Students Convene in Capital to Appeal to Legislators

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Hundreds of students from across the state gathered in Sacramento throughout the weekend and on Monday for the UC Student Association's four-day 9th annual Student Lobby Conference in an effort to encourage state legislators to limit further budget cuts and find alternate sources of revenue for the state.

Workshops and lobbying clinics on Saturday and Sunday prepared student delegates for their Monday meetings with Gov. Jerry Brown's staff members, senators and state assembly members, including a visit by UC Berkeley students to Assemblymember Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley.

The legislators hailed from regions surrounding each UC campus, in an attempt by UCSA to lobby "every representative from around the state," said Claudia Magana, UCSA president and a junior at UC Santa Cruz.

Akofa Tsiagbe, an assembly fellow in Skinner's office, said the four UC Berkeley students she met with spoke about the ways in which funding cuts to higher education directly hurt individuals.

"One student had signed up for a class and had it on his schedule, but when he went online to just check it out a few weeks later, the class was completely canceled," Tsiagbe said. "It changed his four-year plan."

The students called for Skinner to protect Cal Grants and champion Assembly Bills 130 and 131, which would extend institutional and state-funded financial aid to undocumented students who have attended high school, technical school or adult school in California for at least three years and graduated or earned an equivalent degree from them.

The visits with representatives were punctuated by a rally and press conference on Monday, where students, legislators and union leaders spoke to the crowd.

"The rally was a great success," said Daraka Larimore-Hall, a UC Santa Barbara graduate student and president of United Auto Workers Local 2865, a union that represents UC academic student employees and that also participated in the conference. "The students did a flash-mob dance version of 'Stayin' Alive,' which was great and really pumped the energy up."

The dance referred to students' attempts to "stay alive with these budget cuts," Magana said in an interview last Friday, adding that she hoped the weekend would be an opportunity for learning and dialogue before Monday's lobbying.

"The thing representatives usually say is that they want to hear testimony and talk directly to their constituents, and that is what we do - we let students go up and advocate for themselves on issues that directly affect them," Magana said Friday.

Elysse Madarang, a UCSA representative who ran her own workshop, said she felt the conference was empowering.

"A lot of students said, 'I didn't understand how California government works,'" Madarang said. "It was really great to hear students learning a lot of this information and really engaging in the work that we do."

However, students sometimes faced challenges in their lobbying sessions.

Larimore-Hall said one of the biggest obstacles was approaching Republican representatives who are averse to Brown's plan to have voters decide in June whether to approve the extension of temporary tax increases.

"The big challenge is just the political dysfunction in Sacramento that is caused by the two-thirds requirement for raising revenue and the intransigence of Republican members who are pledging to not raise taxes even before they set foot in the capital," Larimore-Hall said.

Madarang said that students who returned from meetings in the offices of some Republican representatives reported that often the staff members they met were "a bit vague" and that none of them concretely answered questions.

While in some meetings - like the one held between UC Berkeley students and Tsiagbe - students presented their stories and demands, other meetings included more of a general dialogue with legislative staff.

Mark Hedlund, press secretary for the state Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg, said the senator's higher education policy consultant held a productive meeting with students, discussing state finances and Brown's proposed ballot measure.

After their meetings ended Monday evening, students made their way back to their respective campuses. Larimore-Hall, who traveled back to UC Santa Barbara, said that the weekend was an exciting exercise in citizen-led democracy.

"Having hundreds of students learn how to lobby and influence their elected officials is always a good thing," he said.


Nina Brown covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected]

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