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Student Organizing And Actions Around The Nation

1. Quebecois Unionism Comes to Madison

When students from Quebec come to the United States, we are shocked at the institutional abuse and economic burden students are facing. It feels like the few who can still reach college are only one slice of a more widely impoverished and racially segregated population, and for us this rings a bell. We’ve been fighting fiercely against tuition hikes much smaller than those happening every year in many states and campuses, and it is because we have fought that those hikes were smaller, or didn’t happen at all. Contrary to some who would rather talk up the “Quebec exception” or Quebecers as “natural lefties,” we see things otherwise. We are facing the same kinds of challenges as US students, and we are not always winning against apathy and demobilization. But we can’t just talk about what we do. Where people are organizing student unions—like those from Colorado, Michigan and New Jersey, whom we met at this month’sNational Student Power Convergence—we want to help create the kind of sustained mass organizations that function according to direct democracy, with assemblies where all students are invited to motion, amend and vote rather than watch others do it in their name. If it’s not students fighting for the abolition of tuition and institutionalized racism, then who?

—Frank Lévesque-Nicol

2. Dream 9 Rejoin the Struggle at Home

Over the last two years, the Kentucky Dream Coalition has been fighting for immigrant rights. In March, we held a speak-out when Senator Marco Rubio, who does not represent the values or experiences of our communities, came to the University of Louisville. On August 1, twelve peopleoccupied Congressman John Yarmuth’s office for the Dream 9. With the support of the brother of Dream 9 member Ceferino Santiago and two organizers from the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, we were able to get Yarmuth to change positions and support the release of the Dream 9 within four hours of occupation. That same evening, we left for the National Student Power Convergence in Madison, where we performed with Jasiri X and strategized with cross-state allies, like Milwaukee’s Youth Empowered in the Struggle, on building intersectional youth power. With the release of the Dream 9 and Ceferino Santiago’s return to Kentucky, we are working to pass the Friendly City Ordinance, which will help protect undocumented immigrants in the Louisville area, and continue fighting family separation in Kentucky.

—Kentucky Dream Coalition–Fighting for Immigrant Rights and Equality

3. Wisconsin Grad Teachers Win—Without Collective Bargaining

Despite attacks on higher education and unions in Wisconsin, the University of Wisconsin–Madison’s graduate employee union, the Teaching Assistants’ Association, just won a 4.67 percent raise. Over the past year, graduate student employees organized the Pay Us Back! campaign, leveraging support from union members, undergraduates, faculty and community allies to increase graduate assistants’ below-poverty wages. The campaign kicked off with email blasts to the vice chancellor, followed by months of organizing faculty to pass department resolutions urging the administration to act, and a presentation to the Faculty Senate. The TAA closed the semester with a “Grade-In for the Grader Good” occupation in the administration building, where grads graded, did research and held office hours, proudly displaying the TAA’s motto: “the university works because we do.” The TAA’s victory demonstrates the union power that comes from organizing—through informal bargaining, direct actions, coalition work and fired-up members—as opposed to legal recognition.

—Eleni Schirmer and Charity Schmidt

4. What Will Education Look Like After Bloomberg?

For twelve years, the Bloomberg administration has neglected the needs of millions of public school students, specifically low-income students of color, English language learners and students with special needs. In results released on August 7, fewer than 20 percent of black and Latino students were rated proficient on new math and reading tests aligned with the Common Core—reflecting the administration’s failure to engage parents and prepare teachers and students. The Urban Youth Collaborative is demanding an end to the dependency on high-stakes testing, a moratorium on school closures as a result of test scores and a curriculum that prepares students to be critical thinkers. Over the past year, students ran seventy-five workshops and a ten-day bus tour to engage New Yorkers on educational priorities—and reducing high-stakes testing was among the top three. As the new school year begins, students will ramp up pressure on mayoral candidates to take a stand on policy reforms, push for the new administration to select a chancellor who will respond to our priorities and call for the city to take the lead in implementing alternatives to high-stakes testing.

—Eduard Garcia and María C. Fernández

5. When Will Rhode Island’s Testing End?

Providence students escalated their organizing against high-stakes testing in Rhode Island this month, continuing a campaign that has ranged from zombie-themed protests to convincing elected officials to take the high school exit test themselves. On August 13, forty members of theProvidence Student Union staged a sit-in at the Rhode Island Commissioner of Education’s office to protest the state’s new emphasis on high-stakes testing, refusing to leave the Department of Education until they eventually secured a meeting with the Commissioner. After a summer of organizing, the movement in Rhode Island will continue to grow, as students from districts around the state return to school with plans to organize their own unions and join the campaign.

—Providence Student Union

6. In Philadelphia, Students Resist Further Sacrifice

After draconian state budget cuts, Philadelphia does not have the funding necessary to provide a basic education. This summer, students from the Philadelphia Student Union have been reaching out to public high school students to craft a plan to fight back against such unprecedented cuts. On August 8, with only thirty-two days remaining until Philadelphia public schools were slated to open, Superintendent William Hite released a statement asserting that, unless the city handed over $50 million by August 16, schools would not open as scheduled. Outraged that the necessary funding hadn’t come from the city and state—and that Broad Academy graduates like Dr. Hite are closing schools and calling for “shared sacrifice” nationally—the Philadelphia Student Union responded. While the city has since borrowed the bare minimum to open schools on time, students will continue to build bases in schools and prepare for direct action.

—Philadelphia Student Union

7. In Chicago, Students Launch a Citywide Union

After months of boycottsmarchescivil disobedience and interruptions of board of education meetings, students from Chicago Students Organizing to Save Our Schools are now establishing a city-wide body: the Chicago Students Union. The union will consist of elected student representatives from each school and a general assembly made of all member students. Its goals are to represent every student in the city, amplify student voice, provide a platform for activism, promote student rights and stake a seat in city governance.

—Chicago Students Union

8. Youth Rights in the Obama Era

At July’s Free Minds/Free People conference in Chicago, and then again at August’s National Student Power Convergence, youth leaders from Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, San Francisco, Atlanta and beyond came together to chart national strategy around the National Student Bill of Rights for All Youth. The NSBR is a fifteen-point platform covering issues ranging from the right to free, quality public education to reproductive access and protection from unwarranted search and seizures. Over the past three years, groups have hosted regional and national retreats, and, beginning with Youth Voting Week last November, launched a campaign to collect 50,000 ballots on youth rights. This fall, leaders will be fundraising and planning for a national people’s assembly focused on NSBR.

—Tre’ Murphy

9. Life After Tallahassee

On August 15, Day 31 of #TakeOverFL, an announcement. (Video: Dave Heller)

—Dream Defenders

10. The New Media

From Moral Mondays to the Dream Defenders’ occupation of the Florida state capitol, this year has shown that American youth are dedicated to building movements against institutionalized racism and austerity. After the 2012 National Student Power Convergence, a growing network of young artists, activists and organizers emerged. One project that came out of relationships built around the convergence and the Quebec student strike is, a young people-powered news site. {Young}ist is a platform devoted to elevating the voices of young people in their communities—from DIY art collectives to organizing around the school-to-prison pipeline—and is run entirely by people under the age of 26.

—{Young}ist Team

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