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 March 5 and March 16. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with tips. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).
1. Whose Budget?
For the past month, the United States Student Association has been leading the charge to oppose $150 billion in cuts to the Pell Grant, subsidized loan, income-based repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs. Beginning March 16, students across the country made hundreds of phone calls to House and Senate Budget Committee members. On March 18, USSA students, staff and allies disrupted the Senate Budget Committee and were arrested and charged for speaking out. The week of March 23, we sent more than 13,000 emails through an online petition, culminating in an action on March 27 at the Capitol, where more than 200 students and allies, including Senator Bernie Sanders, turned out to oppose the cuts—and ten students were arrested for blocking the intersection of First and Maryland. On March 30, 250 students converged on Capitol Hill for a lobbying blitz. We are continuing to build support against these cuts while mobilizing more and bigger actions—not only until Congress rolls them back, but until higher education is free.
—United States Student Association
2. Whose History Month?
On March 23, fifty community members gathered outside the ICE field office in Santa Ana, California, and marched to Santa Ana City Jail to demand the release of Omara Gomez-Aviles, a Salvadorian mother of three who was detained as part of ICE’s “Operation Cross Check” earlier this month. At age 17, Omara came to the US fleeing the civil war and violence in her home country—including sexual abuse and an arranged marriage to an older man. Although she has two felony convictions, which make her a priority for deportation, these are from sixteen years ago—and deportation should not be a form of punishment. This protest was part of “Chant Down the Walls,” a concert series started last year in Los Angeles by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, along with youth and community activists. In the coming months, we plan to take these serenata concerts to other states, including Arizona, Texas and Alabama.
3. The Nittany Lion’s Last Straw
Generations of women, and too often victims of sexual violence, have suffered in silence on Penn State campus and the streets of State College. On Friday, March 20, more than 100 students rallied after a fraternity, Kappa Delta Rho, undressed unconscious women and posted pictures on social media. On March 25, Window of Opportunity, a youth-based community group, staged a march on frat row to protest in front of KDR. On Thursday, April 2, the Progressive Student Coalition hosted a public forum to discuss rape culture in our community. The next day, WOO organized another march on frat row.
4. The Hoosiers’ Disgrace—and Uprising
After Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed the state senate in early March, the Allies Club of Brebeuf Jesuit teamed up with Freedom Indiana to challenge the bill, which allows businesses to discriminate against people on the basis of religion—with LGBT people as targets. High school students phone-banked, delivered hand-written letters to our senators and representatives urging them to vote “no” and rallied at the Indiana Statehouse. Despite our—and many other Hoosier’s—efforts, the bill proceeded to pass through the Indiana House and was signed by Governor Pence on March 26.
5. In Charlottesville, Hitting the Streets—and the Board—for Black Lives
The brutal beating of black University of Virginia student Martese Johnson by law enforcement officers on St. Patrick’s Day sparked campus-wide protests against the systemic racism the black community experiences every day at UVA. Hundreds of people attended a March 18 rally on campus and later shut down sections of University Ave. and West Main St. before marching to the Charlottesville Police Station. When the UVA Student Council unilaterally planned a police dialogue featuring top officers from across the state, black students took over the event and demanded answers to the violent policing of black bodies, before marching out with fists raised. Organizers took to social media, using hashtags #BlackUVADemands and #NotJustUVA to connect the struggles of black students to those of the Charlottesville community, which has faced racism and discrimination for decades. One week after the beating, UVA’s Board of Visitors railroaded an 11 percent tuition increase that will expedite the privatization of UVA—a process that disproportionately hurts black and low-income students. In response, UVA Students United mobilized hundreds of students for two days of demonstrations against the hike, including a sit-in after administrators locked down a public building to prevent demonstrators from entering the BOV meeting.
—UVA Students United
6. In Lansing, Rising for a New State
On Thursday, March 26, 150 members of the Michigan Student Power Network, representing nine campuses, converged on Lansing for the Michigan Student Rise March. At the capitol, we delivered ten demands to supportive legislators, embracing a range of causes and movements and articulating a socially just vision for Michigan’s future—in opposition to policies that serve the white, rich and male ruling members of society. Following several speakers on the capitol steps, we marched to the rotunda and on to the legislative chambers. In the face of right to work, religious discrimination legislation, education cuts, emergency managers and more, MSPN is committed to building power among young people to fight for a state that supports all people.
—Michigan Student Power Network
7. From Hillel to Kehilah
On March 22, Swarthmore’s Jewish organization held a celebration to announce that it would change its name from Swarthmore Hillel to Swarthmore Kehilah, or “community” in Hebrew. The decision followed legal threats from Hillel International over Israel-Palestine programming. Two days later, the Kehilah hosted civil rights veterans Ira Grupper, Mark Levy, Larry Rubin and Dorothy Zellner, who are on a national tour, “From Mississippi to Jerusalem,” speaking with students about their experiences as white, Jewish organizers in the US civil rights movement and around Israel-Palestine. Swarthmore’s programming is part of a student movement challenging Hillel International’s restrictive “Standards of Partnership” on Israel-Palestine. On February 27, the Wesleyan Jewish community, an affiliate of Hillel International, hosted a Jewish Voice for Peace Shabbat event with nearly 50 attendees, although Hillel’s standards bar JVP. On March 20, Caroline Dorn resigned as president of Muhlenberg Hillel after her Hillel refused to host the civil rights tour—which proceeded to take place at another location with 100 attendees.
—Open Hillel Steering Committee
8. From March 29 to Spring 2016
On the morning of Thursday, March 29, twenty Divest University of Mary Washington students began a sit-in of our president’s office. On March 18, the Board of Visitors refused to hold a vote on our campaign’s proposal to form a subcommittee simply to explore options for removing the university’s investments from the fossil fuel industry. On Thursday evening, a group of students from across Virginia joined Divest UMW in a unified call for divestment statewide, culminating in the first collective action of DivestVa. Divest UMW will continue the sit-in until our demand, a plan for coal industry divestment by the end of the 2016 spring semester, is met.
9. 15 Now
On March 25, Temple University students and workers launched a campaign demanding at least $15 an hour for all workers on campus—from adjunct professors to food service workers to student workers. In coalition with groups across campus, Temple 15 Now wrote a letter to President Neil Theobald, articulating our fight as an issue of equality and justice in the North Philadelphia community. After a rally and speeches by students and workers, we marched to Theobald’s building—which is supposed to be open to all students and faculty—but were greeted by police blocking the entrance. We plan to escalate until the president will accept the letter himself—and listen to us.
10. 1,100—and More—Next
From March 19 to 22, I joined more than 1,100 young union leaders, students and community allies in Chicago for the AFL-CIO’s Next Up Young Worker Summit. We heard from leaders throughout the labor and progressive movements; sharpened our organizing skills in more than 80 workshops; shared successful strategies from campaigns across the country; and led dozens of sessions to strategize a raising wages agenda. On Saturday, March 21, we participated in seven actions across Chicago. I joined a large crowd to demonstrate for union rights and a $15 minimum wage outside Food 4 Less and McDonalds. Others organized leafletting for the #ChangeZara campaign, talked to Guitar Center workers about the benefits of a union contract, visited a Nissan dealership to support Nissan workers fighting for a union, supported striking Steelworkers at a nearby refinery, amplified Chicago’s #CabDriversUnited and canvassed for a teacher running for Chicago’s Board of Alderman. As a member of IBEW Local 46 and the AFL-CIO’s Young Worker Advisory Council, I have returned to Washington State eager to to build the next generation of leaders in the labor movement.