On Thursday, November 12, over 10,000 students walked out of their classes to fight back against the worsening student debt crisis. Demanding tuition-free public college, a cancellation of all student debt and a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers, the #MillionStudentMarch was the first national day of action against student debt. Students at 115 campuses took to the streets to say, “Enough is enough.” With over 40 million Americans saddled with student debt totaling more than $1.3 trillion, and a government that has done nothing to stop it, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the only way we’re going to see an end to this crisis is by bringing back the U.S. student movement in full force, united under clear political demands.
The idea for the day of action was inspired by a call made by Bernie Sanders during an interview back in June for a million students to march on Washington to demand tuition-free public college. Fresh off the successful $15 minimum wage referendum campaign on Northeastern University, Socialist Alternative put out the call for a national day of action and received a tremendous response from students all across the country interested in participating in #MillionStudentMarch.
Unite and Fight
Two days before the day of action, Black students at the University of Missouri (also known as Mizzou), waging a campaign against the chronic racism they faced on campus, called for a national day of solidarity actions on the same day as #MillionStudentMarch. #MSM immediately took up their call for solidarity and made every action a joint #MSM and Mizzou solidarity action to show the links between racial and economic justice.
The same corporate minded administration at Mizzou that ignored a series of racist incidents also cut the health care of graduate students and revoked Planned Parenthood’s admitting privileges at the university hospital. All of these attacks contributed to the scale of the revolt and show that the fight against racism, sexism and the corporate domination of education, which is leading to debt bondage for millions, must be brought together into a national mass movement.
The three core demands of #MillionStudentMarch were chosen to create the broadest based movement possible, and it achieved just that. The first demand of tuition-free public college brought out current and future students, who in the face of rapidly rising tuition need free college. The second demand to cancel all student debt brought out current and past students who, graduating with record high levels of debt, need this weight taken off their shoulders in order to start their post-college lives. Finally, the third demand for a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers facilitated the student-worker solidarity necessary to take the fight for free college to the next level.
The corporate assault on education has been facilitated by both Republicans and Democrats, although Obama and some Democrats now give verbal support for free tuition, at least for two year community college programs. Hillary Clinton has, however, dismissed the idea of free public college for all. Achieving the demands of #MSM will require mass struggle, which the Democrats will oppose, and this struggle therefore also points to the need for a new independent political force for the 99%.
The student movement, in alliance with the workers on our campuses and workers in broader society, is capable of achieving big things. The University of California system showed up in full force with a big protest on nearly every UC campus. UC Santa Barbara had the biggest action of the day with a rally and march of over 1,500 people, including students, campus workers, and workers from five different unions. National Nurses United, the first and largest union to endorse Bernie Sanders, endorsed #MillionStudentMarch and had a big impact by showing up to actions all over the country and helping to make clear the necessity for the student movement to link up with the labor movement.
#MillionStudentMarch was an incredible and promising beginning, but we can’t let up. What we have to do now is stay organized, continue to build the base of our movement locally by agitating for our demands. The potential exists for an even bigger day of action in the new year. We must link up and form stronger connections with the Black Lives Matter movement and the broader Fight for $15. The energy among students right now to fight back against the corporate system of higher education is undeniable. Now is the time to stand up and defend the right to higher education for all.