It is not exactly breaking news to say this year has turned out to be tremendously rebellious and historic for Earth’s now 7 billion inhabitants. The Arab Uprisings, Wisconsin rallies, Occupy Movement, and lesser-known Anti-Nuclear protests taking place in Japan are only some moving examples that will long be seared into the collective memory.
However, the Chilean Student Protests, seeking a free quality education for all residents, are not on most American’s radar. The establishment media's near blackout in the U.S. must be partly to blame. The New York Times has taken the liberty of only publishing in print two original pieces and two newswire stories since the protest began in May of this year. That being said, it was the print edition for circulation in New York alone and not the national edition.
Evening news broadcasts are, not surprisingly, much the same story and like the dog in the movie Up following the squirrel now currently running up Herman Cain’s pants. This is in spite of sometimes entertaining, sometimes dramatic footage. Students have staged a kiss-in, posed as superheros, dressed like Zombies and reenacted Thriller, maintained a marathon around the Presidential Palace, as well as more confrontational approaches such as barricading themselves in hundreds of schools, undertaking hunger strikes and storming in on a committee meeting in the Senate.
According the many reports, some1,800 protesters have been arrested since May. Over 500 police and countless protestors have been injured in the violence that erupts at every rally now, which is beginning to negatively impact the vast public support the protestors enjoyed at the onset of their campaign.
Camila Vallejo, a 23-year old communist party member, has quickly risen as the leader of the education reform movement. She is now President of CONFECH, the Confederationof Chilean Student Federations, a national organization comprised of student governments from around the country. Tatiana Acuña, a government official in the ministry of culture, was fired for suggesting through a tweet that the assassination of Vallejo would end the protests. She said, "If you kill the bitch, you kill the rising." Chile's supreme court ordered police protection for the student leader.
In July they presented, in coordination with the Professor’s Union, their proposal to the national government, known as the “Social Agreement for Chilean Education”, solidifying their many demands, among them, the removal of profit from the educational system and an improved accreditation process for universities.
To onlookers such as myself, some are justifiably taken aback with the ferocity of this campaign from the students and educational professionals. Earlier this year, with the election of the conservative billionaire President Sebastian Pinera, the New York Times published an article on January 20, with the title “A Sign of Latin America’s Fading Polarization”, stating it “appearsto be less a signal of a regional move to the right than that of a pragmatic convergence of left and right agendas.” The eruption of vast protests, sometimes numbering over 100,000 has rebuffed this northern narrative.
The youth, generally regarded as apathetic prior to this movement, and who largely sat out this past presidential election, perhaps disillusioned with the electoral process, now have a strong determination to see this through for the benefit of future generations.
For those in the Occupy Movement looking to form coalitions and build momentum, the university population, both student and professors, are a demographic that must be courted with the utmost urgency. Yesterday’s protests in London against rising tuition fees and public sector austerity measures should be some indication of the people power this kind of alliance can have.
It is true that American students and professors have voiced support for and have indeed been engaged at Occupy sites nationwide since the beginning. Both the American Association of University Professors’ national council and its collective-bargaining congress have declared that they “stand in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement,” according to a statement issued by the association. Along with voicing concern about a growing gap between the nation’s rich and poor, the statement says college students “are being forced to pay more for tuition and go deeper into debt because of cuts in state funding, only to find themselves unemployed when they graduate.” It says most faculty positions at colleges “are now insecure, part-time jobs,” and “attackson collective bargaining have been rampant throughout the nation, as our job security, wages, health benefits, and pensions have been either reduced or slated for elimination.”
With guidance and inspiration from the Chilean and British protests,there is potential to initiate a massive outreach campaign that as of yet has not really been attempted in this country. After all, as USA Today recently reported, “the amount of student loans taken out last year crossed the$100 billion mark for the first time and total loans outstanding will exceed $1 trillion for the first time this year. Americans now owe more on student loans than on credit cards.” A side note - as Reuter’s Felix Salmon points out, this $1 trillion figure is about right, yet USA Today seems to be confused on the source of this statistic.
The Atlantic’s Daniel Indiviglio put this chart together in mid August showing that the student loans have risen a stunning 511% over this past decade!
The time is now! Students and teachers, their family members and theircommunity must come together, like they have done in Berkley California, to affirm that access to education is a fundamentalright and not a privilege for only those who can afford it.