North Carolina students fight cuts with walkout

“If they won’t let us dream, we won’t let them sleep.”— Anders Lustgarten, playwright 

Frederick Douglass once said: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”  History is riddled with stories of courageous marches, protests and too many martyrs. Most think that we don’t make history anymore. This is not true. We the youth, the students, the people make history every day. In line with that, my friends, including organizers, came to the University of North Carolina-Greensboro to stage a walkout on Feb. 19. At 1 p.m., we walked out of our classes and came together in order to fight back against the rising cost of higher education.

This walkout of 500, mostly students, became the talk of the campus.  People were clearly angry or at least paying attention to their newsfeed.  It was a dreary morning but miraculously the sun was shining bright when the rally was set to begin. Slowly but surely, students, faculty and staff started to gather at our student center on the Elliot University Center lawn.

Our agenda was clear: we are tired of the rising costs of higher education when it should be free for everyone. Administrators’ pockets are bloated, students are being left in depraved conditions and our faculty is being left to wither on the vine. So we are sick and tired of this vicious circle of the capitalistic system saddling us with insurmountable debt with zero guarantee of a decent-paying job.  This is why we fight.

Speakers were mostly comprised of students, but we had two incredibly indignant faculty members who enraged the crowd with hard-hitting, eye opening facts.  Our topics ranged from cuts to “marginalized” studies to undemocratic university practices to bloated administration. From the get-go, it was clear that regardless of what we talked about the whole day, people were angry and it was going to stay that way.

“No ifs, no buts, no education cuts”

A lot of people who criticized what we did, said that we should work with the administrators and “our” N.C. General Assembly to come up with solutions to fix these issues. We always have and will use the “proper” channels first because we are told that it is effective and it works. But when going to the administration doesn’t work, when writing letters to our politicians doesn’t work, when going to listening forums doesn’t work, what do we do then? We take the power into our own hands; we no longer asked to be heard but we demand it!

A quick history lesson is when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed. Was that done because Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson invited the civil rights organizers to lunch to hash it out?  No, it was done with years and years of mass civil disobedience, direct action and making uncompromised demands.

We celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. every year here in Greensboro. Do you think he would have taken kindly to the notion of negotiating with our oppressors? I can’t speak for him but I can assume he wouldn’t.

Not only was there anger seeping from the crowd Feb. 19, but the air was filled with solidarity. Students supported both the Portland, Ore., and University of Illinois teachers who went on strike. Even going past simple student solidarity, most were excited to hear one of our speakers talk about the fight for a $15-an-hour minimum wage and worker-student solidarity.

Our walkout evoked tons of emotional outpour, ranging from anger to disappointment; the walkout showed that students are far from being apathetic. But many are scared, feel hopeless and are still left with grand illusions of the higher education dream. Our generation is not lost, but we are facing some serious issues that will make a revival of struggle challenging but inevitable. This starts with an organized few engaging the general populace.  However, with undying, uncompromising passion for social change that I know exists in every one of us, this world can become a more just place; it just has to start somewhere.

Feb. 19, 2014, showed us a lot about the future of the movement, specifically the student movement here in North Carolina. It showed us that one, mass mobilization is possible; two, students are not apathetic; and three, the struggle cannot stop now. We have to keep going. So long as the capitalistic war on students continues, so does our fight.  Do you think we are giving up that easily? Not a chance. Don’t believe us?   Just watch.