Sanders goes free-tuition, part of tiny sliver of leaders who have any sense

It’s good to see Bernie Sanders go beyond the liberal Congressional ideas about reducing loan rates and providing tax credits, calling for free tuition that would end the United States’ status as a dinosaur in college affordability and availability.

SFT logo. Created by Andrew J. Mackay

SFT logo. Created by Andrew J. Mackay

The group I’m a part of, Students for Free Tuition, is about real solutions in education. These planks of free education aren’t even radical- it’s just an attempt to get back to higher education of yesteryear, when it was more affordable, and government assistance came from grants and not loans.

There’s a frame of thinking that voting and political participation is low because people are stupid or duped. I think it’s more so that the tepid, halfway solutions proposed won’t work, and most people know that. Free tuition makes all the sense in the world.

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The war on student resistance: UC Santa Cruz and beyond

The Atlantic has published a long feature by Matthew Renda on the Highway 6- a set of student activists at UC Santa Cruz who were arrested and charged by the authorities for blocking a highway. Their issues were twofold: skyrocketing tuition costs in the UC System, and police violence against people of color. At the same time the university suspended all six, causing them to lose their housing and healthcare.

Six students blockade a highway over student fee hikes and police violence against people of color

Six students blockade a highway over student fee hikes and police violence against people of color

While The Atlantic has a strange and inconsistent tone on higher education in America, this collected the situation as it exists right now. What is clear is that college administration is becoming increasingly arbitrary when it comes to student protest, and its punishments are so severe considering what other infractions get. A year and a half suspension is a lot more than many universities have handed down for sexual harassment and assault- crimes that often happened on the campus itself. Whether the Highway 6 action was a crime is unknown at this point- though most of the thousands who have blocked highways since the shooting of Michael Brown were not charged, let alone tried. But it is strange (and unjustifiable) to see UC Santa Cruz being zero-tolerance on peaceful protest- and heaping on punishment on top of the authorities who actually have jurisdiction with off-campus direct action.

What separates, as the feature states, someone arrested for protesting at the U.S Capitol or a couple miles from campus? The first did not see any punishment from administration, but the Highway 6 were suspended within hours, denying due process rights reserved for these situations. Their lack of trust in the system have led them to plead no contest in court.

Since Occupy, the state of activism in the UC system is marked by confusion and inconsistency. A major calculation in planning action is possible consequences- but with UC Santa Cruz, the consequence is somewhere between none and grave. These things are supposed to be hammered out through a process that guarantees rights and prevents the exercise of arbitrary power, but the administration is willing more than ever to skip all of that.

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Lost in all this is the message put forth by these student groups- that students and faculty are losing their university to private corporate interest, and all over the country there is injustice against people of color. Their punishment is proof of their concerns- a institution with a history of radical activism is willing to silence it to keep the privatization of education moving forward.

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Black Lives Matter more than CVS laundry detergent

Myself at the Freddie Gray solidarity march. City Heights, San Diego. April 29, 2015

Myself at the Freddie Gray solidarity march. City Heights, San Diego. April 29, 2015

So I was honored to be interviewed at the San Diego march in solidarity with Baltimore and the fight against police violence (story with full video here). About 200 people came out to fill the streets and create urgency- black lives do matter, and justice for the living and the dead will come from ordinary people seizing the initiative and finding their own power.

My friend and colleague in Socialist Alternative, Bryan Kim, was also interviewed by Channel 8, and we complemented each other well. Local news incorporated a lot of voices in this event- black, brown, and white, both the organizers and regular marchers.

This one instance gave me the chance to collect my thoughts on Freddie Gray, the events in Baltimore, and the larger epidemic of police violence against unarmed people of color that has been steadily snowballing since last year. Unlike many others pouring their hearts and minds out on Twitter, Facebook, and to their friends and colleagues, I never created a long, detailed response.

Bryan Kim speaks at the Freddie Gray solidarity rally. City Heights, San Diego. April 29, 2015.

Bryan Kim speaks at the Freddie Gray solidarity rally. City Heights, San Diego. April 29, 2015.

