Today, students around the country will march, rally, teach-in, and walk-out in honor of the National Day of Action to Defend Education. Born out of the Occupy movement and the rise in student activism that came with it, the day is meant to draw attention to the corporatization and privatization of education, from pre-K through higher education, in both private and public institutions. As Wall Street continues to gain unprecedented influence in our schools, we’re standing up and demanding that our disapproval be heard and our interests be acknowledged.
At the end of 2011, Occupy Education Northern California, an education-focused organizing group in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, and the New York City Student Assembly, a group of students from universities around New York City that has been meeting regularly since October, put out a joint call for a national, education-oriented day of action. Now, over sixty different organizations have endorsed the event, including student groups, labor unions, various Occupy sites, teacher and faculty organizations, and political organizations around the country.
When this school year began, Occupy Wall Street existed only in the dreams of those who’d spent months planning for its imminent arrival. Mic checking was not yet part of the common vernacular and protests were isolated events that did not frequently enter the public consciousness. But even then, before we were “the 99%” and before we had articulated just what democracy looks like, education was under attack.
Tuition at private universities is skyrocketing, and the overwhelming majority of students graduate already in debt. The Occupy Student Debt Campaign, a subset of the Education and Empowerment working group out of OWS, started a petition asking debtors to sign a pledge of refusal. The petition, which states that participants will refuse to pay back their loans once one million people sign on, currently has 3,214 signatures.
As private university students face rising tuition costs and debt, so too do public university students. Tuition in the CUNY system, which was tuition-free until 1975, will increase by $300 each year for the next five years—a small amount compared to the price tags of most private universities, but enough to make a significant difference for many of CUNY’s students. Last November, police beat and arrested CUNY students at Baruch College who were peacefully protesting against these impending budget cuts and tuition hikes.
The issues facing public school students are intimately connected to those facing private school students. That night in November, students from Columbia, the New School, and NYU were outside of Baruch, protesting alongside their CUNY peers. Occupy Wall Street has brought students from all backgrounds together, and we have built solidarity around our common grievances. That solidarity is now being put to good use, and its strength will be on display tomorrow at actions around the United States.
The past few months have witnessed incredible growth in the student movement, but they have also witnessed incredible police repression and violence on university campuses. From CUNY in New York to UC Davis in California, the peaceful protests of student activists were continually met with pepper spray, beatings, and arrests. And as these events unfolded, university officials refused to take any responsibility.
On February 9, when high school students, teachers, and parents—as well as members of Occupy the Department of Education—filled an auditorium in Brooklyn in an attempt to stop the Panel for Educational Policy from holding its meeting and voting on school closings, the members of the panel sat through hours of mic checks and chanting, only to vote to close twenty-three New York City public schools. These schools will be replaced with charter schools, which are subject to less regulation and produce uneven results for students.
Over and over, we have witnessed the effects of privatization and corporatization in our schools. Our Boards of Trustees are comprised of some of Wall Street’s biggest names, and the methods we are given to make changes within our institutions do not come close to matching the influence of the one percent. Our universities are run like corporations, and we are no longer content to passively sit back and watch as the very people responsible for creating the problems of this country gain unprecedented control of our educations and our futures.