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 student and youth organizing. In the previous dispatch, December 11, ten people submitted a video and a brief update on their organizing in the struggle for black life. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with tips. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).
1. The New School Board
On Wednesday, December 17, a group of young people convened by the Baltimore Algebra Project, including former Heritage High School students, staged a die-in at the Baltimore City School Board and took control of the meeting for an hour to protest the board’s vote to close the community school. Despite consistent presence at board meetings, a recommendation to phase out the school rather than shut it down and community efforts to improve its performance, the board unanimously decided to close it. Immediately following our takeover of the meeting, the district CEO met with us. Although our demand to keep the school open until the community implements a plan to replace it was not met, the CEO agreed to meet regularly with us to collaborate on a long-term plan. If the district cannot value and implement our needs, we are prepared to take more militant action.
2. The Six-Minute Die-In
On Thursday, December 18, members of the Philadelphia Student Union, Boat People SOS and Asian Americans United staged a die-in in front of the School District of Philadelphia to protest state violence in all forms. At PSU, we define violence as the power to hurt someone’s chances at survival—between people or in a system or institution. The death of Laporshia Massey, a 12-year-old who died last year from an asthma attack shortly after being sent home from school because there was no nurse on duty, is a shocking but real example of the way that systematic underfunding of public education is putting students’ lives at risk. We were still for six minutes, in honor of Laporshia, who was in the sixth grade.
—Philadelphia Student Union
3. From Berkeley High to Sproul Hall
On Wednesday, December 10, 700 students from Berkeley High School walked out of our sixth period class for a Black Lives Matter rally. After reviewing the events in Ferguson and New York, we chanted, held four and a half minutes of silence and, led by the Black Student Union, proceeded to march to UC-Berkeley’s iconic Campanile. As we marched, we called on UCB students to come “out of the house and into the street!” When we reached Sproul Hall, we chanted, “You’re the ones who showed us how, UC Berkeley, join us now!” The march ended with a four-and-a-half-minute die-in and a rendition of “We Shall Overcome.” This action marks the beginning of the “Ferguson Isn’t Over” movement at Berkeley High School.
4. From the City to the Capitol
After students at East High School walked out on December 3 in solidarity with the people of Ferguson, students across Denver Public Schools joined together to launch the DPS Student Unity March. At least six schools organized the action and, on December 12, 200 people showed up to march from City Park to the capitol, where we held a die-in and a candlelight vigil. Our demands: that DPS stop instituting lockdowns for protesting students and start funding discussions about police brutality and race. While the district hasn’t yet taken up our call, we will begin to open forums for more dialogue to educate ourselves and others.
—Students of Denver Public Schools
5. In New York, a New Labor Movement
On December 5, Graduate Workers of Columbia University publicly announced majority support for unionization. The campaign’s launch follows two semesters of face-to-face outreach among Columbia’s 2,800 research and teaching assistants, supported by the local chapter of the United Auto Workers—and coincides with new efforts across campus to draw connections between our labor conditions and the institutional treatment of sexual assault, racism and “diversity.” This month, students at Columbia’s medical and Morningside campuses have held forums on the grand jury verdicts in Ferguson and Staten Island and confronted the university about its failing commitments to students of color; on December 8, a SoCA-coordinated action dispatched a 100-student delegation to call for the reinstatement of the GSAS Dean for Academic Diversity position. Our organizing efforts also join a swelling academic labor movement in the city: On December 12, graduate workers at New York University with GSOC-UAW, reacting to stalled contract negotiations, voted 95 percent to authorize a strike; and just five days after GWC went public, student employees at the New School, SENS-UAW, announced their unionization campaign, simultaneously submitting a petition to the National Labor Relations Board. If successful, our bids for recognition could overturn the Bush-era precedent that graduate students at private universities are not union-eligible workers.
—William Burton, Elliott Cairns, Seth Prins and Alix Rule
6. In Oregon, a Strike—and a Win
From December 2 to 10, graduate employees at the University of Oregon went on strike, with more than 650 members of the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation withholding our labor in a fight for paid parental and medical leave. On the eighth day of picketing in the rain, threatening grading of final exams and shutting down classrooms, campus construction, UPS deliveries and garbage pick-up, the administration conceded to a graduate assistance fund that allows employees to take leave when they need it. The fund is run by a majority of grad employees, and union members have legal protections, as workers, for third party binding arbitration if access to the fund is not handled properly. Moving forward, the GTFF is working toward a state law for paid leave for all Oregonians, set to hit the legislature’s docket in February.
—Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation
7. In California, a Historic Vote
On December 4, United Auto Workers Local 2865, representing 13,000 graduate student-workers across the University of California system, became the first major US union to pass, by member vote, a resolution in support of divestment from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. The resolution, which calls on UAW International and the UC to divest, is a response to the call of Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel by rank-and-file UAW 2865 members organizing under the banner of the BDS Caucus. The members of UAW 2865 voted overwhelmingly to approve the resolution, with a majority making a personal pledge to support the academic boycott of Israeli universities—showing that a new generation of workers and students sees how we are linked to the struggle of Palestinians for freedom.
8. Standing With Jackie
Following the publication of Rolling Stone’s article, “A Rape on Campus,” detailing the horrific gang rape of a University of Virginia student, Jackie, perpetrated by a group of fraternity members in 2012, hundreds of students have shown up to protests organized by numerous campus groups; an anonymous group of students vandalized the fraternity house in question; and faculty, some in full academic regalia, led students and community members in a march down the main strip of bars late on a Saturday night. When questions about the article emerged and Rolling Stone issued a statement conceding that it did not do its due diligence before publishing the story—troublingly placing the blame on Jackie, without acknowledging the well-documented effect that trauma can have on memory and recall of certain details—the number of students publicly supporting Jackie has decreased. On December 5, UVa Students United and the Alliance for Social Change at UVa held a space for students to talk, express anger and grief and proclaim, “We Stand with Jackie.” We will continue organizing until the administration reforms its response policies and rape culture is eradicated from campus.
—UVa Students United
9. Sitting-In for Janitors
On December 9 and 10, more than twenty students from the Tufts Labor Coalition staged a two-day, overnight sit-in at our administrative building to demand a freeze on job cuts in campus janitors’ current contract cycle. The Tufts administration is trying to cut costs on the backs of janitors as part of a decades-long attack involving the outsourcing of janitorial services and, in turn, numerous layoffs and disrespect toward workers. While we did not achieve our full demand, we won a commitment to no cuts through at least April as well as a process for influencing the upcoming campus staff reorganization plan. We will continue to fight until our demand of no cuts is met.
10. Can Students Speak?
While chalking messages of “Black Lives Matter” and “Solidarity” across campus, three Coastal Carolina University students were detained by campus police. These students were later served conduct charges by the Dean of Students Office. A fourth student, who photographed and circulated news of the detainment, was served similar charges. Following these actions and charges—an abuse of power and violation of freedom of speech—faculty organized an open forum. Professors talked about the importance of the First Amendment and advised listeners to keep pursuing channels for demonstrations; students talked about our encounters with institutionalized racism on campus. Some students are exploring specific legal action regarding the detainment and conduct charges, all of which have been dismissed. The Coastal Carolina Student Union, which helped organize and publicize this series of events, plans to host regular public forums this spring.
—Coastal Carolina Student Union