Dear New York, Welcome to the Student Movement

Editor’s note: We are posting this article about the student movement because we believe that the connections between student struggles around debt, tuition increases and budget cuts are integrally connected to what OWS has been about.

By Zoltan Gluck

We could hear the hundreds of students outside, students who had come from across the city to show support, cheering for us as CUNY campus security surged forward and began to shove us with their clubs. There were only about sixty of us assembled inside the lobby on the ground floor of Baruch College where, fourteen floors above us, the Board of Trustees were convening to discuss the latest round of widely unpopular tuition hikes. Again these hikes will likely pass and, again, when they do, higher education will become even less accessible to the poor and traditionally marginalized communities of New York City. Last Monday night we stood non-violently in the lobby of this school where an undemocratic process with direct bearing on our future and the future of our city was taking place. We stood and spoke and we were met with violence. When the police tried to disperse the crowd students were jabbed and struck with batons, four were arrested, fifteen students were detained and charged with disorderly conduct and “trespassing” on their own campus. We left bruised and battered but far from demoralized. As one of my friends aptly observed: “This is just the beginning.”

A student movement is blossoming in New York City. While police violence against peaceful protesters still loudly dominates public attention, a silent revolution is afoot in the universities. Spurned and inspired by Occupy Wall Street, General Assemblies are now meeting at most major university campuses in the city, active working groups are building for future events, and an All-City Student Assembly has begun to facilitate dialogue and coordination between the campuses. It seems that the era of students struggling in relative isolation, fighting losing battles against insulated and invisible trustees who run their schools like hedge funds, is beginning to give way to something new.

For the past seven weeks students from across the CUNY system, NYU, Columbia, the New School, Rutgers, Pratt and Juilliard have been meeting and organizing. One fruit of their collective efforts has been the “Student Week of Action in Defense of Education.” By November 14th the calendar was full with over sixty events happening on campuses around the city. Corporate walking tours elucidated the connections between university campuses and Wall Street. A faculty speak out at the CUNY Graduate Center linked the struggles of the previous generations to those the present. A group of students occupied a New School Study Center on 5thavenue and 14th street declaring the space open to all and proceeded to run a series of high-octane lectures, teach-ins, workshops and general assemblies that filled the weekend with a sense of collective struggle. An ambitious Student Debt Refusal Pledge was launched at Zuccotti Park. And then last Monday night hundreds of students from across the city joined together to protest CUNY tuition hikes, the gutting of public education and to rebuke the Board of Trustees that hid behind a wall of armed police.

What should we make of the coordinated police crack downs on Occupations around the country that seemingly brought the spectacular encampments to an abrupt end and left many of us wondering what comes next? In many ways we already have the answer: that OWS has already begun to shift the very terrain of other struggles. For student organizing it has provided a whole new framework through which to organize collectively and horizontally. It has also helped to expose police violence and brought questions of political expression and its attendant repression squarely back into the university as a pressing issue of administrative accountability. In this sense the next phase of Occupy Wall Street is as much about how its momentum carries into and galvanizes existing struggles as it is about actually occupying new spaces.

After the violence at Baruch College last week we have seen a veritable outpouring of indignation at the behavior of the current CUNY administration, a groundswell of support from faculty and staff, and a sharp increase in attendance at our CUNY-wide General Assembly. Last Tuesday upwards of 150 students and faculty came out to the GA and, after decompressing and debriefing about what had happened the night before, it was unanimously decided that we needed to organize a massive protest rebuking the Board of Trustees and the Administration for their actions. The meeting then broke out into working groups, a press team was formed out of the Outreach working group, others took up the tasks of coordinating legal and medical support, another group started drafting a letter to the teacher’s union, Direct Action began putting together logistics for the protest and by 9pm we had a sketch of how we would respond to the next Board of Trustees meeting. This is one of the ways in which OWS has catalyzed university organizing. Tomorrow, Monday November 28th, there will be a another massive gathering at Baruch College. Again, we will stand up and voice our dissent at a Board meeting. Again, we will state clearly that the we will not tolerate the dismantling of public education in New York quietly. We will not tolerate police repression on our campuses. But this time our numbers will be double or triple what we had last week, faculty will stand with us in the streets, students from across the city will again march in solidarity, and we know that whatever happens we have another General Assembly next Friday to regroup, debrief and
trudge forward.

Last Monday night I walked out of Baruch College after being handcuffed and detained on dubious charges for four hours to find a group of one hundred students from half a dozen campuses waiting to greet me. The atmosphere was electric and an overwhelming sense of warmth and solidarity gave me the same feeling I had at one of the rallies during the Week of Action. Looking out over a crowd of three thousand students at Union Square on November 17th and listening to the people’s mic carry our unified voice outwards over the bustling Christmas market, I thought to myself this is happening, the student movement is real.

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