Last spring, The Nation 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 May 19 and June 3. 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. After Westboro Baptists Show Up, 1,000 Mass at Wilson High
On Monday, June 9, more than 1,000 students and community members from DC, Maryland and Virginia gathered in front of Woodrow Wilson High School to hold a counter-protest to the Westboro Baptist Church, which was picketing the school community’s accepting attitude at annual pride day. During our second pride day, our principal came out as gay. In front of the school, ten student leaders from Genders-Sexualities Aligned, or GSA, and the school’s student government led the group in a series of “pro-love” and “pro-equality” chants during the counter-protest; Westboro members protested on the opposite side of the building and received little media or civilian attention. The action sparked a huge outpouring of support from the community, including more than $500 raised for a local organization focused on supporting local GSAs and SMYAL.
—Aidan Parisi and Tao Marwell
2. After Four Years of Silence, Twenty-One Get Arrested for Mass Transit
On the morning of June 9, the Youth Affordability Coalition held an Oppotuni(T) sit-in at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Building. This sit-in was part of an ongoing effort to demand a Youth Pass, which would give youth from ages 12–21 transportation for $10 every month. We were promised to pilot a version of the Youth Pass by Richard Davey, Massachusetts secretary of transportation, four years ago, and officials have made ongoing commitments to us—but have never delivered. During the sit-in, hundreds of YAC members and supporters held a rally and vigil. At 7 pm, after three warnings by state police, twenty-one people were arrested for trespassing. On June 12, the YAC 21 were found not guilty—but still owe legal fees and fines, for which we are fundraising. YAC will continue pressuring Secretary Davey and Governor Patrick for affordable transportation.
3. Christie and Corbett Get a Mid-Atlantic Cheer
On June 9, students, teachers and community members converged on a campaign fundraiser for Governors Corbett and Christie—two politicians at the root of school privatization and closings in their respective states. A range of groups, including the Philadelphia Student Union, Newark Students Union, Pennsylvania Working Families and New Jersey United Students, rallied outside the Union League in Philadelphia. When hearing that the fundraiser had been moved under threat of protest, we marched to the new location at Comcast Headquarters. Protesters sat down in the street demanding to be heard by their governors; an hour later, six were arrested. Under state takeover, the Camden, Newark and Philadelphia school districts have been brutalized through waves of closings and privatization. Comparably, New Jersey public universities and colleges have been gutted via state divestment, pervasive use of adjuncts and extreme administrative salaries. Last year NJUS helped win tuition equity for undocumented youth and is now pushing for a $1.9 million increase to the Equal Opportunity Fund, a program that helps students from low-income districts.
4. Two Days Later, Philadelphia Students Walk Out
On June 11, students from Philadelphia’s Youth United for Change led a walkout of more than 300 students from twelve different high schools across the city. Marchers walked from the school district building to City Hall and ended at the governor’s office. We staged this walkout to amplify student voices amid the ongoing school budget crisis. The majority of students who walked out were black and came from low-income families, who have been affected severely by the budget crisis. We asked for fully funded schools and the revival of local school board control and expressed deep concern about the city’s proposal to allow class sizes of up to forty-one students.
5. At Harvard, Grads Tape Up Against Sexual Assault
On May 29, graduates across Harvard University stood in solidarity with survivors of campus sexual assault by marking their mortar boards with red tape during commencement. Following student activism at Columbia and Brown, Our Harvard Can Do Better, an undergraduate student group aimed at ending rape culture at Harvard, launched Our Harvard 14 to demand that Harvard be proactive in creating a safer campus in which cases of sexual assault are treated justly by the administration. Student groups across the university including Harvard Students Demand Respect, Divest Harvard, The Diversity Report and Student Labor Action Movement united in support of the initiative.
—Michelle Maziar, Rory Gerberg and MaryRose Mazzola
6. At Stanford, the Gates Take the Stage—$172 Million Later
In May, a coalition of forty students at Stanford launched the Gates Foundation, Divest G4S campaign. We called on our 2014 commencement speakers—Bill and Melinda Gates—to divest their foundation and its $40 billion endowment from the world’s largest private security company, G4S, which violates human rights around the world. Through direct pressure on the Gates Foundation and organizing from the Palestine solidarity movement, we won. On May 22, Bill Gates partially divested from G4S, and on June 6, a representative of the Gates family e-mailed us to announce full divestment. While our second demand—that the foundation re-evaluate its investments in objectionable industries like privatized prisons and publish transparent guidelines for ethical investment—remains unanswered, the G4S win has put us in a position to launch new campaigns with the coalition of groups that formed around it come the fall.
—Kristian Davis Bailey
7. A Groundbreaking Contract for Grad Workers
On June 4, after an eighteen-month campaign, the UC Student-Worker Union, UAW 2865, which represents 13,000 teaching assistants, readers and tutors across the University of California system, won a game-changing contract. Management initially refused to bargain over the union’s quality of education and civil rights issues, instead escalating threats and intimidation against workers with arrests and discipline for picketing. The UAW responded with multiple Unfair Labor Practice charges and two system-wide strikes. Last week, as a third system-wide strike loomed, an unprecedented agreement for labor peace was signed that, in addition to solid progress on wages, addresses workers’ concerns over growing class sizes, professional and academic opportunities for undocumented students and access to gender-neutral bathrooms. The contract also includes significantly expanded parental leaves and childcare support.
—Josh Brahinsky, Michelle Glowa and Jonathan Smucker
8. A New Union in South Carolina
Since an initial meeting on April 24, the Coastal Carolina Student Union has grown to more 100 students. Many became involved feeling they needed a larger body to boost their organizing, from protecting people from sexual assault and combating gender oppression to LGBT justice and advancing representation of students of color. In the upcoming school year, we will push the student government and administration for weekly notifications of crime on campus; policy protecting student and faculty protesters from retaliation; the ability to petition for open forums between students and administrators; re-evaluation of CCU’s application of Title IX’s sexual assault protocols; clearer criteria as to what deems an event or flyer “appropriate”; checks and balances within the non-academic complaint procedure; and transparency and notification about meetings of the Board of Trustees.
9. Next Up
From May 30 to June 4, activists from across the country converged on Detroit for the AFL-CIO’s Young Workers Leadership Institute. We engaged in a variety of trainings and discussion on topics including mentorship and peer coaching; the AFL-CIO’s new economic empowerment initiative, Common Sense Economics; the importance and tactics of direct action; shifting the balance of power in order to run successful campaigns; and confronting privilege in order to build a more inclusive labor movement. AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Liz Shuler, who helped launch the Next Up program, which now has chapters in fifty-plus cities and states, pushed us to return to our communities and work to strengthen the young worker movement by providing our groups with the skills we learned.
—Crystal A. Young
Media depicts young workers as millennials, students, graduates, hipsters, even criminals, but doesn’t seem to note the work hustle. Meanwhile, it’s widely stated that we are the future of the labor movement—but this doesn’t guarantee us a voice in the movement, let alone in the workplace, or in the broader conversation. So, we need our own media. As our project takes off, we are calling on workers everywhere to share their stories.
—Young Worker Media Project