Despite seeing attendance double from a previous rally, demonstrators at Monday’s “funeral for higher education in Tennessee” received no face time from Governor Phil Bredesen. Nor did the rally preceding the State of the State receive much attention from local print media.
According to the participants, the rally did, however, mark a considerable shift in momentum for the efforts of the Coalition to Save Our Schools.
“Today was a huge success,” TBR-elected Student Regent Gionni Carr said. “The students that came out who were concerned about their education came out in large quantities, made our voices known.”
A multitude of students, faculty and concerned citizens made up the coalition efforts. Turnout more than doubled from the first demonstration held January 13. This time approximately 250 people marched to the capitol.
The demonstrators trudged down the heavily trafficked streets of Rosa Parks Blvd. and James Robertson Parkway wearing black funeral attire. Make-shift caskets labeled “MTSU”, “TTU”, “R.I.P. Tennessee’s future” and the likes were shouldered by the black-clad line of protestors destined for the front steps of the state capitol.
Professor of English Andy Smith said the success of the rally was due to the thoughtful and creative planning on behalf of the coalition.
“Basically, if you don’t have a theme, a protest just looks like a lot of complainers,” Smith said. “If people engage in protest, they have to be creative. They have to be smart. They have to be articulate.
“I think the funeral was a great idea, and I think people understood the message. I think people understood that it was a satire or a form of theatre.”
Smith gave what he dubbed a “eulogy for higher education” in front of the demonstrators at the capitol. The rally members responded with cheers to his poetic speech on what he remembered to be the beauty of the college experience.
He closed his remarks noting how this is being threatened and how citizens should react.
“Basically, I was saying that this was the day that education died, and I was sad and angry,” Smith said of his closing remarks. “But then I said it doesn’t have to be this way, and history teaches us when people stand up and when people resist.and when people say ‘no’ that we can change history and make something that looks bad look very good.”
Though Governor Bredesen did not ask to speak to representatives of the coalition, the crowd was visited by two state representatives. State Representatives G. A. Hardaway of Memphis and Brenda Gilmore of Metro Nashville briefly spoke to the crowd on the steps.
Hardaway urged the members of the rally to spread their enthusiasm to their peers at home.
He also noted that the coalition and citizens must not cease in staying involved with government decisions.
The coalition plans on having another demonstration before March 26 TBR meeting.