Last spring, TheNation.com launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on student and youth organizing. For recent dispatches, check out June 3 and June 15. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch. Contact [email protected] with tips. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).
1. Zoraida’s Death Calls Queer and Trans Immigrants to Mourning and Action
On June 23, mourners gathered in Santa Ana, California, to honor the life of Zoraida Reyes, a 28-year-old undocumented transgender Latina born in Mexico and found dead on July 12 in Orange County. Zoraida’s passing joins with three other “suspicious deaths” against transgender women of color in June alone, in Northeast Baltimore, Cincinnati and Fort Myers, Florida. This is a saddening moment for our community, especially as LGBTQ communities come together for Pride—the outcome of a revolution started by transgender women of color. Zoraida’s legacy of openness, authenticity and passion for immigrant and transgender rights will live on as DeColores Queer Orange County, a [email protected] LGBTQ grassroots organization she helped establish, will set up a fund dedicated in her honor. On July 11, DeColores is hosting an annual dragshow fundraiser, with proceeds going to Zoraida’s fund, and an annual conference intended to address inter-community needs specific to the [email protected] LGBTQ community. Our theme this year emphasizes trans queer family acceptance within our communities, where “la familia” extends to respect all aspects of authenticity and being.
2. Pride’s Rejection of Palestinian Justice Sparks Queer Student Outcry
On June 28, the Queer People of Color Collective of San Diego State University called out SDSU’s Pride Center, the campus LGBTQ center, for the contents of a leaked e-mail message from the coordinator of the center. In the note, regarding sending invitations to student organizations for SDSU’s Rainbow Flag Raising Ceremony, was an instruction to include Aztecs for Israel, but to “hold off” from inviting Students for Justice in Palestine because of the “kind of organization they are”—despite that both groups have publicly expressed support for the queer community. QPOCC views this as an Islamaphobic act by a white-dominated campus leadership. We call on SDSU to send an invitation to SJP along with a formal apology.
—Thomas Negron Jr.
3. Fifty Years Later, Freedom Summer Rises
From June 25 to 29, students from across the country gathered in Mississippi to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Mississippi Summer Project and reignite the spirit of freedom struggle. At Tougaloo College, a center of Mississippi civil rights activism, young people—including members of the Ohio Student Association, Dream Defenders, Project South, the Student Justice Alliance and many more—participated in the Freedom Summer Youth Congress and the Freedom 50th conference. The week was filled with strategy sessions, conversations and intergenerational moments. The events culminated with a student-led action to support the rights of Nissan workers in the state of Mississippi with four hundreds students and community members.
4. Two Years After the Strike, US Students Converge on Quebec
From June 19 to 22, more than 200 students from Canada, the US and Mexico, and as far as France and Hong Kong, converged at the Montréal Student Movement Convention. As young people in the US face an ever-worsening debt and tuition crisis, students looked to Québec, where the student strike in 2012 mobilized more than 300,000 students and blocked the Liberal Party’s plans to hike tuition. The convention, more than a year in the making, was organized by local student associations in Québec, as well as budding student unions in the United States, including Portland, Ohio, Michigan, California, Florida, Chicago, North Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey and New York. The weekend blended nuts-and-bolts organizing with workshops and small breakouts and culminated in a general assembly fusing American and Québec-style direct democracy. Students departed ready to continue expanding international solidarity and vowing to spend the coming year organizing an even bigger conference with an even more diverse attendance next year.
—The Organizing Committee of the MSMC
5. In Milwaukee, ICE Gets Shut Down
In the early morning hours of Thursday June 19, nearly 100 students and community members from Wisconsin gathered outside the Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in downtown Milwaukee to protest ongoing immigration raids that have criminalized and torn apart local families. Ten activists with Voces de la Frontera and Youth Empowered in the Struggle, including myself and members of one family affected by the raids, chained ourselves together using PVC pipes, to block vehicle exits at both ends of the building. The goal was to stop immigration vans from leaving to detain people that day; we did just that. The action was organized as a local response to ICE and in solidarity with the national #not1more campaign calling on President Obama for executive action to stop deportations.
