College Democrats aim to raise awareness of budget cut effects

Online petition gathers tens of thousands of names

Story by Glen Olson, Chief Copy Editor

The UW-Eau Claire College Democrats hit their highest number of petition signatures in an effort to raise awareness of the resistance to Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget cuts to the UW System.

Anna Schwanebeck, UW-Eau Claire College Democrats president, created the petition on four weeks ago.

It is now at 31,505 signatures. Supporters from all over the nation cited reasons for signing, such as protecting the quality and meaningfulness of education in Wisconsin, like a Stevens Point signer, to generally resisting a devaluing of education by politicians, like signers from Las Vegas and San Antonio, Tex.

Schwanebeck said in a press release when the petition hit 26,000 signatures that she hoped those who sometimes feel powerless to make changes, like students, can see the power of having thousands of people speak out and force attention to an issue.

She repeated those statements as the petition made it over 30,000 and said those who oppose the cuts and will be impacted negatively by them shouldn’t feel like there is nothing they can do to make those opinions heard.

“Students can feel like we don’t have a say in politics a lot of the time,” Schwanebeck said. “And when you sign a petition that gets 30,000 signatures, and when you call your legislator and stand up against the cuts, that really makes a difference and that forces people to listen to us.”

Schwanebeck said the group’s resistence to the cuts include a  Feb. 13 campus rally and letter-writing campaigns.

She said the group will also take part in a College Democrats of Wisconsin event called “Day of Action” once the Joint Finance Committee begins reviewing the Governor’s proposed budget. Statewide democrats will call legislators and encourage them to vote against the cuts.

Beverly Wickstrom, the chair of the Eau Claire County Democratic party said she’s glad to see this level of student involvement, and her group often partners with College Democrats on campaigning and other issues.

She said  what College Democrats do is important to let legislators know what people are feeling in the communities they represent.

“I think it’s very important, because people in Madison don’t have a good pulse on what’s going on outside Madison, necessarily,” Wickstrom said. “And for people, through letter writing, through petitions, through emails and phone calls to the legislators, really help give politicians a picture of what people are concerned about.”

The petition concentrates on the effects the cuts could have on students, including reduced opportunities for programs, higher tuition rates and waning respect for the institution they’re paying to attend and receive a degree from.

Schwanebeck said that’s what makes this a nonpartisan issue, and one that should unite students and people who value education to voice their concerns about the cuts.

She said she saw this school as a great choice for her, and she wants to help preserve its quality and affordability for other students, including her brother, who wants to go to UW-Madison.

“It was really great that I could achieve a world-class education without paying more than I could afford,” Schwanebeck said. “It’s really troubling to me that these budget cuts could price (my brother) out of his education, and also lower the value of our education here at UW-Eau Claire and the rest of the UW System.”