The Student Commission of the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO) met over the 2009 winter break to discuss education rights, building a movement against war and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, fighting racism on campus and supporting immigrant rights. FRSO students came from as far as California and Florida, with large delegations from the South and Midwest. With a burning desire for social justice, the national cold wave could not stop them.
Led by Kati Ketz, the FRSO Student Commission chair, the students discussed the impact of the failing economy on working people and students. Debates centered on whether the economic crisis would worsen and how to organize against U.S. imperialist war during the Obama presidency.
Fight Back! writer and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) activist Chapin Gray, from Alabama, said, “We oppose the U.S. government bank bailouts that benefit the rich and the mega-corporations. Workers are being thrown out of their jobs and left in the streets by the very same banks foreclosing on them. Students are being forced to take larger and larger loans. Unemployment is over 10%! Where are the jobs programs? Working people need a bailout.”
Kas Schwerdtfeger, with University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee SDS, said, “The meeting made decisions to promote organizing for education rights. At my school we are already in a coalition with campus workers, faculty and staff. We protested on Nov. 11, the National Day of Action for Education Rights called by the Network to Fight for Economic Justice. We were chanting, ‘They say cut back. We say fight back!'”
Everyone at the meeting was eager to hear from an SDS activist who participated in the militant UCLA education rights protests. More than a thousand students surrounded the board of regents meeting, blocking them inside for many hours. The regents voted to hike tuition to over $10,000 per year. Graduate students worked day and night to organize the protests, backed by unions and professors. The student government played a treacherous role as ‘mediators,’ working for the university administrators to undermine the protests. Student activists brushed them aside and the protests ended with a student building occupation on campus. There is a national day of action on March 4 to support education rights.
The meeting discussed defending scholarships and programs that benefit working-class and lower middle class students, like the protests at UCLA and Berkeley did. It is likely that 25 or more states are planning cutbacks like the state of California. The FRSO students want to preserve African-American and Chicano/Latino studies and programs for women and gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender students. The wealthy few, through state cutbacks and privatization, are trying to dumb down higher education, so it only serves narrow corporate interests. There is a growing struggle to keep education more open and accessible.
Students from Florida and Asheville, North Carolina spoke about successful SDS anti-war protests on Oct. 7. 25 campuses participated, mobilizing dozens on each campus to oppose the Pentagon’s surge in Afghanistan. The Afghanistan surge is killing Afghan people on a daily basis, while increasing spending for war and occupation by $33 billion. Students are promoting campus education and local anti-war protests around Mar. 20, the day the U.S. war and occupation of Iraq began under Bush.
Kati Ketz, said after the meeting, “Our group is growing and leading more and more struggle. We have dozens of activists on campus today. It takes a lot of commitment, but the students we recruit are serious about revolution. We are dedicating our lives to struggle. We want socialism, for workers and oppressed peoples to rule society, instead of a small collection of politicians, bankers and the wealthy. We say, ‘Study and struggle! Unite and fight!'”