The 2013-14 academic year is shaping up to be a pivotal one for the American student movement. Developments both on-campus and off promise to shape the landscape of higher ed organizing in huge ways.
All this week I’ve been posting about the big upcoming stories I’ve got my eye on as the fall semester gets underway. On Tuesday I put up the first set — on Janet Napolitano’s new position at the head of the University of California system, the rise of divestment campaigns targeting Israeli policies and fossil fuels, and the new tuition alternative proposals being floated in Oregon and elsewhere. Yesterday I wrote about President Obama’s plans for higher education funding, the possible resurgence of campus occupations as a student organizing tactic, and the future of the United States Student Association.
What’s next? Here’s what’s next…
6. The Dream Defenders
When George Zimmerman was acquitted in the murder of Trayvon Martin this July, dozens of young activists took their anger and their resolve to the Florida statehouse.
They occupied the offices of Governor Rick Scott in protest. They demanded a repeal of Stand Your Ground. They drafted a new model law to protect their rights and those of their peers. They won a meeting with the governor and a fall hearing in the state legislature. And after thirty-one days, they left.
But they’ll be back.
5. Student voting rights under attack.
With the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision gutting Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act last term, they opened the doors to new restrictions on voting in nine states and dozens of local jurisdictions. In those parts of the country and beyond, students will be in the sights of legislators seeking to impose new barriers to electoral access — as a young, liberal, transient population that has a more difficult time than most securing certain forms of identification, students represent a group that conservatives have both the means and the motive to disenfranchise.
The big battles over student voting rights will heat up in the fall of 2014 with the country’s midterm elections. But there are a long list of local elections taking place this fall, primaries to follow in the spring, and lots of legislative and organizing jockeying to come throughout the next fourteen months.
4. Student debt campaigns roll on.
The amount of attention paid to America’s student debt crisis in recent years is to my mind one of the great underappreciated signs of the force and potency of the contemporary student movement in this country. American students and graduates have been drowning in debt for a long time now, but it’s only in the last few years, as protests against banks and tuition policies have become a regular campus occurrence, that the rest of the country has started paying attention.
And yes, they’re definitely paying attention. The organizing conducted by groups like the Student Labor Action Project, the United States Student Association, and Strike Debt got a tremendous amount of attention last year, and with new tuition policies, new federal regulations, and new legislation on the drawing board, they’re sure to garner much more. The current trajectory of American higher education is unsustainable. Student debt activists are pointing the way to a new future.