ORONO, Maine — National budget cuts in education and social services forced by military spending on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drew protesters to a midday rally Monday at the University of Maine.
The Maine Peace Action Committee, or MPAC, organized the rally to draw attention to budget inequities, said Adam Stern, a spokesman for the group. It is especially pertinent, he said, in light of the University of Maine System’s recent announcement that it likely will face a $42 million shortfall in the next four years because of the struggling economy.
“Our message is clear,” said Stern, a first-year graduate student. “We oppose the cuts to our campus budget because these cuts will have substantial impact on our college community while at the same time a much larger amount of money is being wastefully spent on the swelling military budget.”
About 50 people stopped to listen to speeches from UMaine students and philosophy professor Doug Allen during a busy noon hour. In addition to the MPAC protest, there were pro-choice and pro-life protesters near the Memorial Union entrance across from Fogler Library, and tours of campus were being given to high school students on spring vacation this week.
Protesters chanted, “Books not bombs.” One protester held a sign that stated, “Invest in education, not militarization.”
Maine taxpayers spent $48 million last year on nuclear weapons, a dollar amount that equals 5,000 one-year UMaine scholarships, according to literature passed out by the protesters.
Anya Rose, a first-year graduate student in ecology and environmental science, said her apprenticeship has been cut for next year. She found out too late, she said, to apply for awards or scholarships for the 2009-10 academic year.
“I’m scrambling around trying to figure that out,” Rose told the group.
Stern said the protest was not aimed at UMaine President Robert Kennedy, who recently announced that layoffs likely would be in order for the flagship campus to deal with its own deficit for the coming fiscal year, but to draw attention to the issue.
Although MPAC spoke to a mostly sympathetic crowd, two speakers addressed the group during an open mike session, speaking out, they said, in support of members of the military pursuing college degrees.
Ben Lawlor, a 24-year-old sophomore from Lincoln who said he is in the Air Force, told the crowd he thinks education is a privilege and something for people to work toward, rather than something to expect the government to provide.
“I think this [protest] is unnecessary and I think some of their numbers are skewed,” he said after walking away from the microphone. “I didn’t join the military to get a free education. I joined because of my country. I love my country. I want to do something for it. I would die for my country. I don’t like handouts from anybody. A handout means that you owe something.”