Last spring, The Nation launched its biweekly student movement dispatch. As part of the StudentNation blog, each dispatch hosts first-person updates on youth organizing. For recent dispatches, check out September 29 and October 14. For an archive of earlier editions, see the New Year’s dispatch. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org with tips. Edited by James Cersonsky (@cersonsky).
1. Occupying SLU
Photos have been updated, and autopsy reports have changed, but for Occupy SLU the #Ferguson message remains the same. From October 13 to 17 demonstrators camped at the Saint Louis University clock tower in an act of resistance to racial profiling and police brutality. The demonstration, led by groups including Tribe X and Lost Voices, ignited anger and vitriol—as well as constructive dialogue—across the predominantly white campus. The administration took Occupy SLU as a chance to kick-start a discussion on racism, privilege and the Ferguson protests. On Oct 22, President Pestello released a thirteen-step agreement created with the protesters to reflect the college’s newest commitments in line with its Jesuit mission. We will continue to demonstrate until the larger battle to educate and reform our campus culture is won.
2. Storming City Hall
Following #FergusonOctober’s Weekend of Resistance, organizers from Young Activists United St. Louis and Millennial Activists United met with St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay. Five representatives spoke with the mayor after a #YouthTakover occupation of St. Louis’s City Hall, where we insisted on a meeting and a list of demands, including effective civilian oversight of the police department with subpoena power, body cameras for all police officers with proper privacy regulations, independent investigations into all police killings and an end to St. Louis’s involvement in all police militarization programs. The meeting itself was baloney—with activists from MAU and YSTL feeling that their voices were not heard and their desire for tangible action dismissed. We will continue pressuring local leaders to make changes consistent with the cries of the communities they serve—while building coalitions that reflect the highly intersectional nature of our movement.
3. The I-75 Blockade
On October 22, Georgia social justice groups including #ItsBiggerThanYou and Southerners on New Ground helped organize #O22, a protest against the mass incarceration of black and brown bodies in solidarity with those in Ferguson. In Atlanta, youth organizers decided to cause substantial disruption, blocking four lanes of traffic on I-75 South near Freedom Parkway during one of the busiest times of Atlanta traffic. In front of a banner reading #BlackLiveMatter, seven people formed a human chain to block the freeway while others dropped banners on the bridge behind them. Protesters were eventually allowed to exit the highway without arrest. This weekend, #IBTY will be working with groups across the city to host a conference, Empowering Ourselves Now, at the Interdenominational Theological Center.
—Natalia Hall and Zakkiyya Anderson
4. The Return to Campus
During Columbus Day weekend at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, bigotry stained the doors of three students of color. Upon return from the weekend of resistance in Ferguson, a student was welcomed with “kill these niggers!!” boldly scribbled on his door. The community response was swift and strong as UMass stood behind the victims using the hashtag #Wrongdoor, signifying the zero tolerance policy for cowardly acts of racism on our campus. On October 16, students of color, white student allies and supportive faculty gathered for an open forum with the university administration, including the chancellor, to voice frustrations with racial targeting and the invisibility and neglect of underrepresented minority issues. In weekly meetings, we are developing further initiatives to step up the prioritization of these concerns on campus.
—Jasmine Bertrand-Halidy and Josh Odam
5. In Philadelphia, Students Shut Down “Won’t Back Down”
On October 15, the School District of Philadelphia screened Won’t Back Down for its Parent Appreciation night during the city’s “Family Appreciation” Month. At its core, the movie blames teachers and neighborhood schools for the failure of a broken education system that sets up schools and students to fail while demonizing unions and promoting charter expansion as the solution to “failing” school districts. Showing the film a week after Philadelphia’s unelected School Reform Commission canceled the teachers’ contract was a shady ploy to manipulate parents into supporting the school district’s plan towards privatization. So, we took action. Members of the Philadelphia Student Union disrupted the film by chanting “SOS, Save Our Schools!” and “Philly is a Union Town!” while sitting in front of the screen. We were soon approached by School Reform Commissioner Sylvia Simms, who berated us and screamed that we go to “failing” schools. As we protested peacefully, the audience—Simms’ supporters and members of the Women’s Christian Alliance, headed by Simms’ sister—chanted, “Lock them up!” Appalled, but not surprised, we exited the building just as several police arrived, and no students were arrested. Just like those in the movie, Philadelphia public schools have been subjected to systematic disinvestment for decades—more than ever, under current Governor Corbett—in place of a full funding formula.
