Should the federal government be spending trillions on the military abroad while cutting social services like education at home? Should education continue sprinting down the path of privatization? On Thursday, thousands of people, particularly college students and faculty across the nation, marched, rallied and held panel discussions to respond with a resounding negative to those questions.
The booming negative was particularly loud in California — the cradle of the demonstration — as students participated in the momentous day at UC Berkeley and UCLA. But it was a national affair in the Northwest at Portland State and Western Washington universities; in the Midwest at schools like Southern Illinois and Wayne State universities and University of Iowa; in the south at LSU; in New England, prominently through the statewide march organized by the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM) and; in New York at University of Albany and Brooklyn College.
In San Diego, students, parents, teachers and workers planned a funeral procession to downtown to mourn the assassination of public education.
“We’re being told by government officials that there’s no money for education, health care or social services. But at the same time we’re spending trillions of dollars on war effort, on bailing out banks and building prisons,” Wayne Scherer, a member of the San Diego-based Education for All Coalition, told USC’s Annenberg Digital News. “So it’s not a matter of the money not being there, it’s a matter of political priorities.”
This national demonstration, called the National Day of Actions and Strikes to Defend Public Education, was loosely organized by the October 7th National Ad-Hoc Organizing Committee to Defend Public Education. Its purpose — force the change of those political priorities in the White House, statehouses and local governments.
“As public funds that once made the U.S. the best education system in the world disappear, private investors seek to deform public education for their purposes, adjusting education to meet the market,” wrote the ad hoc committee in a press release announcing the day on its website, defendeducation.org. “The private sector wants to take over education and leave working people with nothing but a shell of the public education system, profiting along the way.
The day forged ahead with the momentum of the first national day of action for public education on March 4. Since there seems to be no end in sight to the government policies to prioritize war over education and private over public education, I am sure the days will continue. Student apathy is withering away. Thursday was the second of many still to come.
The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) urged its members to participate as part of its “Higher Education is a Public Good” week, which, according to AAUP, was “a week of action to demonstrate the importance of not-for-profit higher education.”
In a statement, AAUP General Secretary Gary Rhoades said, “We encourage our members and chapters to organize and participate in activities on Oct. 7, that call attention to the extraordinary costs of the current policy path. In many ways, in many cases and for many years, privatization in higher education has largely failed, with the costs being passed on to students. We must defend and invest in not-for-profit higher education to provide access and success for new generations of students to quality higher education at a reasonable cost, and to advance knowledge in the service of the common good.”
Many polls show most Americans favor public education, an end to the war and a switch in government policy. Therefore, even though a minority of Americans participated in the National Day of Actions and Strikes to Defend Public Education, the vast majority of Americans sympathized with the cause.
Diversity workers in particular were probably sympathetic knowing that as the cuts continue, Latino, African-American, Asian-American and Native American students, faculty and programs will bear the brunt of it. Everyone will feel the slashes, but AALANAs will suffer the most.
Even though the academy is reeling now, we should feel encouraged. The fact that we have to struggle for the prioritizing of education over war is unsettling. But the fact that we are struggling for a better day should bring us hope.
Remember what Frederick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”
Dr. Ibram H. Rogers is a postdoctoral fellow at Rutgers University. He is on leave as an assistant professor of African-American history at SUNY College at Oneonta. Visit his personal blog “The Progressive Corner” at progressivecorner.wordpress.com.