Raleigh-Durham Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST)

Revolutionary socialist youth in the US South

Stop Tuition Hikes! Students Occupy UNC Board of Governors Meeting

Posted by raleighfist on February 26, 2012

 

By Ben Carroll – Chapel Hill, NC

More than 200 students from across North Carolina poured into the town of Chapel Hill on Feb. 10 for a spirited demonstration against huge tuition hikes. The North Carolina Defend Education Coalition organized it. The University of North Carolina Board of Governors, which oversees the 17-campus university system, met that day to vote on tuition hikes of more than 10 percent for most schools. After a march that clogged up rush-hour traffic, students brought the demonstration inside the main building’s lobby, drowning out board members with chants and twice interrupting the meeting with mic checks. Later, students took over the BOG’s meeting and convened a “People’s Board of Education.”

Students began gathering at 8 a.m. in the central part of UNC Chapel Hill’s campus. There, the Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II, N.C. NAACP president, spoke to them as they prepared to march. The students aimed to connect the struggle against tuition hikes to the larger fight to stop the state from balancing the budget crisis on the backs of workers and students.

The march then set off for the BOG meeting, tying up traffic for more than 30 minutes as the demonstrators took over both of the eastbound lanes of the busy road. After they arrived at the main building, students packed the lobby. They went past the cops who tried to prevent them from entering the building while their chants of “Hey hey, ho ho, tuition hikes have got to go!” and “No cuts! No fees! Education must be free!” echoed through the halls.

Taken by the electrifying, militant spirit of the demonstrators, Rev. Barber addressed the rally in the lobby, in the “mic-check” style popularized by Occupy Wall Street. He said: “We are right to challenge these cuts by the General Assembly. We are the generation that refuses to accept going backwards. Let us be clear. This does not end here today. This is the beginning of a fresh, new, empowered student movement in North Carolina and in this nation.”

Throughout the rally, students kept up the thunderous chants and speeches. Both the demonstrators outside the doors and those mic checking inside the BOG’s meeting disrupted the board’s session several times.

Andrew Payne, a former N.C. State student body president and former Association of Student Governments president, was arrested after he left his seat inside the board’s meeting room and then tried to re-enter. Police threw him to the ground and dragged him across the floor before arresting him.

Students take over meeting, hold ‘People’s Board of Education’

In the lobby, student after student testified about the crippling impacts of student loan debt; the raising of tuition year after year while classes have been cut and professors laid off; the struggles of so many to afford school; and how the tuition hikes are part of the broader attack being waged on workers and students by the 1%.

“We’re not gonna turn our heads. We’re not gonna take this lying down. Education is a right!” Demonte Alford, a student at East Carolina University, told the crowd.

“The 9.9 percent tuition hike on our campus will burden already struggling students with having to find ways to pay for school. For some students at Winston Salem State University, the road to college was impossible at some point so to finally make it to college and then be faced with not being able to afford a quality education is unacceptable,” said Grace Anderson, a WSSU student.

After the BOG voted to raise tuition, students stormed into their meeting and took over the room, shutting down the board’s press conference. As hundreds of students flooded the room, BOG members scurried out the back door. Only Dr. Franklin McCain, a member of the Greensboro 4 and veteran of the Civil Rights Movement, remained to support the students.

Students tossed the BOG members’ name tags on the floor, declared that a “People’s Board of Education” was now in session, and opened the floor for proposals. Resolutions were put forward calling for free education, undocumented students’ access to the university system, and full funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Others demanded an end to racism and war funding at the expense of human needs. A resounding call was made for students to take this fight back to their campuses and keep building the movement.

“Look at what we’ve done! This is how we start to get things done. However, when we leave here, we have to keep fighting!” said Jonathan Whitfield, a WSSU student

Unity, solidarity play important role

The N.C. Defend Education Coalition, a statewide coalition of student and youth organizations, helped to bring students from across the state. Some traveled as many as 300 miles to join the demonstration. Participants came from nearly each of the 17 schools that make up the UNC system. Many students mobilized to come from N.C. HBCU’s.

Anderson explained, “I came from Winston-Salem to the protest because I felt that the need of representation of students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities was great. Of all the schools in the UNC system, Winston Salem State University is one of the schools that will suffer the most from the tuition hikes. Those who came before us fought too hard for us to let the right to have an education be made unobtainable.”

Importantly, not only did the N.C. NAACP mobilize, but so did campus-based NAACP chapters. Students built conscious ties with worker organizations, including United Electrical Workers Local 150, the N.C. Public Service Workers Union, and the N.C. AFL-CIO. This was a crucial ingredient in exposing the systematic attacks being carried out by the 1%, and for building multinational and class solidarity.

The N.C. Defend Education Coalition is planning to hold a statewide gathering very soon to continue building on this tremendous mobilization.

The BOG, and similar institutions of the 1%, want us to believe that they are the ones who make history. But all over the world, the actions by workers and young people who are taking their destiny into their own hands — fighting back against the bankers and the states’ brutal austerity programs, and opening a struggle to get rid of the 1% once and for all — are showing that quite the opposite is true.

The revolutionary fervor that is engulfing the world was in the air during the Feb. 10 action. All those who participated have vowed to continue to fight, to organize and to carry this struggle forward.

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