members mentioned on occasion last spring when a group approached the council about sponsoring a similar rally to protest projected cuts.
"The U.C. sort of felt like it wasn't the body; it didn't think it was their job to do that, and I think [yesterday's participation] shows growth in the breadth of the issues that the U.C. is willing to do," said council Treasurer Edward B. Smith Ill '97, a participant of the rally.
And other students pointed to a renewed interest in activism on the part of student in general. PAN cofounder Eric D. Albert '98 pointed to the contrast between yesterday's protest and a similar rally held in Boston last spring to protest Gingrich's "Contract with America."
Only about five Harvard student showed up at that demonstration, Albert said.
"Together with the U.C., we were able to publicize this rally the way that no political issue has been publicized in years, and the response we got is that Harvard is rejecting its apathetic past," Albert said