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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: Central Valley | Education & Student Activism
Walkouts: A Tool of Students in Struggle
A promotion and defense of the upcoming student walkouts at Modesto Junior College.
In the face of mounting pressure and criticism, MJC President Gaither Loewenstein has taken popular anthropology teacher James Todd off of a list of proposed faculty to be cut from the junior college. However, according to the Modesto Bee:
The proposed list of cuts includes 11 full-time faculty, at least 30 part-time instructors and 37 support staff to close half of an expected $8 million budget gap for 2011-12. The rest is made up of expected savings through attrition and unspent funds from this year. Vocational programs, including industrial technology, dental assisting, culinary arts and printing, would be cut, as well as engineering, architecture, French, German and Italian. The department of mass communications would close, ending film, television, radio, recording arts and journalism courses. The west campus library would be shut. Library classes and hours would be cut on the east campus as well, librarian Kathleen Ennis said. Disability services would be slashed and campus outreach to disadvantaged students eliminated, speakers said.
Most affected will be students trying to get job skills, disabled students, students who's majors will be gutted, low-come and working students unable to pay for higher fees, and students with young children who depend on the free childcare provided through the school which is also threatened with closure. Like the administration at CSU Stanislaus, Loewenstein claims that he will replace these programs with a more streamlined school; meaning one that runs like an assembly line, where students are pumped in and profits are pumped out. Sadly, it appears that for many of the poor and working students which attend (or want to attend) MJC, it's a factory that Loewenstein and his ilk envision without us.
In recent weeks, Modesto Junior College students have a launched a variety of attempts at dialogging with the President and the Board of Trustees. At this point, the Board is set to vote on the proposed budget on March 9th. Some students have also organized and promoted the idea of a walkout. The logic of a walkout is the same to that of the strike. Just as the greatest power of workers in a workplace comes from the refusing of ones labor and the shutting down of a business, so is the same for students who disrupt the power of a school to operate as such.
We must also ensure that our struggles do not remain isolated; locked inside a student ghetto. What is happening in public education is caused by the same forces which are threatening everyone's livelihood. And, when we do choose to act on campus, we must seek to include staff such as janitors and cafeteria workers; faculty and professors. Acting in solidarity with each other we are more powerful. When the entirety of those who work at a school decide to strike, we have a greater ability to brings things to a halt. We need to also recognize that other segments within society are under the knife as well; not just students. Whole sections of unionized workers are facing attacks across the country. Migrant workers face an onslaught of racist legislation and possible mass deportations. Poor and working people in general are being assaulted continuously with higher prices, cuts to services, and slashes to wages. Generalized misery should be met with generalized resistance.
The situation at MJC is not unique. As we speak 32 teachers in just the Modesto City Schools District alone face layoffs. As one teacher said, "It's all teachers, people who touch kids, and not administrators." Stanislaus County workers also face layoffs as well. Students would be wise to reach out to these other workers with similar struggles, creating networks and organizations which can fight shared conditions.
There is a lengthy history of walkouts being used by students and workers in the Central Valley. The most massive and successful were those centered around May Day of 2006 in response to proposed anti-immigrant legislation. These actions, organized mainly by young high school age students, were aimed at toppling HR-4437, which would further criminalize migrant workers and their families. These walkouts were self-organized and autonomous from any formal group; organized primarily through social networking sites like Myspace (foreshadowing Egypt by 5 years). In Modesto, (as well as Ceres, Fresno, Patterson, and many other cities), groups of middle and high school age students would storm out of school, in some cases hopping fences and defying police, to march on other schools to gain more numbers. These actions culminated on May 1st, 2006, when over 10,000 striking workers and students brought downtown Modesto to a standstill. Much the legislation was later struck down, for fear of further revolt.
