This post is part of The Nation’s biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on youth organizing. For recent dispatches, check out October 24 and November 10. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch. Contact [email protected] with tips. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).
1. The Free Speech Movement
On November 19, after University of California regents voted to increase tuition by 27.6 percent over five years, students at UC-Berkeley launched an indefinite occupation of Wheeler Hall. This increase extends the privatization of the UC system, where in-state tuition has already more than doubled in the past decade, sparking massive mobilizations and building occupations. At almost all UC campuses, students have rallied and marched against the fee hikes, with a brief occupation at UC-Riverside and an ongoing, indefinite occupation of the Humanities 2 building at UC–Santa Cruz. At the start of our occupation, more than 300 students and supporters packed the Wheeler Hall lobby. We voted to ratify three demands: no tuition hikes, full transparency of the UC budget under California Assembly Bill 94 and the dropping of all charges against Jeff Noven, arrested at the November 19 Regent’s meeting in San Francisco under false charges. We have continued maintaining the Wheeler Commons with daily general assemblies, teach-ins, working group meetings, art and banner making, open mics, movie screenings and study sessions. On Monday, November 24, in coordination with students across the state, we will have a class walkout and day of action.
2. The General Body, Everywhere
On November 20, THE General Body, a coalition of more than fifty student organizations, ended our eighteen-day sit-in at Syracuse University’s administration building. The coalition announced that, while we are vacating the space, the movement is not going anywhere until critical needs of the university community are addressed—including guaranteed scholarships for students of color and commitments to end rape culture and improve counseling and mental health services. Students leave affirmed by new networks and concessions won—hiring an Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator, delaying the passage of a corporate vision statement and an increase on the minimum pay for TAs—but also determined to continue resistance to the university’s top-down restructuring campaign by creating broad, bottom-up coalitions among students, teachers, staff, parents and alumni. As education is being reduced to a corporate transaction across the country, in the space of the sit-in, we have rediscovered education as social transformation.
—Ben Kuebrich and Yanira Rodríguez
3. In Colorado, Students Opt-Out
In September, Mountain Vista High School in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, announced that seniors would be taking the Colorado Measures of Academic Success, a standardized test. CMAS is not an accurate representation of my learning or my teachers’ ability to teach me, takes time away from authentic classroom instruction and is a waste of taxpayer dollars. In response, a group of students from around the school spread the word and made a plan to help others opt-out. On November 12 and 13, despite misinformation spread by the principal that we are required to take the test by law, that it is a requirement for graduation and that it is tied to teacher compensation, 43 percent of the senior class refused to take the test. Our school joined a movement of schools around the state—with opt-out totals as high as 97 percent. As the spring test, PARCC, looms, we will continue educating students and parents and lobbying the state legislature to eliminate high-stakes testing.
4. In Newark, Students Show Up
On November 13, the Newark Students Union bused a delegation to Washington, DC, where Newark superintendent Cami Anderson was scheduled to attend a panel at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative policy think tank, to discuss the success of the One Newark Plan and how other cities can privatize public education as it is currently happening in Newark. Startled by our appearance, the AEI staff tried everything in their power to kick us, black and brown bodies, out of the space. After an hour of patiently waiting for the event to start, it was canceled due to a “security breach.” At that point, we took control of the room and tried to explain to attendees why Anderson refused to show her face. The next week, the Barringer High School branch of the NSU walked out to protest the school’s punitive, underresourced, unresponsive environment—left unaddressed by the One Newark plan. Students were forced to stay inside by security guards and police officers, violating their right to protest. As the administration maneuvers to close schools, displacing at least 8,000 students, we will continue to recruit students and build stronger bases throughout the city for actions soon to come.
5. In Manhattan, TFA Shows Its Cards
On Thursday, November 13, United Students Against Sweatshops students who have been at the forefront of a groundbreaking campaign to reform Teach for America traveled to New York for an open meeting with TFA leadership. After a long conversation with TFA CEOs, we were disappointed to hear that the organization plans to continue driving policies that harm working-class communities and displace veteran teachers across the country. Students brought up their three campaign demands—that TFA only send corps members to regions with actual teacher shortages, that corps members receive more adequate training and that TFA cut ties with corporations such as Walmart and Goldman Sachs—and asked why these changes haven’t been made. We also expressed concern at TFA’s influence in spreading corporate education reform policies, such as school closures, mass teacher layoffs, high-stakes standardized testing and the privatization of public education. The CEOs denied our concerns and made no indication that they plan to take meaningful action. We will continue our campaigns to kick Teach for America off our campuses until our demands are met.
