A crowd came out to Golden Heart Plaza early in the afternoon, with around 30 protesters advocating for veto overrides holding signs along First Avenue and tuning into coverage of the legislative session taking place in Juneau.
Aurora Bowers, who organized the protest, had a sound system hooked up in the plaza, with a mic hovering over a livestream of legislators speaking in Juneau.
“It just felt like we just need to be together in this crazy time,” she said. “You know, it just feels like if there was ever a time to be out in the streets and be angry, now is the time.”
Kayt Sunwood, an adjunct professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, held signs in both hands while walking down the sidewalk and while listening to the legislative sessions.
Sunwood said she was pleading for an override of the “draconian” budget vetoes and that lives depend on it.
“The lives of young people, seniors, well everybody in Alaska,” she said. “We had a loan for a disaster that we had — an oil disaster that we had at our house — and the credit union called us on Monday and said that it’s on hold.”
The reason the loan is on hold, Sunwood said, is she’s an employee of the University of Alaska, which the governor has hit with a $130 million budget veto.
She wasn’t the only UA employee at the protest either.
Gordon Williams, a mathematics professor, stood on the corner of First Avenue and Cushman Street, holding a sign up to passing cars.
“I’m here to protest the governor’s vetoes of the bipartisan budget that was approved, ” he said. “That was a sustainable budget, that was giving us a path forward for this state and instead he’s giving us vetoes which are going to negatively affect vital services, basically probably kill the university system, certainly going to deal a mortal blow, and significantly damage elementary, secondary and post-secondary education, deny services to elders.
“I mean, basically if there’s anybody who is important to the future of the state, his budget cuts seem targeted to hurt them,” he said.
Horns blared while he spoke, fellow protesters cheering as they heard their support. Stickers circulated, on hats, on shirts and in hands, with a picture of the governor and the word “tyrant” in bold type, all capitalized.
Williams has lived in Alaska since 2009. He said he believed all the cuts were bad, but cited cuts to the university as “particularly devastating.” He referenced a letter sent from the president of the Northwest Commission on Colleges and University to legislators, warning that the budget cuts puts the accreditation of the university system at risk.
“If they lose accreditation, we lose all federal funds that come into the state to the university: GI Bill, federal financial aid, all the grant programs,” Williams said, “including the things that support things like the satellites that are right now monitoring the fire out in Shovel Creek, like the satellites that are being used to monitor the smoke that we’re all dealing with right now, like the volcano and earthquake observing systems which are vital to the safety of all Alaskans.”
Across the street from Williams, Melissa Head held up an Alaska Flag with another protestor, using her other hand to wave a sign at oncoming cars.
“I think that the vetoes, the budget vetoes, were way beyond anything that is reasonable, and we’ve allowed Outsiders to come in and tell us what we should be doing with our state, and the solution should come from inside the state itself,” Head said.
Back in the plaza, listening to Gavel coverage of the Legislature, Martha Hood, a university student, said she’s weighing her options following the loss of a scholarship that would have helped her attend school.
“I’m starting my master’s at the university in the fall for education counseling,” she said, “and I was supposed to be receiving the post-secondary education grant but received the email yesterday that because of the governor’s veto that I would not be receiving the post-secondary education grant. So now I’m going to have to look into either taking out student loans or deferring my master’s until I can afford to pay for college.”
Hood, wearing a Nanook Nation shirt, said she is still trying to process the situation.
She came to the protest after reading about it on Facebook and said she was there to show support for “pretty much everything.”
“I pretty much know somebody being impacted by every budget cut: elder care, Medicaid, K-12 operating budget, the university — all that."
Contact staff writer Kyrie Long at 459-7510. Follow her on Twitter at: twitter.com/FDNMlocal