6. In Atlanta, Campus Radio Turns Up
Georgia State University’s student-run radio station, WRAS, has a reputation as one of the country’s leading college radio outlets. In 2009, the station broke into the Atlanta Arbitron top-ten morning drive time rankings among 18- to 34-year-olds. For years, Georgia Public Broadcasting has been trying to get GSU to hand over WRAS to fill a perceived programming void in Atlanta, most recently in 2008, but university administrations have recognized how integral WRAS is to the Atlanta community and rebuffed the efforts. On May 6, however, President Mark Becker decided to hand over all daytime broadcast hours to GPB, a deal made entirely in secret, without any student input. The Atlanta listening community, as well as the student DJs and station alumni, has risen up in protest. On Sunday, June 29, hundreds of people joined in nearby Hurt Park and marched to the station. Although GPB took over the daytime signal on the station this same day, station supporters are committed to pushing administrators to return WRAS entirely to student control.
7. The Student-Led Stop to High-Stakes Testing
On June 20, both houses of the Rhode Island General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a three-year moratorium on the use of high-stakes testing as a graduation requirement in Rhode Island. This major step caps the Providence Student Union’s almost two-year campaign to end high-stakes testing in favor of more student-centered learning and performance-based assessments. Students and allies are now urging Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee to sign the bill and ensure that no students through the class of 2017 will be barred from graduating simply because of their score on the state assessment. This legislation is just the beginning; we will keep fighting for the empowering education—hands-on learning, discussion-based teaching and more—that all students deserve.
—Providence Student Union
8. The Dorm Formerly Known as Aycock Hall
For years, students at Duke University have protested the Aycock dorm, named in honor of former North Carolina Governor Charles B. Aycock, a racist Southern Democrat who led a white supremacist campaign in the 1890s that inspired mob violence against black people and established Jim Crow in North Carolina. Last spring, a coalition of student organizers including the Black Student Alliance, Duke NAACP and Students for a Democratic Society launched a campaign to change the name of the building. Through months of outreach, we gathered widespread student and faculty support. In January, the Duke Student Government unanimously passed a resolution on the building’s renaming. In May, following meetings with University President Richard Brodhead, who initially raised concerns about the possibility of a future onslaught of building renamings, members of the Duke Board of Trustees and the President’s Committee on Black Affairs, the board voted to rename the building East Residence Hall and affix a plaque acknowledging the history of the naming.
—Prashanth Kamalakanthan, Adrienne Harreveld and Jacob Tobia
9. When Will the Feds Stop Siding With Loan Sharks?
On Wednesday, June 25, students and debtors from the Colorado Student Power Alliance and Colorado Jobs with Justice attempted to enter the Rocky Mountain regional Department of Education. Six organizers were prepared to confront the branch’s executive director about the multiple federal violations charged to Navient, a former unit of Sallie Mae, and demand that the Department of Education immediately cut all ties with the corporation. Navient’s violations include inadequately disclosing payment allocation methods to borrowers, spreading out borrowers’ payments across multiple loans in a manner that maximizes late fees and inadequately disclosing how borrowers could avoid late fees. Those present were stopped by security in the lobby and forced outside to the sidewalk. There, we donned blindfolds and held signs reading, “Dept. of Education Stand with Students & Borrowers,” “Stop Turning a Blind Eye” and “We Want a Debt Free Future.” This summer, as part of the Debt Free Future campaign, students and borrowers across the country plan to continue to pressure the Department of Education through escalating direct actions until it cuts the contract with Navient.
10. Is There a Factory Fire at Your Campsite?
On June 20, 100 students from United Students Against Sweatshops stormed the REI store in College Park, Maryland, demanding the retailer stop selling North Face apparel due to the record of factory violations in Bangladesh by VF Corporation, North Face’s owner. REI refused to meet with us over VF’s refusal to sign the Accord, a legally binding contract formed by Bangladeshi unions requiring brands to fix unsafe factories. After another VF factory caught fire last week injuring more than fifty workers, students responded this weekend with national actions at 10 REI stories, REI headquarters and the house of VF CEO, Eric Wiseman.