A New Generation of Freedom Fighters Is Taking It to the Streets—and the World

A New Generation of Freedom Fighters Is Taking It to the Streets—and the World

A New Generation of Freedom Fighters Is Taking It to the Streets—and the World

As schools, states, and corporations redraw their borders, young people are launching transnational campaigns to fight back.


Janet Napolitano, former Arizona governor and secretary of Homeland Security and now president of the University of California system, has had a controversial tenure. To kick off her first semester in 2013, students across the state handed her votes of no confidence. The following spring, hundreds massed at Berkeley’s Sproul Plaza during her “listening and learning” tour, chanting “No to Napolitano!” and ultimately occupying a building named after one of her top advocates. Why all the shade? To start, there was her lack of higher-ed experience and the undemocratic way in which she was appointed. Then there was her record at Homeland Security, where she militarized local and campus police forces, oversaw millions of deportations, and propped up Mexico’s violent war on drugs, the same one that later led to the “disappearances” of 43 students.

For many, Napolitano is the spitting image of the global, corporate, privatized university, where your connections to the defense industry give you more points than your commitments to campus culture, teaching, or anything having to do with students (see also David Petraeus at CUNY). At the same time, she’s the perfect foil. By aligning so many forces against her, from Oakland to Oaxaca, she’s planted new possibilities for organizing. If the system can redraw its borders, so can the movement.

Global solidarity was the call of Third World internationalists in the uprisings of the ’68 generation. In the post-9/11 world, the legacy of internationalism lives on, reframing the issues at the center of student and youth struggle. As one sign read at a protest at Berkeley in 2014, “from ferguson to gaza… you can’t pay tuition if you’re dead.”

In this post, members of four groups discuss joint efforts to think globally while building power locally. This post is the latest edition of The Nation’s student- and youth-organizing feature, edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky). For more, check out June 20 and July 18.

Fighting for Black Lives—and for Palestine

By Rachel Gilmer

There’s a long legacy of international solidarity within the black radical tradition. In this spirit, the Dream Defenders have sent delegations to Mexico, Brazil, and Palestine to give organizers in the United States the opportunity to build connections and transform our understanding of ourselves, our oppression, and our resistance.

Traveling in Palestine last May, I became increasingly aware of how the movement for black lives is a global movement for human rights. Walking down apartheid roads, we saw signs saying, “This is a gift to the Palestinian people from the US,” reminding us that our tax dollars drive the violence experienced by communities across the world.

Indeed, when Mike Brown was killed and the people of Ferguson took to the streets—only to be met with mass repression from the state—it was the Palestinian people who reached out over Twitter with advice on how to protect ourselves from tear gas. That summer, the people of Gaza were met with some of these same chemicals in attacks by the Israeli government that killed 2,100. In both cases, these weapons were manufactured in the United States. G4S, one of the biggest US for-profit prison corporations, also provides services and equipment to Israeli prisons, checkpoints, police, and the apartheid wall.

Recognizing the links between neoliberal policies at home and abroad also animates a recently released policy platform, “A Vision for Black Lives,” produced by the Movement for Black Lives.

The platform calls on the US government to divest from programs promoting mass incarceration and increased policing in the United States and the expansion of the US military presence abroad. Instead, it calls for investment in programs that build the futures of black people, like reparations, community-controlled public education, and a guaranteed-jobs program. The United States spends nine times more on war than it spends on education and 20 times more than it spends on social security and unemployment. The decision to invest in the destabilization of communities in places like Somalia, Colombia, and Syria is one with the decision to defund the stabilization of poor US communities. This is a choice, and it must be named.

Following the Blood

By Christopher Lopez

As former director of Homeland Security, president of the University of California system Janet Napolitano supported the financing of the disastrous Mexican war on drugs. The bilateral counter-narcotic policies enforced by her administration involved an investment of $700 million to militarize unaccountable Mexican security personnel, facilitating widespread violence to the tune of more than 60,000 homicides between 2009 and 2011.

For Latinx students, Napolitano’s record is haunting: In addition to the drug war, she oversaw record deportations in the seven figures, has remained silent on the ongoing, mass deportation of migrants, and has enabled the Mexican government’s indifference to widespread disappearances. We represent over 20 percent of the UC undergraduate student population, and her association with Immigration Customs Enforcement represents a direct threat to our communities.

On November 20, 2014, 300 students at UC Berkeley massed in the pouring rain in solidarity with the parents of the missing 43 Ayotzinapa students, casualties of Mexico’s heroin war. Those of us organizing directly with Ayotzinapa were joined by a range of allies, from those who had challenged Napolitano’s presidency on the grounds that she was elected without student oversight to others in the University of California Undocumented Student Coalition, who continue to organize against her deportation record.

