Chanting slogans like “recall Rick” and waving signs demanding Republican Gov. Snyder’s resignation, a crowd of about 1,000 protesters filled the sidewalk at the southern end of Michigan Stadium at the Spring Commencement ceremony Saturday.
Community members, school teachers and protesters representing various unions across the state — including the Michigan Nursing Association, United Auto Workers, as well as the Lecturers Employee Organization and Graduate Employees’ Organization at the University — gathered to protest Snyder’s proposed cuts to higher education, health care and the appointment of emergency financial managers.
The group filled the Pioneer High School football stadium for a rally at 9 a.m. before streaming down South Main St. towards the stadium. As car horns honked in support, protesters outside the stadium circulated along the sidewalks while chanting and singing.
Jonathan McLaughlin, a graduate student instructor in Classical Studies and History as well as a member of GEO, said he came to the protest to speak out against education cuts and inform graduation attendees about Snyder’s proposed cuts to education and unions.
“We’re just here to let the governor know that we’re disappointed in what he’s supporting,” McLaughlin said.
The Ann Arbor Police Department said there were no arrests made during the protest. The Washtenaw County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union was also present to monitor the rally.
During the ceremony, some graduates expressed their opposition to Snyder’s policies and budget proposal by turning their backs to him as he delivered the commencement address.
After Snyder was announced as the commencement speaker in March, several students expressed their opposition through organized protests, including recent LSA graduate Zach Goldsmith who organized a March 16th protest and appeared at the University’s Board of Regents meeting the next day to object to Snyder’s selection as graduation speaker.
Goldsmith was also a speaker at the Pioneer High School rally this morning. In an interview after the ceremony, Goldsmith said he thought the rally was successful and he was proud to see the large number of union workers in attendance. Among the rally attendees was Bob King, president of the United Auto Workers Union.
Outside the ceremony, during Snyder’s address, protesters turned to face the stadium, growing in volume as they shouted towards the stadium.
Elected officials, such as Yousef Rabhi, a commissioner on the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners, and State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) also gathered in support of the protesters at the rally and the protest.
Rabhi, who graduated in December, said most of his chants were in support of the graduates, but added that he is also opposed to Snyder’s proposed education cuts.
“A lot of what we’re talking about is education is important to people of the state and cutting education should not even be on the table,” Rabhi said.
“We re-invent Michigan by investing in education and that’s something that Rick Snyder is missing,” he added.
Rabhi also said he came to the rally because he feels public officials should support workers’ efforts and rights.
“It’s important for elected officials to be participants in the process of workers lives, of supporting workers lives and democracy in the workplace,” Rabhi said.
Irwin, a University alum, said he came to support the graduates, adding that while he disagrees with Snyder’s positions on education, in choosing Snyder as the commencement speaker, the University provided a platform for the discussion of his politics.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to thank (Snyder) for coming here and to highlight his plans for the University of Michigan, and how his plans for the University of Michigan differ from the majority of people in this community, the majority of the University community, the majority of the students who want to see the institution get more support,” Irwin said.
For Rebeca Packard, a nurse at the University hospital and a member of the Michigan Nursing Association, the rally was also a chance to protest cuts to health care, which she said could affect patient care at the hospital.
LSA senior Mark Novarro was one of the few graduating seniors at the protest. He said he chose not to attend the ceremony because he does not believe Snyder is supportive of the University and its students.
Though he missed attending the ceremony with his fellow graduates, Novarro said he felt the protest was worthwhile.
“It would have been nice to be in there and have that moment of solidarity with everybody but at the same time, to be completely honest, I had more fun here than I think I ever could have had in there. And I feel like I’ve really done something here,” Novarro said.