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Boston students protest spiraling education costs

By Mark Pratt
Associated Press / October 5, 2011

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BOSTON—Dozens of Northeastern University students joined a nationwide student walk-out Wednesday to support the Occupy Wall Street movements against what they say is corporate control of government and spiraling education costs. About 300 members of the Massachusetts Nurses Association also joined the rally for the first time, with an official saying the move would add resources and lend credibility to the cause.

About 200 drum-playing and chanting students met on campus before joining the Occupy Wall Street movements that have spread to cities around the country, including Boston. Many went to Dewey Square to join the Occupy Boston protest, where members of one of the largest unions also gathered.

"We're letting inequality build in this country and there's not enough resistance," said senior international affairs major Andrea Gordillo, of Sarasota, Fla.

"There are real bread and butter issues in this country -- like the future of Social Security and our parents' retirement -- that aren't being taken care of now, and we're the ones who are going to be called on to fix that," she said of her generation.

The students banged on drums made of water jugs and chanted slogans, including "Banks got bailed out, and we got sold out," and "They say cut back, and we say fight back."

One person held a sign that said, "It's We the People, not We the Corporations."  Another demonstrator carried a yellow "Don't tread on me" flag with a coiled snake that has been re-popularized by the Tea Party movement.

Barbara Tiller, a nurse at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, joined the protesters, saying she was pushing for changes in the tax law that would see those earning the most end up paying a bigger proportion of their income as tax, a proposal that has been advocated by President Barack Obama.

"We are pushing for a fairness in the tax law," Tiller said.

"This is an organic process, this is a process of grassroot people coming together, it's a beautiful thing," said David Schildmeier, spokesman for the Massachusetts Nurses Association. "What our group does is lend credibility to the effort for people who are watching outside ... this is the beginning of a movement."

"We are evaluating how we can best be of support to them," he said. "We just had somebody drive by in a car and hand out blankets and sweaters to these people -- a middle class person going to work who'd given clothes to these people because they understand everybody suffers in this."

Molly Hannon, from Roslindale, went to protest at the Occupy Boston site on her day off work.

She said the involvement of labor unions would energize the protest movement, help organize it and provide valuable resources.

"I'm pushing for a change," Hannon said. "I'd be here all day long if I named everything I wanted to change."

Still, she had a message for politicians she said appear bent on advancing personal, ideological and party interests at the expense of national interests.

"I'd tell them the (practice) got to go, it ain't working," Hannon said. "It gotta go, you gotta change, you gotta change your ways."

Activists who joined the Occupy Boston protesters Wednesday include Cornel West, a longtime black history professor at universities including Harvard and Princeton.

James Griffin, a third-year student from North Andover, said the movement inspired him to get involved in a social cause for the first time.

"I understand that the people who control the economy in this country don't always have the best interests of people like me in mind," he said.

Alyssa Castiglia is concerned about the debt she faces upon graduation. The senior music industry major from Buffalo, N.Y., says even with scholarships, grants and financial aid, she faces student debt of $125,000. She chose Northeastern because it had the best program for her field.

"I don't want to be restricted to choosing a college by what I could afford," she said. "My dean keeps telling me they keep raising costs to keep up the perception that we're on par with the Ivy League schools. That's ridiculous."

Some students didn't have a class scheduled at the time of the noontime rally, but others, including Castiglia, skipped class with the blessing of her professors.

International Affairs professor Denise Horn didn't have a class scheduled, but said she would have understood had students wanted to cut.

"These students are learning how to be engaged in a civil society, and I support that," she said. "They feel the system has failed them and they need a voice."

Stephen Weyel, a sophomore health sciences major, stopped by the rally on his way to work out of curiosity, and said he sympathized with the demonstrators.

"It isn't right how the wealth in this nation is spread around," he said. "People here are just voicing their opinion."

Victoria Porell, a third-year student from Phoenix, Ariz., helped organize the rally, and noted the number of people taking pictures.

"Those are going to be shared and this is going to spread," she said.

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Associated Press writer Rodrique Ngowi contributed to this report. He can be reached at www.twitter.com/ngowi