—Dani Lea, Blake McGhghy, Hannah McShea and Will Daniels
6. How Can Deportations End?
Alongside numerous allies, the Immigrant Youth Coalition has successfully organized to stop the deportation and criminalization of immigrants in California by engaging in direct action and litigation and pushing for legislation such as the TRUST Act and driver licenses for all. After President Obama’s most recent announcement, our work remains very much the same. We are continuing to focus our efforts on preventing deportations by ending gang injunctions, which use racial profiling to place young people of color in gang databases, as well as practices that contribute to the school to deportation pipeline. We are also allocating resources to support LGBTQ undocumented people, who are particularly vulnerable to violence and human rights abuses. This includes LGBTQ detainees, for whom we are building support networks and providing basic necessities when released. By building capacity to organize those who are detained, we also hope that detainees can lead the fight against the 34,000-bed quota for detention centers and the private prison corporations who profit from them.
7. When Will New York Wake Up?
After a year of conversation with New York University’s Office of Financial Aid and mounting student support for a proposal to allow university financial aid resources to be accessed by undocumented students, the university will open these opportunities to incoming undocumented students from New York starting in the 2015–16 academic year. For the DREAM Team at NYU, this is a first step in the university’s commitment to equal educational opportunities for undocumented students, reflecting its stated efforts to bring its own financial aid policies “into closer alignment” with the vision for the New York State DREAM Act. The state DREAM Act, which was narrowly outvoted in the state senate last spring, has received support from leaders of both public and private New York higher education institutions. NYU now becomes one of the largest private institutions to open institutional aid to undocumented students, taking action where state politicians have not. While we continue to work alongside the New York State Youth Leadership Council and DREAM Teams across the city and state to escalate in support of the state DREAM Act, we are advocating for the expansion of NYU’s program to include undocumented students nationwide.
—Ivan Rosales, Maria Monica Andia and Mark Tseng Putterman
8. A Win for Ethnic Studies
Since the beginning of the school year, students from the Roosevelt Taking Action club, alongside the Community Rights Campaign and a student, teacher and community coalition, Ethnic Studies Now, have organized to make ethnic studies a requirement in all high schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District and expand it to other school districts statewide and nationwide. LAUSD has over 90 percent students of color; with these classes, we seek a better understanding of who we are, where we come from and how oppressions are formed and undone—which, put together with the fight to end the school-to-jail track, will help build a larger movement to end educational racism. At Roosevelt High, we made dozens of classroom presentations, collected hundreds of petitions signed by our classmates, organized community film screenings of Precious Knowledge on the fight to defend ethnic studies in Tucson, worked with our teachers to make short videos with the hashtag #ourhistorymatters and organized students to come out to the LAUSD vote on November 18. At the vote, 700 people across all ages and backgrounds rallied, filling the school board meeting room and spilling over outside. When the board passed the resolution 6-1, we made history by fighting to claim that of our people.
9. A Win for Student Voice
On November 14, after a year of intense deliberation among California lawmakers, school officials, advocates and students, the California State Board of Education unanimously passed the final Local Control Funding Formula regulations, giving 4 million low-income and ESL students a voice in how schools spend money on their education. The LCFF, passed in July 2013, allots funding from Proposition 30 to historically underfunded schools. Initially, parents, teachers and school administrators all had a say in how the new funds would be spent in classrooms—but students did not. In response, Californians for Justice organized thousands of students in San Francisco, Richmond, Oakland, San Jose, Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles and the Inland Empire to challenge the State Board of Education for a voice through the Student Voice Campaign. Now, the regulations require all 1,001 school districts to include students in the development of their funding and spending plans, setting the tone for educational priorities across California.
