Hidden in Plain Sight: The Education Movement


by Zoltán Glück, Manissa McCleave Maharawal, Isabelle Nastasia, and Conor Tomás Reed, students and faculty of the City University of New York


In Florida, the Dream Defenders march for three days and hold a sit-in at a sheriff’s office to demand George Zimmerman’s arrest for murdering Trayvon Martin. Undocumented youth in the Southwest enter detention centers that violate President Barack Obama’s proposed immigration reforms, and they organize the detainees. Philadelphia high school students perform a zombie flash mob to protest the closure of thirty-seven schools; their video goes viral. New York City students and faculty host a Free University with hundreds of teach-ins in a midtown Manhattan park while Cooper Union students stage an arts-driven occupation to keep their school tuition-free. Students in California patiently construct a statewide student union that includes a wide mosaic of participants. Fossil fuels divestment campaigns at Swarthmore, Harvard, Syracuse, and elsewhere model their efforts on the anti-Apartheid movement. Internationally, students temporarily occupy bridges and buildings in Budapest, pour onto the streets of Delhi in outrage after the rape and death of a young female medical student, take control of public universities in Chile and Puerto Rico to oppose neoliberal strangleholds on school and society, and exercise mass disruptive power in Quebec to overturn proposed tuition hikes and oust government officials.

This is the education movement—hidden in plain sight and erupting around the world. We are forming organizations, holding rallies, sharing strategies and tactics, and building power. Our movement manifests in both local and international struggles, with an increasing frequency of protests and resistance to tuition hikes, precaritization, and the debt burden incurred by higher education. The sharp cries of those disenfranchised inside and outside the university articulate the crisis of a crumbling educational system that is a symptom of a broader crisis of capitalism. This crisis affects us all, and so we have begun to form alliances across social groups—students, contingent and tenured faculty, campus staff, families, and communities at large.

Building a Movement

Within the university new threats loom as old hierarchies are being unsettled. The specter of massive open online courses puts tenured faculty in danger of being outsourced and expendable, which may propel them into finally taking direct action. Meanwhile, abysmally paid adjuncts now represent 70 percent of university educators and are developing an awareness of how crucial their labor is to the maintenance of the status quo. What if adjunct strikes were on the horizon, and what if major academic networks as well as students supported them? What if in turn they supported ongoing student actions across the country?

How can we create a vibrant movement for educational justice? The answer lies in the families, workers, and students that make up our academic institutions. And so we must build highly engaged coalitions that can work across universities and the diverse set of social groups outside the institutions of higher education. We need new collaborative methods of diverse leadership that straddle social groups and build broad, dynamic bases. This is how we will craft winnable campaigns around issues that are deeply felt in our schools and our communities. Some practical steps towards building this power include:

(1) Mapping our sources of collective power across departments, clubs, campus unions, neighborhoods, and other professional and personal networks.

(2) Identifying and pressuring specific targets (individual people, not institutions, are easier to oust in the short-term).

(3) Charting strategic timelines with goals that address short, intermediate, and long-term policy and structural changes.

(4) Sharing our experiences and resources as organizers.

(5) Establishing common values as we build towards more democratic control of our schools and communities.

We are in movement and are being moved, influenced and radicalized by world events. We see shrinking life prospects, the immiseration of our peers and neighbors, and the gutting of our schools by private interests who are making billions in profits on our growing indebtedness. But we also see powerful examples of education power and resistance in places as varied as Chile, Puerto Rico, and Quebec, as well as in our own departments, universities, and towns. We are winning small victories, every day, across the world. Every time concrete policy changes impact working conditions, halt tuition increases, or increase funding for public education, we take important steps that build power. Such wins have the potential to move entire societies in new directions. And so we are demanding—quietly at first but growing in volume and intensity—a new order of things. This is more than just about universities—we demand to be active agents and decision-makers in our collective future.

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