What November 30th, 1999 was to the anti-globalization movement, November 18th and 19th of 2009 will be to the student movement of the coming decade.
Ten years apart, these events mark the opening and the closure of an era in America. Seattle showed that world that globalization, which an early naivety thought could be "stopped," had become the official name for capitalism in the new millennium. However, globalization, in public discourse, became thought of as little more than an extremist Islam and a neoconservative American agenda battling it out in an inevitable clash of civilizations. At the same time, globalization trumpeted the internet's ability to connect lonely men in Kansas with women in Belarus, hailed the end of tariffs for the low price of bananas in American supermarkets.
Between Seattle and the student movement we saw the abandonment of the anti-globalization fight in America as the left became timid in the years following 9-11. We saw the eradication of those civil liberties the middle class once held dear and the specific failure of our generation, the failure of the worldwide anti-war movement. If we are to forge a new future, we must work-through the trauma of the 00's, admit our mistakes and live in their consequences.
What is promising about the new student movement, like the anti-globalization fight that precede it, is its international character, its solidarity with workers' movements, its shift towards a non-reformist discourse and the direct action tactics being used. The student movement is now showing that that resistance is not dead -- despite what the Bush years did to our youth -- that a new momentum is building that will remake hopefully not just the university but the way resistance itself is carried out in the coming decade.
What has November 18th and 19th taught us?
1.) While occupations, protests and student strikes have been growing in momentum over the last few years and even months, in places such as Vienna, New York, London and Heidelberg, November 18th and 19th show that this movement has a national and even international character. A non-centralized global shutdown of the university is not only possible but inevitable so long as the university continues to abandon its mission of universal public education and caters to private investment. Protest stretched to both the U.C. system and the Cal States. Solidarity protests sprung up in New York and Vienna and will continue as the UC addresses the police brutality that marked Nov. 18 & 19.
2.) There is a growing consciousness that "students" now form a distinct social class that is set to suffer in this economy. Students' future includes low job prospects, rising tuition costs, lower education standards, the need for higher levels of education and increased debt. Since the seventies, students, or at least those students who do not suffer disadvantages such as race, class or gender, believed themselves capable of attaining a middle-class life through education. This illusion has been shed. Students have been re-proletarianized.
3.) Direct action has replaced the more typical types of protest that ruled the anti-war movement in America. In Davis, Santa Cruz, San Fransisco and Berkeley, administrative buildings were occupied and shut down by students for hours or even days at a time. At UCLA a non-administrative building was occupied and declared a free space. Protesters at UCLA rushed barricades, sought to shut down the building they met in and blocked the Regents' vehicles from leaving. Others ran through classrooms chanting "walkout" and disrupting classes. These tactics are both more militant and effective than simple marches alone.
4.) While much discourse in the UC protests focused on 32% tuition hikes, it also focused on the other issues that are at stake: the resegregation of the university, layoffs to workers, the privatization of education and more. Focusing on fee increases makes the movement sound like one more partisan interest looking not to get screwed over in a crumbling economy. Linking the student struggle to that of workers, people of color and all those who suffer in this economy gives it a broad and powerful vision. While many hoped to beg the Regents not to raise fees, many others know that so long as students, faculty and workers do not run their own university, there is no hope for substantive change.
That is why the ultimate lesson we should learn from November 18th and 19th is this: students now fear their becoming proletarianized and must choose to either act selfishly and protect whatever status their education gives them or they must reject a system of education that decides who is allowed to advance in an unjust economy and who must suffer its consequences. This is not to say that we must reject the university or the mission of universal education. Rather, we must reject the fact that the university and its degrees serve as signposts for capital to determine who has the right to live comfortably and who does not. In this regard, what students need to do is not to beg for a "quality" education or a more "affordable" education, but to see that all those without degrees, without the same level of education, deserve the same type of social and economic existence for which students now are clamouring. Everyone should be able to be educated as they choose and take education into their own hands. If we lose sight of these principles, we will become one more student movement, focused on student issues, devoid of a vision of redemption for all.