Dispatches From the US Student Movement: February 15

Dispatches From the US Student Movement: February 15

Dispatches From the US Student Movement: February 15

This week, students converge on Raleigh and Pasadena, ramp up BDS and occupy Adidas. With Scott Walker sticking around, what's next for Wisconsin's grad TAs? What do students have to do with the fate of Mississippi’s last abortion clinic?


Wisconsin’s Teaching Assistants’ Association, the first grad student union in the country, spearheaded the fight against Scott Walker’s union-busting bill. (Reuters/Allen Fredrickson)

E-mail questions, tips or proposals to [email protected]. For more dispatches, check out earlier posts from January 18 and February 1.

1. Can Students Save Mississippi’s Last Abortion Clinic?
The weekend before the fortieth anniversary of Roe v. Wade, students from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi, met with campus organizers at the Feminist Majority Foundation to prepare for the arrival of extremist anti-choice protesters at Mississippi’s only abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization. Anti-choice legislators have targeted the JWHO with the Target Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP, law, requiring abortion doctors to have admitting privileges to the local hospitals. Unfortunately the local Jackson hospital boards refuse to admit JWHO abortion doctors, making it impossible for the clinic to comply with the new regulation. While the clinic is waging a legal battle in court, the feminist group at Millsaps is working with FMF and Jackson State University student leaders to provide escorts to help clinic patients avoid harassment and to hold up pro-choice signs in support of the clinic.
Sara Sacks

2. Walker Be Damned, Wisconsin Grad Students Haven’t Left the Table
The Teaching Assistants’ Association, the labor union for grad student workers at the University of Wisconsin that was central to the occupation of the state capitol in 2011, is initiating its most ambitious campaign since losing legal bargaining rights after Governor Scott Walker’s union-busting law. The onerous “segregated fees” that are levied on top of tuition impose an additional $1,100 burden on students per year (and rising), representing a roughly ten percent pay cut on grad workers’ already paltry yearly earnings. The TAA has entered informal bargaining to either have these fees waived or to raise salaries sufficiently to offset the segregated fee burden. This is by no means an unreasonable demand, nor an undue burden on the university’s finances: With increasing segregated fee costs, increasing healthcare costs and stagnant wages, the average TA has lost nearly $1,600 in annual take-home pay since 2002.
Michael Billeaux

3. UC’s Biological Warfare
While tuition at the University of California more than tripled since 2000, temporary state tax increases from Proposition 30 have generated additional revenue for public education, blocking the UC regents from continuing to raise tuition. However, students across the ten campuses are now fighting off new attempts to hike healthcare fees 19 to 32 percent. This hike comes despite UC student healthcare benefits remaining below national Obamacare standards, and at the same time as the top-ranked UC medical center is raking in profits of $900 million a year. UC students are organizing actions at different campuses around vital student healthcare issues—against the fee increases; to remove lifetime caps limiting healthcare; to provide free preventive care services, including reproductive health services for women; and to offer affordable healthcare for students’ dependents—as well as pushing for state legislation to remove the lifetime healthcare caps. A powerful network of student groups, including the UC Student-Workers Union UAW 2865 and UC Students Association, is working together to ensure that quality and affordable healthcare—so essential for students’ very health, well-being and life—is not steamrolled by the UC executive management’s attempts to quantify and profit from it as an enterprise.
—Elise Youn

4. SoCal’s Strategy
On February 23, the Southern California Education Organizing Coalition will converge for a one-year anniversary conference at Pasadena City College to answer the question: Where do we go from here as a coalition within California’s student movement? Last year, students, staff and faculty from all sectors of public education in Southern California came together to create an autonomous space to talk about common struggles and share strategies in the fight against austerity. Since that time, we have achieved the passage of state propositions and local measures that promise to re-fund the school system, pressured Governor Jerry Brown and the rest of the governing boards to declare temporary ceases in system-wide tuition hikes and won tuition fee rollbacks for students within the California State University system. But with the City College of San Francisco community still fending off the closure of its campus, University of California students struggling against healthcare fee hikes and the California State University Board of Trustees still pushing its online education agenda, it has become clear that re-funding the coffers of our system’s governing boards has not been enough to stop the attack on public education in California.
—Vanessa Lopez