—Philadelphia Student Union
6. In San Diego, Students Stage a “Shit-In”
The Trans* Action and Advocacy Student Coalition at San Diego State University, or TAASC force, is a student organization for transgender and gender nonconforming folks and allies. On Tuesday, October 21, in coordination with the California Student Union’s week of action, we held a “Shit-In” to raise awareness and advocate for more gender neutral restrooms on campus. At six toilets spread in front of our iconic Hepner Hall building, participants dropped their pants for #SDSUShitIn and #translivesmatter and pledged to take the Gender Neutral Bathroom Challenge, using only gender-neutral bathrooms for an entire week. Amid violence and verbal assault for using gender-segregated restrooms, it has been a struggle to get more accessible restrooms at SDSU. While the university gets ranked as a top LGBT campus, trans* justice has been on the back burner—or, in the case of last spring’s Trans* Week of Empowerment and the Shit-In, co-opted, silencing our efforts. The university’s reasoning for a lack of these restrooms is that trans* issues weren’t on the radar when buildings were constructed—despite that two of three new buildings don’t have any and existing locations are largely inaccessible. We are making a short documentary about the “Shit-In” and hope to create a national campaign.
7. At Miami U, Reality Confronts George Will
The news that George Will, a public victim-blamer and rape apologist, would be paid $48,000 to speak at Miami University of Ohio was a shock. On October 19, members of Miami University’s Women’s Center wrote an open letter to the administration, signed by more than 1,000 people, explaining that Will’s column explicitly violates the Miami Code of Conduct and that inviting Will to speak is disrespectful to the university community—which the university rejected. At 5 pm on Wednesday, October 22, as some students lined up to listen to Will speak, hundreds of others showed up to protest, carrying signs and shouting, “Nothing less than yes!” and “No means no!” During the speech, students, staff and faculty held a teach-in on sexual assault. President David Hodge did attend the protest, where he talked to students and was handed a petition for greater funding for sexual assault victims at Miami with signatures from 12,500 members of UltraViolet. Together, we aim to show the university that we want discourse on campus to reflect values of love, honor and respect.
8. How Many Asses for a Kentucky Vote?
From October 20 to 24, students from seven campuses affiliated with the Kentucky Student Environmental Coalition hosted “Let’s Buy a Politician” mock fundraisers to draw attention to the role of money from fossil fuel industries in Kentucky’s elections. Our “goal” was to raise $100 million, the same amount forecasted to be spent in the most expensive Senate election in US history, between Mitch McConnell and Alison Grimes. Our real goal is to make candidates realize that we demand a just transition to a renewable energy economy, which would protect our air, water and economic futures, in exchange for our votes. The fundraisers ranged from “Buy a Cookie, Buy a Politician” bake sales at duPont Manual High School and Western Kentucky University to a puppy-petting event at Transylvania University and an “Ass-Kissing Booth” at the University of Kentucky where a politician named “Grimey McConster” would kiss your ass in exchange for campaign contributions.
9. Whose Iowa?
Students in Iowa graduate with an average debt of $29,000, the result of state defunding of higher education concurrent with greater spending on administrative costs. Tuition and fees now make up a majority of university revenue—and are expected to increase. In response, the University of Iowa’s graduate employee union, COGS, held a Rally Against Student Debt on October 22 while the Iowa Board of Regents discussed the 2015–16 budget. Speakers included students, faculty and State Senator Tyler Olson—speaking on behalf of Senate hopeful Bruce Braley and his College Affordability Plan. Later that day, another student protest cut short a visit to Iowa City from Joni Ernst, who is Braley’s opponent and wants to abolish the federal Department of Education. As reported the next day, several members of the Iowa Board of Regents are now pushing for a continued tuition freeze—pushing educational costs further to the forefront of the midterm election.
10. “You’re Not Going to Disrespect Me in My Second Home”
Editor’s note: A middle school student from the Mission District in San Francisco speaks out about confronting—and defeating—Dropbox and Airbnb employees in a game of eviction at the Mission Playground.
—Mission Playground Is Not for Sale