NC Students Mobilize, Take Action
Posted by raleighfist on April 1, 2012
By Andy Koch
More than 300 students from across North Carolina stormed and occupied the University of North Carolina Board of Governors meeting Feb. 10, forcing the unelected, mostly ruling-class board members to exit out the back door of their own building. Moments before, the board had approved unprecedented tuition hikes, resulting in the students fighting back with the strongest resistance the state has seen in years.
The statewide student movement took another stride forward on March 24. Education activists with the NC Defend Education Coalition came together in Greensboro to plan their next move in the struggle against the attacks on public education engineered by the board and the state legislature — both of which are controlled by North Carolina’s capitalist ruling class.
The gathering was dedicated to the memory of Trayvon Martin, the murdered youth in Florida. Seventy education activists, students, community leaders and veteran freedom fighters came from across North Carolina. At the conclusion of the conference, attendees joined with more than 400 community members to march in the streets of Greensboro to demand justice for Trayvon Martin and an end to all the racist attacks on Black youth and all youth of color.
The meeting’s keynote speech was delivered by Waldemiro Velez Soto, a leader of the vibrant Puerto Rican student movement, which has waged two highly successful general strikes in recent years against privatization, rising tuition, police on campus, neoliberal reform of education, and assaults on the entire public sector.
“When they tried to attack our dreams of an education, we decided to get organized,” Velez Soto said. “We brought our own proposals and ideas of how the university should be run. Then they attacked, and we went on strike!”
The strikes shut down the entire University of Puerto Rico system and won a temporary hold on tuition hikes as well as amnesty for all strikers, who endured 320 arrests. In 2011, the movement in Puerto Rico forced the UPR president to resign, and today the struggle continues.
Uniting against the 1%
Participating in the conference were representatives of eight public universities, two community colleges and a high school. Representatives from several labor and community organizations also attended.
One student speaking on the opening discussion panel addressed the effects of these attacks on communities of color. “I’m from an HBCU [historically Black college or university], and they say when America gets a cold, Black America gets the flu,” said Grace Anderson of Winston-Salem State University. “I see it all around me. Our school struggles on a daily basis, so the tuition hikes and budget cuts are hitting us especially hard.”
Participants spent the day discussing their experiences in the struggle, sharing organizing skills, strategizing and making concrete plans for how to intensify the fight to defend public education.
“For me, the whole day was a great opportunity to share and learn,” explained Raul Arce, an activist in Fight Imperialism Stand Together (FIST), a socialist youth group. “I led a discussion to share what I know on the struggle for the DREAM Act by undocumented youth, and also got to attend a workshop on how to build student-worker solidarity.”
While the conference showed a rich diversity of issues, struggles and views, all attendees were unified and clear on who their common enemy is: the banks and corporations, the capitalists. “This economic crisis that they are trying to make us pay for wasn’t created by Latinos, Black folks or the workers of this country,” said Velez Soto. “It was created by the banks, politicians and managers of corporate interests.”
The conference ended with a general assembly-style discussion of the next steps of the NC Defend Education Coalition. Plans included all-out mobilizations confronting the legislature to fight tuition hikes and attacks on the public sector, as well as statewide actions against legislative attacks on university workers’ rights.