And we have learned, once again, that this is a real challenge to the state, to the powers that be, to those who want to maintain education for the elite and for only those who can afford it. Why else would we be surrounded by cop cars when we have meeting of the People’s University in Washington Square Park? Why else would students and faculty around the country be pepper sprayed and beaten when they demand a greater voice over decisions made in these institutions, when they demand affordability and accessibility? Why else would a public meeting be in a heavily securitized building, why else would the President of Baruch cancel classes in the last weeks before finals just so that a Board meeting can occur un-interrupted? We are being met with force because we are a threat, because education as a right for everyone is a threat because we are asking for more than we have been taught to expect, because we want to stretch our imaginations about what is possible by doing so.
My students are younger than me and older than me. They are impressively diverse, they are mostly women of color, they work all day long and then come to class in the evening. They are tired by the time they sit down in my class and I respect this tiredness, I respect and understand that many of them have to leave early or get there late because of their job or their family and because I, just like them, am a student and a worker in a public university system. The public university system that we are in is the third largest in the country and one that has had values of free education, accessibility and inclusivity in its inception and embedded in its history. I want to be very clear about this because in many ways our histories create our visions for the future and the history of CUNY is a history of struggle that gets to the core of what we think higher education is as well as who we think higher education should be for.
Suddenly I recognized this feeling, this feeling of powerlessness, of disconnect from the decisions that affect my life, my heart, my imagination, my future. This moment, sitting in the Board of Trustees meeting and feeling so disconnected from any decision that will be made there, felt the same as when I stood two blocks away from Zucotti Park on eviction night and watched them toss our things into sanitation trucks, toss what we had built together into sanitation trucks. This was the same anger, fury, rage, combined with a complete disconnect and distance. I had to fight myself not to run to the podium and grab the microphone and just yell: “Do you really think this is how decisions that affect thousands of people should be made?” And as I was fighting this impulse I realized that what this movement, both the student movement and OWS has done in the past two months: it has made me and many others feel this disconnect, feel furious about it, want to change it, and to find ways to work together to change it.
Alternet: Inside the Student Movement