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Here, Us, Now: Students Come Together This Week to Build a Powerful Nationwide Movement

In the face of massive student debt and an uncertain future, students are coming together to build the future on their own terms.
 
 
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Photo Credit: Catherine Jones via Shutterstock.com

 

In 1961, busloads of students, sick and tired of Jim Crow segregation, boarded buses to the South to demand an end to segregation. These students exposed themselves to the constant threat of death, via beatings at the hands of vigilantes and white supremacist groups, and in jail, where the police were the perpetrators of the violence against them. Then, in spite of their sacrifice, their actions were condemned as "unpatriotic" by President John F. Kennedy because of the embarrassment they caused the country in the era of the Cold War.

Nevertheless, the students persevered, understanding that the violence they were confronted with was a reflection of the state, not the justness of their mission. They continued their “Freedom Rides” despite these threats of violence, and the result was the eventual enforcement of Sarah Keyes v. the Carolina Coach Company, the landmark 1955 civil rights case that banned the segregation of buses.

Fast forward to June 2012. Two students occupied President Obama’s campaign office in Denver, Colorado while engaging in a hunger strike, effectively shutting down the operation. The students were undocumented and calling for an end to the deportation of young people whose parents brought them into this nation when they were children. Both of these students put themselves on the line, exposing themselves to enormous risk. And herein lie the roots of Obama’s executive order halting the deportations of young people: in the sacrifices of young activists.

Too often our generation is considered apolitical, a generation that won’t bother to fight for our future as it is being legislated away. This August, however, students nationwide will gather in Columbus, Ohio to disprove that assumption. The National Student Power Convergence will bring us together for four days, where we will reflect on the struggles of our movement -- including the marginalization of queers, people of color and women -- and construct a plan for action.

From student debt to racial justice, environmentalism to student democracy, students and youth have been organizing for as long as there have been students and youth. Though we don’t intend to reinvent the wheel, we do want to come together to connect our differences into a common struggle, learning from each other in the process and building for the future.

In May of this year, we wrote in AlterNet about the need for universities in the US to develop student unions that have legitimate student power on their campuses, and thus a better chance at combating some of the common issues facing universities here and abroad. This summer we are working to build what we previously described. One of our mottos -- “Here. Us. Now.” -- is not only a call for students everywhere to escalate our efforts as organizers in this moment when movements are expanding worldwide, but also a call for us as students to assert our own power in the institutions that are bleeding us dry.

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The issues facing young people in the United States are escalating, sometimes, it seems, on a daily basis. The federal DREAM Act immigration legislation has been hanging in the balance for more than 10 years. A figure was recently released by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement indicating that a person of color has been killed by the police approximately every 40 hours since January 2012. Youth unemployment, an issue not given due importance in the mainstream conversation, has only gotten higher. This, and so much more, is the rather desperate context in which we locate our work.

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The National Student Power Convergence is a joint effort by students doing grassroots organizing and those connected to larger institutional organizations such as Rebuild the Dream. Radicals and progressives are joining hands because we realize that our liberation in the student struggle is intricately connected. The Convergence intends to be a space of shared resources, building connections among campus communities through grassroots organizing, as well as utilizing social capital generated through many progressive organizations. Through the Convergence we hope to augment individual organizing efforts; allow students and youth to draw larger, deeper connections to the work they are doing on their campuses; and contextualize their work in the narrative of the broader movement.