By Alyssa Henderson
In November, we new interns at PJALS successfully held a legislative panel on EWU’s Cheney campus. The panel was sponsored by PJAL-EWU (the new club on Eastern’s campus that we kicked off in September) and the Associated Students of Eastern Washington University. Focusing primarily on proposed budget cuts to higher education, the panel allowed students and community members the opportunity to speak directly to their legislators, addressing their concerns. Representative Susan Fagan of the 9th District, Senator Majority Leader Lisa Brown of the 3rd district, Senator Michael Baumgartner of the 6th district, and Representative John Ahern also of the 6th district sent their policy advisors.
Expecting only a turn-out of around 40 people, we were delighted when nearly all seats were filled and 100 people had partaken. Students representing different colleges, faculty, and community members brought forward their own personal stories of how budget cuts have personally affected them and those they know. Among the speakers was Dr. Ed Byrnes, director of the BASW program at EWU, and Taylor Malone, student of Eastern and also the coordinator of Next Up Spokane. Advisors were able to listen as MC Amanda Hunt introduced each speaker and helped guide the panel’s transition from stories to audience testimony. There were differing views among the policy advisors in terms of how budget cuts should be addressed and solutions found and debate would at times get heated as the audience would challenge the dialogue some of the advisors would use, (such as the term “welfare queens”), and when people became adamant that not enough was being done to raise revenue. It was interesting to watch the political ping-pong go on as some of the more liberal advisors would speak against conservative ideals.
Inspiring people to speak up and speak out, our legislative panel was not only a success, but helped to give voice to the major budget crisis our state is currently facing.
PJAL-EWU is actively planning a week of action on campus during spring quarter 2012 that will introduce community organizing workshops and provide students with information on how to become activists in their communities.