Posted by rflacks on:
I ended my last blog with a plea for movement. Today, I want to point to some signs of how a movement dynamic may be beginning.
One trigger for mass movement can come from locally based direct action that contages and inspires. The classic case was the sit-in by four black students on February 2, 1960 in Greensboro, NC. One could make a case that the entire upsurge of the 60s came from that act, which was contagious throughout the south in the weeks after, and then provided the foundation for the organization of SNCC, for non-violent direct action for civil rights and peace, for a sense among a lot of us young at the time that small groups of seemingly powerless youth could actually make change. I don't mind romanticizing that little act of defiance by 4 teenagers-it seems a valid lesson about powers of the weak and the few. Such seemingly small and symbolic acts by previously unknown folks over and over again have helped trigger social movements (and we of course should see that Rosa Parks' refusal to move, 4 years earlier was at least equally consequential),
Of course it is not simply the individual act that makes history, but the context in which it occurs and the ways in which it is responded to by both those in power and those not. A lot of scholarly writing has expounded on such matters in general and the sit ins in particular.
Tomorrow, maybe we will see some apparently local action that could have reverberating effects. The University of California Regents are meeting to consider increases of 32% in student tuition that, outrageously, might go into effect during the current academic year. Students across the state have been organizing to go to UCLA to try to stop this decision. Here's a summary of what may be in store by California Progress Report:
Students, faculty and staff at California's public universities are
mounting a new wave of protests against tuition hikes and enrollment cuts this week.
As public opinion of the governor and the legislature's handling of higher education reaches a record low, concern grows that California is systematically dismantling a system of public higher education that was once the model for the nation.
Student organizations at the University of California plan a three day strike to begin on November 18 to coincide with the meeting of the UC Board of Regents at UCLA. UC student organizations and staff unions are descending on the Regents meeting to protest proposed 32 per cent tuition increases. On November 18 and 19, thousands of UC workers represented by University Professional and Technical Employees, CWA local 9119, plan a two day walkout at several campuses to protest unfair labor practices.
Student protests have also erupted at California State University campuses over plans to cut enrollments system wide by 40,000 students. Also on Wednesday November 18, CSU students, faculty and staff will stage a protest at the Long Beach meeting of CSU Board of Trustees, rallying against massive cuts, with additional protests scheduled this week at CSU San Bernardino, Cal Poly Pomona and CSU Los Angeles.
The planned strikes and direct action are the latest in a series of campus based protests that have building all fall. At Berkeley, a campus wide strike buy all the campus unions and several student groups has been called.
There is of course much to be said about the contexts in which these California campus based protests are occurring, but those context can be summed up by saying that we are now one of the largest failed states on the planet with depression level unemployment and a remarkably absent leadership in both parties. My point just now is that these actions-depending on how they unfold of course, could serve as a harbinger and maybe an inspiration for wider movement to come.
Something else happened today that may help inspire and focus such movement. Richard Trumka, new president of the AFL-CIO, joined by the leaders of the NAACP, the Civil Rights Leadership Conference, The National Council for La Raza and the Center for Community Change, called on Obama and congress to institute major new jobs programs. They pointed out that we are now facing a shortage of 10 million jobs. This new coalition of labor and civil rights groups is itself rather unprecedented. What they are proposing includes: immediate extension of unemployment benefits (about to expire), a major public works and infrastructure investment, injection of direct government funding int community based organizations in distressed communities for decent wage jobs, and use of TARP funds to support community bank loans for local small business (this last could be done immediately by the white house). They also demand that federal funds be allocated to help states cope with their fiscal crises. States were of course not bailed out in the stimulus package, even though the dollars required to do so would be much less than the amounts handed over to AIG alone. The organization leaders seemed poised today to mobilize their memberships for such a program.
There is, incidentally, a direct link between these national proposals and the student/worker strike in California: a rescue plan for the states would obviously help restore the higher education budgets that have been so disastrously cut here and throughout the country.
People who know me know that I am likely to grasp at straws. But I can't help but hope that something is beginning to stir that has the potential to create a movement dynamic. The White House just announced a national White House jobs conference to be held shortly, to be followed by a nationwide tour by the president to hear about the economic troubles people are experiencing.
It appears-and this is really important I think-that the Democratic leadership and the President have realized that their fate in 2010 elections are deeply intertwined with the unemployment situation. The local elections earlier this month featured a very big drop in turnout by the very groups most suffering now-young people, blacks and Latinos-and most crucial to electoral prospects a year from now. A strike against the ballot was , I believe, an effective if unorganized protest. Organized movement that can produce some real results has to come next.
Of course, there is the question of Afghanistan. It may well be that rising economic unrest will deter further waste of resources on war. If not, what then?
Quite a lot of folks responded to my last blog on Obama and power. Dozens sent me emails and facebook comments, and there were several good posts on the blog site. Scroll down to see the latter, and a comment I made about the ways in which division within the centers of power provides crucial opportunities for grassroots movements that can win real reform.