—Saa’un P. Bell
After years of people disappearing, cartels inflicting violence throughout the state, and a government known for dirty tricks, people are getting angry. In Mexico, the disappearance of forty-three students from the teachers college of Ayotzinapa was the straw to break the camel’s back. On November 20, Mexicans told the world to stand in solidarity with their revolution. With #YaMeCanse, or “Enough, I’m tired,” as the call, forty-three cities across the United States joined Mexico for a day of action—voicing the truth that the US has pushed Mexico to where it is today via policies including Plan Merida and NAFTA. In New York, students, elders and migrant communities held a blockade in front of the Mexican consulate and performed a die-in inside Grand Central Station, chanting, “Murder made in the USA!”
On November 12 and 13, We Charge Genocide’s eight-person delegation staged two historic protests at a meeting of the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva. First, we walked out in response to the US government’s suggestion that the prosecution of 330 police officers over five years indicates significant progress toward ending police violence. The next morning, the UN grilled the US on issues of police violence, particularly against youth of color. The US dodged questions and misled committee members, at one point claiming tasers aren’t lethal. In protest, we rose silently with our fists in the air, each holding an image of Dominique Franklin—a 23-year-old friend who was tased to death by Chicago police this summer. Several other organizers and advocates stood or raised fists in solidarity. We then held our raised hands together for thirty minutes in honor of the thirty minutes that Rekia Boyd’s body lay in the street after being shot by a Chicago police off-duty officer. On this international stage, our stories, lives and struggles were recognized—amplifying our organizing efforts in Chicago.
—We Charge Genocide
Starting on November 10, students from Birzeit University have toured the United States as part of the Right to Education Campaign. Starting in Ferguson and moving to schools across the country, the campaign seeks to illuminate the effects of the Israeli occupation on students’ ability to access education and academic opportunity. On November 18, students on the West Coast tour visited UCLA and addressed the university body at the undergraduate student government’s divestment hearings. The hearing also gave a platform to thirty-two student organizations that endorsed and supported the resolution to divest from corporations complicit in Israel’s occupation. That night, the student government passed the divestment measure by a landslide 8-2-2 margin, becoming the sixth of nine University of California campuses to hold majority votes for divestment.
13. Taking Over the Board
On November 17, hundreds of students at the University of Southern Maine walked out of class and assembled on the quad to share stories about the adverse affects of ongoing budget cuts. We then marched to the UMaine System Board of Trustees meeting, where we disrupted the meeting with chants and took over the trustees’ seats—staging our own board meeting and calling for a different future for USM. The demonstration was the latest in a series of protests against the wholesale dismantling of USM by the board of trustees. Five programs have been eliminated since October, and twenty-five tenured faculty were “retrenched”—that is, fired—on October 28, with many more coerced into retirement. Students for #USMFuture has demanded reversal of the cuts, restoration of shared governance and renewed state investment in public higher education. Our actions were in conjunction with a week of action, coordinated by the International Student Movement, from Pittsburgh to Belgrade to Sierra Leone. We plan to continue to connect our movement to those of our allies in the struggle for the right to education.
—Meaghan LaSala and Philip Shelley
14. Camping Out—and Winning
On Monday, November 17, following a letter to the interim chancellor and a meeting with the chancellor’s executive assistant, graduate students marched across the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa campus to protest proposed reductions in the number of teaching assistant positions and proceeded to set up camp in the courtyard of the Campus Center. For three days and three nights, we marched and camped on campus, demanding our positions not be cut, equitable hiring of assistants across units and a commitment to budget reform. On November 18, we met with administrators to discuss our demands. The following afternoon, the interim chancellor released a statement announcing that our positions would be saved for the spring 2015 semester; the unit a student’s advisor belonged to would not impact students’ hiring status; and a budget allocation model would be proposed in December 2014 rather than toward the end of spring 2015. At the board of regents meeting the next day, we testified further about transparency and budget reform. Though our sit-in has ended, we are continuing to work for budget reform and administrative transparency.
15. Moving the Moment, in Ferguson and Beyond
Editor’s note: On November 20, Akai Gurley, an unarmed, 28-year-old black man, was killed by police in Brooklyn. On November 23, hundreds from across the city, and across generations, massed in East New York. (Video: CBS)
—New Yorkers in Resistance