In April 2015, the parents of two of the missing students visited the campus, entreating us to continue organizing in opposition to Plan Mexico. Since then, we’ve organized demonstrations on the 26th of every month. On the night before our actions, we sing hymns of resistance familiar to students on both sides of the border, which remind us that we’re connected in resistance.

Moving into this fall, we are planning to keep up the pressure on Napolitano to issue a statement criticizing the abuses of the government she continues to befriend.

Just Doing the Right Thing

By Kerrina Williams

Since the end of last year, Nike has been barring the Worker Rights Consortium, an independent monitoring organization, from entering its factories around the world, making it impossible to investigate the working conditions under which its apparel is made. According to a memo addressed to affiliate universities on the WRC website, WRC received a letter from Nike last October 29 denying the group’s request for access to Hansae Vietnam, a factory producing university logo goods, where workers had gone on strike to protest sweatshop conditions.

Under pressure from United Students Against Sweatshops, colleges with Nike contracts have historically affiliated with the WRC to help enforce manufacturing codes of conduct. Now it’s critical that we take action to send a message across the industry that no brand, no matter how large, should be trusted to self-regulate. At Northeastern University and across the country, we are demanding that administrators #JustDoTheRightThing by cutting our contract with Nike. Universities like ours pride themselves on their global impact. By keeping their ties with sweatshops, that impact is one of exploitation and manipulation. None of our universities should be complicit with brands that believe they can self-regulate and cover up sweatshop abuses.

Since 1998, USAS has been putting pressure on corporations financially tied to our universities. In just the last three years, we’ve forced apparel giants Adidas and VF Corporation to pay millions in severance and settlements to their workers in garment factories abroad. We’ve also gotten them to sign legally binding agreements like the Bangladesh Safety Accord.

The majority of these workers are black and brown women living and working in the Global South under sweatshop conditions—poverty wages, forced overtime, sexual harassment, union busting, and health and safety disasters. Meanwhile, black and brown students in this country, including my community at Northeastern University, face our own forms of systemic discrimination on a daily basis. By fighting for justice at home, in our communities and on our campuses, we can stay strong and bring it to a global scale.

Northeastern recently announced that officers would be armed with assault rifles. As a black student, I thought of the experience of University of Virginia student Martese Johnson and the shooting of Samuel DuBose by an officer at the University of Cincinnati. I was scared for both myself and the communities surrounding Northeastern. The #DoBetterNu campaign started last year to address concerns surrounding this new policy as well as others from marginalized groups on campus—from issues of transparency and inclusivity to our campus health care system.

We stand with those on campus working to have their voices heard, just as we do with global movements and garment workers. Our core philosophy is collective liberation. As Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nobody is free until everyone is free.”

Striking the Empire Back

By Lorena Buñi and Adrian Bonifacio

On August 2, the National Democratic Front, an umbrella organization of revolutionary forces in the Philippines, commemorated the death of Wendell “Ka Joaquin” M. Gumban, who was killed in battle against state forces responsible for countless human-rights violations in the country. On that same day, reports flooded in about the death of Korryn Gaines, a brave mother here in the US, who was shot and killed by police officers in a dispute near Baltimore.

On both sides of the Pacific, Filipino and black communities are fighting poverty, state repression, and violent imperialism. As Anakbayan-USA, a youth organization dedicated to the liberation of the Philippines, it’s our duty to address the roots of armed conflict in our motherland. As internationalists, we also understand our duty to stand with the black community against state-sanctioned violence and imperialism.

In the Philippines, the CPP-NPA-NDF’s struggle has its roots in the fight against US colonialism and neocolonialism, which for the last century have rendered the Philippines unable to develop economic, political, and cultural independence. Most recently, both parties to the civil war reengaged in peace talks as a way to discuss the social and economic reforms at the heart of the conflict.

As part of the #JustPeacePH campaign, which aims to mobilize support for the peace talks internationally, we launched “Filipino Youth for Just Peace in the Philippines” to show that we care deeply about the future of our motherland no matter how many miles or generations removed. The social and economic reforms on the agenda of the peace talks directly address the conditions that have forced over 10 million Filipinos to migrate, including our families.

At the same time, AB-USA chapters have mobilized in solidarity with the black community against the war at home. We’ve called on our chapters to participate in a coordinated message to pledge our solidarity with the black struggle and address the anti-blackness that exists in our own community. On the ground, our chapters have turned these words to actions by marching with our black kinfolk, from Seattle’s Block the Bunker campaign to Chicago’s Freedom Square to Black Lives Matter protests in Oakland and Paterson, New Jersey. Our black comrades have also stood with us, delivering messages in support of indigenous peoples’ self-determination and even participating in International Solidarity Missions in the Philippines this past July.

By building bridges across our communities, we show how powerful international solidarity can be: Filipino and black communities standing with each other for self-determination, linking arms, and never letting the deaths of Korryn Gaines and Ka Joaquin be in vain.

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