Students, Assemble

In an effort to address the issues of higher education, college students plan on bringing the protest closer to home with the Occupy Colleges movement, slated to start on Thursday, Oct. 20. This is a chance for college students to make an impact on a social movement that is quickly growing in importance. Media outlets are not the only ones picking up the hype — social media is flooding with pictures, videos and blogs that illustrate the urgency of the movement.  Occupy Colleges is acknowledging a top-down issue: the small minority at the top of the hierarchy makes pivotal decisions affecting students. But in spite of all the justified anger, students may not have the pull — or strength in numbers — to fix this persistent hierarchical problem.

The Occupy Wall Street campaign that began on Sept. 17 is looking to stoke the flames of social and economic discontent by pointing a finger at the fat cats on Wall Street and anyone else in the top 1 percent of income-earners.

What began as a small protest against corporate greed in downtown Manhattan has grown to become a loosely cobbled nationwide movement.

With a more modest set of grievances than its New York cousin, the college-based protests aim to express concern over the students’ inability to find employment upon graduation, while concurrently facing undue amounts of educational debt. California’s education system has seen $15 billion in cuts the past four years and employers are only adding 11,000 net jobs this year.

But while Occupy Colleges has a relatable mission, it lacks the narrow demands that other successful protests have had in the past. For example, the Freedom Riders from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s traveled to Mississippi to register black voters and thus integrate them politically to increase equality. Students today must channel their indignation towards one particular adversary — without focus, the movement is merely a waste of poster board.

If students could establish clear grievances and take responsibility in eliminating them, then the vast education groups could make substantial strides.

Students are not the only ones to protest in the name of education — teachers have already come out in vast numbers in the Occupy L.A. effort. They are fighting the major cuts in education and the enormous salary gap between the top district executives and the subordinates. While the Associated Administrators of Los Angeles agreed to a 12 percent pay cut to save jobs, the Los Angeles Unified School District hired nine new administrators for
six-figure salaries.

Corporations often fund salaries for executives to influence their decisions for personal benefit instead of the best interests of the students and educators.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles provides an example of an organized union with a purpose, definitive leadership and stated grievances, including the fact that over 1,000 staffers were laid off despite a $55 million in surplus and classroom sizes pushing 40 students per teacher.

According to the Occupy Colleges website, the movement has students from 150 colleges participating across the country. Two UCLA graduates, a California State University Northridge student and a California community college student started the movement. It’s no wonder that California students are leading the movement — with California having the second-highest unemployment rate in the country and with 150,000 students turned away from California community colleges last year, it’s time students’ voices are heard.

With such a vast movement, it is impossible for one person to push the pedals. Occupy Colleges is leaderless, and students hope to keep it that way in the spirit of a collective voice. But this proved detrimental last week at the University of Minnesota when miscommunication and lack of organization brought its activism to a halt, as the university’s planned protest was greeted by only a handful of students. But U of Minnesota students agree that attendance would drastically increase with more advertising and hype. The students care about the protest, it is just a matter of expelling the information.

Occupy Colleges faces the challenge of having 150 individual protests across the country and no clear solution on how to centralize action. But a movement like this is more possible than ever with the aid of social media. The Wall Street protests drew media attention through YouTube videos that featured police attacking protesters. According to the Occupy Colleges Twitter page, the protests are scheduled to take place every two weeks so that students can balance their classes while keeping the sentiment present until there is a significant result. This sounds like an effective plan but the likeliness that people will continue to show up even after the trendiness of the movement fades is unlikely. If past performance is any indicator of present, this will be a rally that one attends for three hours on Thursday and then kicks back to see if they made it on the news.

Occupy Colleges has strength in press, but now it is a matter of commitment and endurance. This is an opportunity for anyone who has ever been slighted out of taking an overcrowded required course, stressed over crushing student loans, or has boldly cried out, “I’m part of the 99 percent!” Change is possible — we have the technology. Now we just need you.