5. “Retaking Our Schools, Remaking Society”
North Carolina has fallen under under the state’s most conservative government in recent history—and students, women, people of color, LGBTQ people and the environment are facing the consequences. For years students have watched money from the extreme right begin to pour into our schools and state government. This weekend, over 200 students, faculty and staff from twelve campuses around North Carolina convene in Raleigh to share tools for student empowerment, mobilization and activism, and to work to connect the North Carolina student movement.
—Monse Matehuala and Molly McDonough

6. Youth Take the Struggle From Boston to DC
The Boston-area Youth Organizing Project, or BYOP, is a group of teenagers in high school and middle school who meet weekly from Dorchester, Mattapan, Brookline, Roxbury and other neighborhoods to work together to fight social injustice. BYOP targets issues that affect everyday life for youth in Boston, including sexual health and sex education, which is not offered at all the schools in Boston; lower prices for the MBTA, which mostly serves lower income people; safety; and jobs for youth. This spring, BYOP is ramping up its organizing with the national Journey for Justice civil rights movement to stop school closings, which just had a national hearing with Arne Duncan, and with other student unions to break the school-to-prison pipeline. Students are also gearing up for officer elections—a major function of BYOP as a democratic youth organization.
—Carlos Rios

7. Moving Oberlin’s Money
In northeast Ohio, Oberlin College students from the Responsible Investing Organization are campaigning for community investment of college funds—and showing that endowment activism isn’t just about divestment. Along with Oberlin’s Student Finance Committee, RIO proposed and saw passed in December the Oberlin College and Community Investment Plan, a resolution to annually invest a percentage of the $1.2 million in the college’s Student Activity Fund as certificates of deposit with a local credit union. In September, RIO launched its "Break Up With Your Bank” campaign, an ongoing initiative to educate Oberlin students about financial institutions and encourage them to switch from big banks to local credit unions. Students are currently organizing a policy symposium for this spring that would bring together trustees, administrators and students to work together to write a comprehensive responsible investment policy, including community input and accountability.
—Responsible Investing Organization

8. Students and Faculty v. Palestine Profiteers
On February 6, Yale Students for Justice in Palestine launched a campaign calling on Yale professors to sign an open letter asking TIAA-CREF to divest from companies that directly profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. TIAA-CREF, one of the largest American financial corporations, handles the retirement funds for many Yale professors. Though TIAA-CREF claims to be socially responsible—its motto is “Financial Services for the Greater Good”—it invests in companies that materially profit from violating the Palestinian right to live in peace and security, like Caterpillar, which profits from the demolition of Palestinian homes. In solidarity with the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, Yale students have taken the lead in organizing faculty support for the divestment call. More than twenty professors have already signed onto the Yale-based campaign, joining the tens of thousands of individuals who have called on TIAA-CREF to live up to its values since Jewish Voice for Peace initiated the national campaign in 2010.
—Jess Belding

9. Students and Workers v. Texas Thrifters
While the University of Texas pays its football coach more than $5 million, tuition at public universities in Texas has risen over 55 percent in the last ten years. Now, alongside cuts to ethnic studies, threats to the “top 10 percent” admissions rule and the controversial Fischer v. Texas case that may further limit access to public education for people of color, President Powers is planning to outsource campus services at UT in the name of “efficiency.” Privatization threatens pensions, benefits and the ability for campus workers to unionize. On February 13, students launched the Save Our Community Coalition in partnership with the Texas State Employees Union to keep UT accountable to its mission: to serve as a public institution of higher learning for the people of Texas.
—Billy Yates

10. Badidas!

About forty students, supporters and union workers from Adidas factories overseas gathered outside a New York Fashion Week event Sunday for a United Students Against Sweatshops protest against worker abuse. Calling for severance pay, safe equipment and union recognition, the protesters staged a mock fashion show starring union workers, then marched to a nearby Adidas store, where they circled and chanted inside. The action was organized by students from Rutgers and New York University. (Video: James Cersonsky, Alec Luhn)

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