A core mission of StudentNation is to highlight the frequent but often overlooked instances of student and youth engagement with critical political, economic and cultural questions. This round-up below offers an incomplete but illustrative survey of the scope and breadth of student activism currently.
Student Protests in Europe and Canada
In England, France, Canada and Italy, students took to the streets this past fall protesting tuition hikes and cuts to social programs. Though the protests received modest coverage in major US media outlets, columnists on the other side of the pond have been debating a new generation’s rise into political consciousness.
See Student Nation’s coverage of the UK’s education cut protests from The New Statesman’s Laurie Penny:
Inside The Millbank Tower Riots [The Nation]
Police Detained UK Student Protesters En Masse: A Firsthand Account [The Nation]
Police Beat Protesters Trapped In Parliament Square Kettle [The Nation]
University of California Fee Hike Protests
Though many on the left criticized students’ inability to muster European-style protest on this side of the Atlantic, there were widespread protests across the University of California system at the March 4 National Day of Action to Defend Public Education events and in subsequent protests in November against an 8 percent fee increase. The Board of Regents approved the hike anyway.
DREAM Act Passes House
When the DREAM Act was approved by the House of Representatives 216-198 on December 8, it vindicated a movement driven by grassroots youth activism that forced Beltway figures to reconsider their strategy on immigration. Even though it was blocked in the Senate, DREAM Activists aren’t going to quit. They’ve adapted civil-rights era activist techniques for the 21st century, and they’re a testament that students can make their voice heard.
Young People Protect Farm Worker Rights
Every year, between one and three million migrant workers tend American farms, moving across the country to follow seasonal crops (PDF). In Florida, farmworkers labor 10 to 12 hours a day, collecting some 4,000 pounds of tomatoes to earn Florida’s minimum wage. What’s worse, some of these impoverished workers are forced into involuntary servitude.
The Florida-based immigrant-laborer-led Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) has been organizing since 1993 for fairer wages and working conditions for immigrant pickers. Fast-food chains are the biggest buyers of fresh produce in Florida and they often use legal loopholes to buy products supplied by uncertified suppliers. Recognizing that fast-food chains concentrate their marketing efforts on young people, CIW is effectively collaborating with the Student/Farmworker Alliance, currently on a joint campaign to force supermarket chains impose minimal work standards on their suppliers.
CIW Supermarket Campaign Targets Publix, Kroger and Trader Joe’s [The Nation]
Awareness of Anti-Gay Bullying Grows After Youth Suicides
On September 22, Tyler Clementi, an eighteen-year-old Rutgers University student, jumped off the George Washington Bridge after his roommate filmed him having sex with another man and leaked the video on the internet. Inspired by a handful of high profile teen suicides that were brought on by anti-gay bullying, sex columnist Dan Savage launched the “It Gets Better” campaign. After Clementi’s death, the campaign went viral, with celebrities from Ciara to President Obama contributing their own video testimony. In mid-November, the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act was introduced to Congress.
Student Activists Force Anti-Gay Michigan Politician Andrew Shirvell’s Termination
Michigan assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell launched a bizarre online campaign against the University of Michigan’s openly gay student body president, Chris Armstrong. Shirvell essentially dedicated his free time to terrorizing Armstrong, running a blog dedicated to smearing him and even showing up a few times at his house. The student body rallied around Armstrong, and Shirvell was banned from the university grounds. The assistant AG was fired in early November.
Andrew Shirvell Needs To Be Fired If We Want To End Violence Against Gays [The Nation]
Andrew Shirvell, Creator Of Derisive Anti-Gay Blog, Fired By Attorney General’s Office [The Michigan Daily]
MSA president Chris Armstrong Works To Redefine His Presidency After Andrew Shirvell [The Michigan Daily]
Youth Activists Push Marijuana Reform to the Fore
After all the media attention heaped on the Prop 19 campaign, it should come as no surprise that the vanguard of the legalization drive in many states, including California and Colorado is made up of college-age activists. Motivating young voters was a central focus of the grassroots effort for California’s Prop 19, and to a large extent it worked even though the measure narrowly failed. Despite this setback, the movement for drug and sentencing reform is moving steadily forward nationwide with strong youth support and involvement.
