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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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(Another way this disconnect manifests itself, talking about the arrests and brutality with a senior faculty member and administrator later in the week he says to me: “those students created a safety problem, they wouldn't listen when told to clear the lobby, they brought that on themselves, if you come to a protest not expecting to get hurt you are naïve.”)

I didn't rush the podium that night. I did boo when someone got up and supported the tuition increases,  I did participate in a disruptive “mic check” in which one of my colleagues got up and started reading what she had written when it seemed as if she had been skipped over to speak, I did refuse to leave the meeting when I was told I was being disruptive and was then carried from the meeting by four security guards, my body limp. This is what we could do in that moment.

Since then we have been frantically organizing for Monday’s Board meeting and protest at Baruch College. We are coordinating with the Professional Staff Congress, the CUNY Union faculty and staff union to come out to the streets. There are medical, legal, emotional support working groups preparing for tomorrow, there are outreach and media groups, there are faculty groups crafting letters of support. There are calls for a student strike and a picket line.

The Baruch College administration has responded by canceling classes in the building after 3pm and  permitting access to the building to those with “an urgent and legitimate need to be in the building” in order to:  “ensure the safety of all students, faculty and staff during the period surrounding the meeting of the CUNY Board of Trustees in the Newman Vertical Campus on Monday afternoon.” This feels like a lock out, another egregrious attempt at repression of student dissent as well as a bleak example of the administration's priorities: protecting a Board meeting by canceling classes near the end of the semester and during the build up to the final exam period. As the press release put out by OccupyCUNY in response to this reads: “The campus lock-down is planned even though CUNY’s own legal department shows that the meeting falls under New York State Open Meeting Law and is legally required to be open to the public, including any CUNY students who wish to attend as long as the room is at legal capacity.” The full press release can be read here, along with a video rallying for tomorrow's actions.  

We are calling on our faculty to support us. We are calling on our union to support us. We are calling on students to reject the increasing privatization of what should be a public good and join us. We are rejecting the securitization of our universities, of our education, we are rejecting the commodification of our universities, of our education. We are rejecting a model that attempts to convince us that a consumer model of education, where you pay for what you get, is the best one. And in doing all this we are, again, fundamentally challenging the model of society that we are supposed to be content in. We are demanding more, we are demanding a society where education is a right, where it is free, where everyone has access to it.

And we have learned, once again, that this is a real challenge to the state, to the powers that be, to those who want to maintain education for the elite and for only those who can afford it.  Why else would we be surrounded by cop cars when we have meeting of the People's University in Washington Square Park? Why else would students and faculty around the country be pepper sprayed and beaten when they demand a greater voice over decisions made in these institutions, when they demand affordability and accessibility? Why else would a public meeting be in a heavily securitized building, why else would the President of Baruch cancel classes in the last weeks before finals just so that a Board meeting can occur un-interrupted? We are being met with force because we are a threat, because education as a right for everyone is a threat because we are asking for more than we have been taught to expect, because we want to stretch our imaginations about what is possible by doing so.