Students Push Back – public education, not privatization

Students around the US are building towards a National Day of Action for public education on March 2 to maintain and expand public education and oppose plans to defund and dismantle it. State budget shortfalls caused by the recession are being used as an excuse to undermine public education by laying off teachers and staff, dramatically increasing fees for higher education, and pushing privatization. There are also growing attacks on education workers, their unions, and their pensions.

Students are pushing back — March 2 will feature student strikes, marches and direct action. In addition to demanding free, quality public education from pre-K to graduate school by taxing the rich and corporations, student are seeking meaningful participation in governance of the educational system.

Students at the 10-campus University of California (UC) system will confront the UC’s governing Regents at a March 15-18 meeting at UC San Francisco. The Regents are appointed by the governor and have no accountability to students.

The overall shift of the UC system and other public universities around the world is towards a more privatized model with more money coming directly from corporations to carry out research for private, not public, goals. Struggles against privatization at universities represent a conscious challenge to the trend towards corporate control throughout society.

Governments around the world are instituting austerity measures that attack social services including public universities. Students in England facing a tripling of tuition to 9,000 pounds took their outrage to the streets in coordinated national actions. They broke into Torie headquarters and a group attacked Prince Charles’ car when it blundered into the protest. Someone yelled “Off With Their Heads!”

In Italy, students took over a highway, invented the bookbloc, and occupied the Leaning Tower of Pisa (!). Puerto Rico is seeing increased activity around la Universidad de Puerto Rico. Venezuela has had its own series of student protests. And this is barely the tip of the iceberg of the global fight for public education.

Without a doubt, we cannot rely purely on the spectacular actions — there is no moment of instantaneous change. This points us towards is the importance of sustainability. How can we create a culture of resistance that will prove most fruitful in the long haul?

Student activists have contact with hundreds of people. Some people are sympathetic while others aren’t. And even more haven’t formed a definite opinion. As we have seen in the Americas and Europe this past year, students are ripe with political rage. It is important to try and gauge where people are at through conversation. Asking questions like “Have you heard about March 2nd?” or “What do you think about the regents meeting?” can bring one to realize either that exciting things are happening or that some energies need to be spent disseminating information. I focus on information because I believe it provides something that is important: presence. Without a perceivable presence on campus (or anywhere), it becomes difficult for anyone to get involved in exchanges and activities surrounding issues of concern.

People working together is powerful. There is no doubt that energies are high around the world. Our goals should include sustaining our acts of resistance and solidarity at the university and beyond.