Budding Prospects: Youth Activists Push Marijuana Reform [The Nation]
FBI Raids on Student Antiwar Groups
At the start of the semester, the FBI searched the homes of members of anti-war activists in Minnesota and Chicago, including Students For a Democratic Society. According to the group, federal agents confiscated documents, cell phones and storage disks. Protests sprang up in cities across the country following the raids. Critics are calling it a general crackdown to suppress student activism on college campuses.
FBI Raids Homes of Antiwar and Pro-Palestinian Activists in Chicago and Minneapolis [Democracy Now!]
Anti-war Activists Protest Against FBI [NBC Chicago]
Students for a Democratic Society speaks out against FBI raids [SDS]
The National Day of Action To Defend Public Education
On both March 4 and October 7, students across the country came out to protest university budget cuts and the increasing cost of tuition. Though most rallies remained relatively low-key, Student Activism’s Angus Johnston rightly insisted that the national movement to defend public education has spread to many new states since it began in California a few years ago, with over 76 actions in 25 states total.
First thoughts on the November 7 National Day of Action [Student Activism]
Group walks 114 miles to protest higher education cuts [Boston Globe]
At rallies across the country, students turn out in defense of public education [Chronicle of Higher Education]
Students and Teachers Rally Around Ethnic Studies
Last Spring, Arizona passed a house bill, HB 2281, implicitely banning ethnic studies classes (potentially including courses like Chicano Studies or African American Studies). Students and teachers alike decried the bill as a xenophobic attempt to push minority groups out of America’s historical narrative. In the first week of October, colleges and high schools in 27 states hosted coordinated actions in support of ethnic studies and multicultural education. HB 2281 went into effect in Arizona last week.
Students and teachers across the US rally in support of ethnic studies [Campus Progress]
Oops! Arizona Ethnic Studies ban makes courses more popular [Colorlines]
Arizona students protest new law banning ethnic studies classes [Democracy Now!]
Environmental Justice Gains Traction
Young people have been making noise about climate change. Backed by a push from young environmentalists, the EPA hosted its first forum on environmental justice this year, with cabinet members coming together to talk about the specific impact that environmental issues have on poor and minority communities. On the international stage, youth delegates were forced out of COP 16 on the last day of negotiations as they staged a protest. At home as well as abroad, activists were quick to point out that officials have been long on talk and short on action, and that there’s a huge amount of work to do in 2011.
Environmental Bus Tour: Healthbeat Brooklyn [Brooklyn Independent Television]
White House Forum Gets Tense: Environmental Justice Activist Urges EPA Administrator To “Roll Up Your Sleeves” [New York Times]
An Obstacle To Youth Participation At COP 16 [The College Voice]
Students Pressure Nike to Help Workers in Honduras
Facing pressure from universities and student groups, Nike announced in July that it would pay $1.5 million to help re-train and support almost 2,000 workers in Honduras who lost their jobs. This was a a big victory for the student labor rights movement and for the Hondurans laid off when Nike shut down two of its subcontractors.
Pressured by Students, Nike Agrees to Help Workers in Honduras [The Nation]
2010 Elections: Student Activists Struggle to Bridge the Enthusiasm Gap
The senior citizen vote brought in huge gains for Republicans in Congress this year. Though youth voters didn’t meet their 2008 numbers, a record number of young voters participated for a mid-term year; minority youth came out in greater numbers than in previous years, and youth activists started thinking strategically about how to build an infrastructure that will get new and youth voters to the polls in future election years.
Young democrats tackle the enthusiasm gap [The Nation]
Queer, Black, Latino Youth Saw Major Turnout Gains In 2010 Election [Student Activism]
Building The Youth Vote Is About Building Infrastructure [Campus Progress]
Campaign to Fight Islamophobia
Against a backdrop of growing tensions over the proposed construction of an Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan, two young men mounted a campaign to demystify Islam and its place in America. Bassam Tariq, 23, and Aman Ali, 25, visited 30 mosques across the country over a period of 30 days and shared stories from the people they met on their blog. “I hope that what we have done stands the test of time. I hope people can revisit our website and it will still feel substantial” Tariq told Student Nation contributor Maria Kari. “It’s like Islam-on-trial right now…the problem is we don’t go out and meet our neighbours.”
Additional research provided by Joanna Chiu and Laurie Rojas.