originally published on AlterNet
by Manissa McCleave Maharawal
Today, Monday, is not only a day of action against university budget cuts in New York City but also around the country, at places like UC-Davis, where last week students were violently pepper sprayed during a peaceful protest. Here these same students are courageously calling for a student strike that will shut down the campus and in which rallies and teach-ins about budget cuts, police brutality and non-violent action will replace normal campus activities. At UCLA there are planned protests at the Board of Regents meeting in order to force that body to change their agenda to better reflect student concerns like increasing tuition and decreased funding for the entire UC system. These actions will be done with the solidarity and support of students around the country, from Tufts University in Massachusetts to the rural Kentucky-based Owensboro Community and Technical College. These actions also occur in the context of a global student movement: for weeks in Chile protesters, spearheaded by students demanding more affordable education, have been expressing dissent against President Pinera’s capital market reforms. In solidarity with these protests students around Latin America, in Argentina, Columbia, and Peru have come together to demand education reforms and stand in support of the Chilian students. Earlier this month, students in Ireland, Italy and the Phillipines staged massive protests and walk-outs over increased tuition.
Let me start by being very clear about who I am and what I do: I am a graduate student at the City University of New York in the Anthropology Department and I teach Anthropology 101 at Baruch College twice a week on Monday and Wednesday evenings. My students are younger than me and older than me. They are impressively diverse, they are mostly women of color, they work all day long and then come to class in the evening. They are tired by the time they sit down in my class and I respect this tiredness, I respect and understand that many of them have to leave early or get there late because of their job or their family and because I, just like them, am a student and a worker in a public university system.
The public university system that we are in is the third largest in the country and one that has had values of free education, accessibility and inclusivity in its inception and embedded in its history. I want to be very clear about this because in many ways our histories create our visions for the future and the history of CUNY is a history of struggle that gets to the core of what we think higher education is as well as who we think higher education should be for. Founded in 1847 as the Free Academy, the City University of New York was explicitly created to educate the poor and working class of New York City. Students fought for open admissions in 1969, a struggle that was about forcing the University to accept more non-white students and create Black and Puerto Rican Studies Departments. This struggle was won. In 1976 the University, amid years of student protests against it, imposed tuition for the first time since its foundation. Since then almost every year has been punctuated by protests over increasing tuition and proposed budget cuts. This year is the same.
But this year is also not the same. In the context of the Occupy movement, the student movement has taken off. Our movements are connected and stronger because of these connections. They are connected because they are fighting to articulate the same disconnect between power and people and to show the same connections between where our money is spent and where we want it to be spent, they show the connections between dissent and the way this dissent is violently repressed around the country and the world. In New York City and the United States Occupy Wall Street has provided the student movement with inspiration and supportIn this way Occupy Wall Street has, as Zoltan Gluck writes here: “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.”