Rally sparks student unity

By Sean Noble and Paul Wagner

About 100 NIU students blocked traffic on Lincoln Hwy. and one student was slightly injured Wednesday during a statewide Day of Action protest against budget cuts to higher education.

Along with the blocking of Lincoln Hwy., students marched through several campus buildings chanting anti-budget cut slogans. No one was arrested during the protests.

The Illinois Student Association had declared Wednesday a “Day of Action,” during which students from about 15 colleges and universities protested Gov. James Thompson’s budget cuts.

Tuesday marked the beginning of the General Assembly’s veto session in which legislators have the opportunity to veto Thompson’s $363 million statewide budget cut.

The NIU protesters marched from a rally at King Memorial Commons to the corner of Lincoln and Carroll Avenue. The students sat down on Lincoln at about 1:30 p.m. Traffic was stopped and some motorists were forced to detour. The protesters held signs with slogans such as “Stop the Sitcom in Springfield,” and “The Students Are Coming. Fight Back, NIU!” They also chanted, “No more cut!” and, “What’s up? Tuition!”

Police met the protesters and told them to leave the street and return to the sidewalks. Students left after disrupting traffic for about seven minutes.

“They heeded the warning and left peacefully,” said DeKalb Police Chief Joe Maciejewski. He said arrests will not be made because the students left when they were asked.

e said the police knew students were planning to block the highway. He said Todd Kuzma, chairman of Day of Action campus activities, had gone to the DeKalb Police Department and asked what the ramifications of the protest would be.

“We can’t allow violations (of law) to continue, especially when we know about it (in advance),” Maciejewski said. There was nothing the police could do before traffic was blocked, he said.

“I think they’re (protesters) using an inappropriate tactic,” said Jon Dalton, vice president for student affairs, who was at the scene.

NIU freshman Art Zemke said he was slightly injured after being hit by a car during the protest. “I got in front of this car, and instead of hitting the brake, the driver hit the gas. I rolled over the hood and onto the sidewalk.” He said an earring in his left ear was torn out “when I smashed my head on the car hood.”

Maciejewski said Zemke filed an accident report with DeKalb Police, who are looking for the driver of a red Buick. Police obtained the car’s license number from an independent reporter’s videotape. The report will be turned over to the DeKalb County State’s Attorney’s Office where a decision on whether to file charges will be made.

State’s Attorney Philip DiMarzio said since he had not received the report “it would be premature for me to say anything.”

Zemke was bleeding from the left ear and would not accept medical attention, Maciejewski said.

After leaving Lincoln, the protesters marched to The Northern Star, 615 Lincoln Terrace, where they demanded to speak to Editor Dave Duschene about the content of a his Sept. 23 column. The column criticized student activists for protesting the Board of Regents when they passed a $150 tuition increase for NIU in September. “Pay the increase. And shut up,” the column stated.

Duschene said protesters were angry about his column because “they think I’m using my position as a student leader incorrectly and because they think I condone a tuition increase.” He said he was not happy the increase passed, but protesting will not reverse the increase. He refused to comment on the protest.

The protesters then moved on to various classroom buildings where they continued chanting and urging students to boycott their classes.

A student in DuSable Hall said, “Nobody was really paying much attention, and teachers pretty much went on with what they were doing.”

The students concluded their protest in Swen Parson Hall, where they sat down in the hall outside the Financial Aid Office. There, the students listened to protest leaders.

Kuzma said Day of Action leaders will be meeting soon to discuss Wednesday’s events and future plans. He criticized Duschene’s decision to print a story last Thursday about plans to block the highway. Kuzma said the reporter covering the story had been asked not to print it.

John Lennon Society member Jim Fabris said, “Actions speak louder than words, but not necessarily better.” He urged the students to continue their protest by writing to legislators.