The one thought I’d like to throw out comes from my own background and belief in nonviolent struggle as the way to enact social and political change. Baltimore has presented a complicated picture for people with this set of views, and the media and institutional politics has tried to put people into what I’d dub “the nonviolent trap.”

Essentially, the media performed a litmus test on everyone who claimed to be nonviolent- either denounce the looting and conflict wholesale, or be called a hypocrite. My tiny soundbite was part of the counter- if we are to talk about violence in these protests, we need to include the violence put on communities by the police and the state. The trial was about one form of violence while ignoring the other, or at the very least requiring a clear denunciation before anything else can be discussed.

Looting a CVS and killing someone like Freddie Gray or Michael Brown are not the same kind of force. They have been made equivalent by some public figures, and often shown side-by-side as equal in media reports. Capital and humans are fundamentally different. The destruction of property through riot action or looting can cause real harm- often in urban unrest the businesses who end up taking damage are owned by people of color. But a damaged storefront can be rebuilt. In the case of something like a CVS, there is no intangible value to what was held within. People are not replaceable. I find looting to be a concern, though it is a product of structural injustice rather than simple greed. But as a nonviolent struggle advocate, I think we need to see conflict as a chain of events, and avoid the quick-take of what happened today. Denouncing only the people of color who have faced economic and social deterioration is a de facto censoring of the oppressed, and in the process helps the elites who have done so much harm.

The best speech you may never have heard by Martin Luther King Jr., entitled “Beyond Vietnam” and given in 1967, has a bit I really like that I used as my basis when I was interviewed. It think it strikes at the root.

I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. (source)

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Small shards

Each small shard
of our primal being
ends up on a grand stage
drawing forth
ten million raw insecurities
folded in half
so many times that
the paper has called it quits

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Chalk dreams

Written on rough
concrete, begging for
repair,
groaning with the stress
of elder trees whose roots
have been growing since
the sidewalk was merely a
distant blueprint

each letter takes form,
the energy drains into
slate-colored tiles

the off-white substance,
once as long as an old man’s
weathered hands
grows smaller and humbler
until there is nothing left

but dreams and aspirations
waiting for the infrequent rainstorm
to wash it all away

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Free tuition, free minds

Over the past few weeks, myself and collaborators have been working on Students for Free Tuition, a UC San Diego organization. It was an idea born in a parking lot on a Sunday night- in the midst of looming tuition hikes, why doesn’t anyone point out the elephant in the room? Tuition is already far too high, and it’s outpacing wages and family income. American exceptionalism exists, in that for a developed country it has a remarkably unaffordable higher education system. So many countries all over the world agree that free tuition is a necessary expense for providing a public good for society at large.

Credit Andrew J. Mackay, data help from Todd Lu.

Credit Andrew J. Mackay, data help from Todd Lu.

What we have been getting is less funding from the state, run by a Democratic Party that pays lip service to funding education but lacks the teeth to pay for it. At the same time of the rising tuition, larger classes, and more crowded student housing, pricey senior administration is rising faster than the student body. The UCSD Chancellor, Pradeep Khosla, makes about $450,000 plus rent subsidy and expenses. And corners are cut at every turn- UCSD has replaced most tenured faculty hiring with adjuncts, who work a similar amount but can’t participate in research and get paid half as much.

Credit Andrew J. Mackay, data help Todd Lu.

Credit Andrew J. Mackay, data help Todd Lu.

Higher education is a right. Free tuition is a path to a better, smarter, healthier society.

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50 years ago today: MLK eulogies Rev. James Reeb

Fifty years ago today, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave the eulogy at the funeral of Rev. James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister who came to Alabama in response to King’s call for clergy to stand up for racial justice. He was murdered in Selma outside a cafe, where he was walking with two other UU ministers.

The text of the eulogy is now available (PDF), and it is as expected a textbook example of King’s grasp of imagery and lyricism.

King expertly transforms Reeb’s death from a single crime to a structural injustice by moving from who killed James Reeb, as what killed James Reeb.

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It is a fitting eulogy to a UU minister. Those with true religious courage and spirit leave their churches, temples, and places of worship, to speak truth and stand for justice. The Civil Rights Movement needed real tangible support, not idle words. Those that died in Selma saw religious obligation existing at the frontlines.

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