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Inside the Student Movement: Undeterred by Crackdown, Activists Around the Country Gear Up for Bigger Actions

One week after arrests and beatings of students at CUNY and pepper-spraying at UC Davis, students plan bigger actions to fight tuition hikes and policing of education.

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And organizing collectively and horizontally we have been: through weekly All-City Student Assemblies and General Assemblies, through a burgeoning student debt refusal movement that is calling for a million students to pledge to refuse their student debt in response to the fact that: “the student debt crisis and the dependency of U.S. higher education on debt-financing from the people it is supposed to serve. (Read more about this campaign here: http://occupystudentdebtcampaign.com/ ) And this has been happening through the very real, urgent and intensifying struggle over the current CUNY budget, a budget that calls for tuition increases every year for the next 5 years alongside cutting adjunct health insurance while simultaneously requesting millions more for security throughout the CUNY system. Fighting against this budget is the way I have translated the space for activism that Occupy Wall Street has opened up into being part of a organized on-the ground protest movement that has very real demands. This is part of how and why I was at Baruch College last Monday November 21st.

When I got to Baruch College around 5:15pm on Monday November 21st and I could immediately tell that something was wrong. The atmosphere on the street around the building was charged. I hurried over to the entrance on 25th street and students were yelling and shoving to get into the building. Something had just happened, the scene was chaotic. I saw a friend and asked: “what happened?” “We tried to go to the meeting and they beat us, they arrested people, they have David and Zoltan and Conor and others” he answered. This news sunk in, I was shocked. This wasn't supposed to happen. We wanted to protest the budget, to have a General Assembly to highlight the contradiction between direct, street democracy and “public” Board of Trustees meetings that occur in heavily securitized buildings. We didn't plan on arrests and violence. What had happened? Why had my friends been beaten and arrested?

My colleague Conor Tomás Reed, a graduate student in English at the CUNY Graduate Center and a Graduate Teaching Fellow at Baruch, described what happened in an email after he was released from jail the next day:

“As I write, my wrists are still bruised from repeatedly applied zip-ties and handcuffs, and my senses swim from the first real meal in twenty-four hours….During the insane security billyclubs melee, a guard unzipped my backpack and emptied its contents onto the floor, including a notebook with my students' grades and a CUNY library book. As I shielded myself and others, I was grabbed by several guards and thrown to the ground, pinned down with my shirt ripped and glasses broken, and had zip-ties placed around my wrists so tightly that I couldn't feel my hands. Only half an hour later…were my ties loosened. Many other detained CUNY students similarly experienced this tight cuffing and rough handling, and were otherwise in tremendous pain at the whim of a frighteningly disorganized and cocky security force. The decision for who to ultimately arrest and "put under" was based on racial profiling and confidence in the face of authority. All five of us were CUNY students of color (four men and one woman), with me also in the peculiar position of being charged with trespassing on the campus where I teach. One CUNY security officer sexually harassed the young woman in custody...”

I was not in the lobby when this happened. I didn't see this happen. What I did do is immediately after hearing that Zoltan, David, and Conor, among others had been arrested was rush around to the other entrance to the building, swipe my faculty card in and start looking around for them, it was there in the lobby that I literally bumped into a security guard with my friend David cuffed taking him towards an elevator. I followed and caught up with them. “Where are you taking them? What are they being charged with?” The security guard in plain clothes escorting the uniformed guards started to scream at me: “You are interfering with a police investigation and you better get out of here!” I am a faculty member at this school and I wanted to know where my friends were being taken, this was in front of hundreds of students. This is the way repression works outside of throwing people to the ground and hitting them, it also works to intimidate those of us who want to know what happened, to advocate for those who have been assaulted. I was and am furious.