Hot Autumn 2.0?

It’s now almost a year since California campuses erupted in a major wave of protests against the attack on education. Beginning on September 24 of last year, many colleges experienced a ‘hot autumn’ of strikes, protests, and occupations. The high point of those struggles came during the Regents meeting in mid-November, when students occupied buildings at half a dozen campuses and fought with the police at UCLA and Berkeley.

At the moment it’s too early to say whether Fall 2010 will match the levels of mobilization and militancy we saw last year. But the signs are encouraging.

For one thing, a number of other struggles have the potential to feed into and strengthen the movement against the cuts.

One of these is the revived struggle for immigrants’ rights. The fight against SB1070 in Arizona brought this movement back out into the streets in a major way and drew in a whole layer of new forces. In a parallel development, a number of campuses saw a spurt of activism around the DREAM Act, with undocumented students played a particularly important leading role. These actions–in which undocumented students proved their willingness to risk deportation by taking part in civil disobedience–culminated in the arrest of two dozen students in Washington, DC, in July of this year. My sense is that this issue will be an important part of the political terrain on the campuses this fall.

Another potential flashpoint may appear around Palestinian solidarity. The Israeli massacre of Freedom Flotilla activists this spring has given new life to the call to boycott, divest from, and sanction the apartheid state. Since many American universities invest heavily in Israel and corporations that do business there, I can see an obvious potential for solidarity between the pro-Palestinian and anti-cuts movements.

In California, at least, the justice for Oscar Grant campaign will be a crucial factor in fall organizing. The Bay Area longshoremen’s union ILWU Local 10 has already called a work stoppage/day of action for October 23, and the sentencing of Johannes Mehserle–the cop who shot Oscar and disgracefully got away with an involuntary manslaughter conviction–is due to take place in early November.

The Oscar Grant struggle could be particularly important. One of the key weaknesses of the ‘hot autumn’ was its failure to adequately address the racist nature of the attack on education. In the spring of this year we saw hints of what a more inclusive and anti-racist movement might look like when Black students rose up to protests a series of racist incidents at UC San Diego. For this reason I think the folks at Advance the Struggle are right to emphasize the potential connections between anti-racist organizing and the struggle to defend education.

There are a couple of wild cards on the table, too. One is the National March for Jobs and Justice in Washington DC on October 2. Organized by the NAACP and AFL-CIO, this is unlikely to display the same sort of militancy we saw on the campuses last fall. But these organizations are certainly capable of mobilizing thousands of people, even if they are likely to do so in a relatively top-down and bureaucratic way. It’s quite possible that the sign of official liberalism finally taking a stand against the Tea Party will contribute to an explosive mood in the autumn.

The other unknown is the antiwar movement. June and July were the two bloodiest months for American troops since the war in Afghanistan began almost 10 years ago and the recent leak of  official documents has created a sense that the war is senseless, cruel, and unwinnable. Clearly the spiralling costs of US occupation in the Middle East and Central Asia are highly pertinent to a movement to stop cuts in education, and I’m hearing rumblings of potential antiwar mobilizations in October. We’ll see where this goes…

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Another fresh wrinkle would be the spread of the anti-cuts movement beyond California. The Golden State is in the vanguard of austerity, mostly due to the bizarre and undemocratic nature of the regime in Sacramento. But other states are catching up pretty quick, and students across the country are starting to feel the same pain as their counterparts on the West Coast.

I just want to say a couple of things about how this process is unfolding in my new home state of Illinois.

Crucially, the reform movement CORE recently seized control of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) with a pledge to mobilize the 30,000-strong local against cuts and privatization. This could be a tremendously important development in the struggle against austerity and could have an impact on all levels of education.

On the campuses, unions representing graduate student teaching assistants have recently shown a willingness to organize and fight for their members. This new mood of militancy resulted in a successful strike at UIUC and a strong contract fight at UIC. These could be powerful forces in the anti-cuts movement in Illinois.

Finally, we have the real possibility of labor unrest on at least one Illinois campus. Workers in SEIU Local 73, which represents maintenance, technical and other campus employees at UIC, are in the middle of a strike vote. A walk-out by hundreds of campus workers early in the semester would give a powerful spur to further anti-cuts organizing.

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All of this feeds in to the National Strike and Day of Action to Defend Education on October 7. At this stage it’s impossible to say with any confidence what that will look like, although I do get the impression that solid local organizing is already underway in at least California and Illinois.

Perhaps the student movement is already a spent force. Some major splits and disagreements roiled the movement in the early part of 2010, and major political questions remain unresolved.

But the whole movement has taken inspiration from the recent student strike in Puerto Rico. The fight to defend education is becoming a national and international movement. I think there’s a very real chance we could be looking at another hot autumn on American campuses.

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One response to “Hot Autumn 2.0?

  1. Glad to see you’re giving the migrant youth movement for the DREAM Act the credit it deserves. Let me know if you want to get further involved as a blogger. Feel free to email me at kyle at citizenorange dot com.

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