Students at CSU Stanislaus in the fall of 2009 and the spring of 2010 also organized walkouts which brought together hundreds of students and faculty in opposition to CSUS President Shirvani's plan to gut the university. At these rallies, the student government was publicly denounced by both students and staff for cooperating with the school administration. In part the walkouts were successful when they by-passed the bureaucracy of the faculty union, and concentrated more on the organizing of student-faculty solidarity, all aimed at resisting the budget cuts and lay-offs of teachers together. In 2010 however, when a second walkout was attempted, the faculty union and various student groups moved in to stop another large walkout, and instead promoted "educational events" which shied away from disrupting the university.
In March of 2010, high school students in the Modesto City Schools district launched a series of walkouts at their schools, protesting teacher lay-offs and the possibility of larger class room sizes. These actions involved hundreds of students at multiple schools, and also involved roving marches and the disruption of school board meetings.
Recently across the country, students and young people in general have used walkouts as tools to combat legislation aimed at enacting further anti-migrant laws such as SB-1070 in Arizona, attacks on unions, wages, and health care in the Mid-West, and increases in student fees and cuts to classes across the country.
Walkouts aren't an end all solution to the world's problems - but they have, time and again, been a tool for students and workers in struggle. It is one more tactic that instead of begging and asking those in power to change, shows our collective strength to shut down institutions that exploit and control us.
It is the possibility of walkouts at Modesto Junior College which have scared so many in positions of authority, including the student government. At a recent student meeting about the budget cuts at MJC, Modesto Police were called to the campus and security also followed and took pictures of a group of people who were having a discussion outside. According to various sources such as students and staff, we have learned that police were called to the meeting because it was believed that "anarchists" would attend and "promote violence."
Attempts by those in power to demonize anarchists, and Modesto Anarcho in particular, are intended to have several affects. They are intended to scare students away from taking any sort of action outside of letter writing and passive sign holding which is promoted by those in charge.
Thus, in the last few days we've talked to many students who have been fed a line that the walkout at MJC on the 8th is organized by anarchists, "who just want to break windows." This isn't just a rumor that's spread because people are misinformed, it is a lie promoted by individuals who want to stop people from organizing direct action. It is the same reason that security guards at MJC have followed people handing out political flyers and why they have taken pictures of them. Not to "keep us safe," but because they serve an institution which wants people to stop resisting the things which immiserate their lives.
Modesto Anarcho is not, and does not desire to be a 'hidden leadership' in this struggle. As a group of friends, we include both former and current MJC students. As working class people, we understand the attack on education and the austerity measures brought on by the budget cuts to be part of a generalized attack on broke and working people across the world. The current economic crisis has made us pay for more while getting less; brought on by a boom and bust cycle of speculative spending and banking. The system is bankrupt; it refuses to meet even the most basic needs of those who do the majority of the work within it. Those that oppress us are organized, and as always, are more interested in preserving their status above us than threating their positions within society. We believe that our class should be organized as well.
We are not the organizers of the walkout on the 8th; that title belongs gloriously to all those who have promoted it, made flyers, handed them out, and talked to their friends, co-workers, and professors. The fact that students are finally coming together at MJC and just talking about resisting the budget cuts (after years and years of cuts and rising fees) is a massive step forward. Now we are talking about moving into actual resistance. Here, in the heart of the economic crisis in one of the poorest places in the state. They don't want it to start here. If we go, the whole thing could go...Hopefully the students fighting at MJC will also make connections with high school kids walking out over their fired teachers, migrant workers walking out over racist laws, and public sector workers walking out and taking over state capitols - if they haven't already.
Some students have asked: what will a walkout accomplish? We hope that in the very least, the walkout shows the administration of the school and the YCCD system, that students are no longer passive. That they are will to act en mass and disrupt the governance of the college if the cuts continue. We hope that in acting, we can come together in ways that facebook does not allow, bridging the gaps between not only students, but between teachers and staff as well. We hope that these actions leave people feeling more powerful than before, discovering a sense of togetherness and collectivity between each other that is manifested in action. We must be sure that the walkout is not seen as the 'be-all end-all' action, but simply another tactic that we can use in a struggle that is far from over.
There are those that say that the President of MJC and even the Board of Trustees are just working with what has been given to them. However, why is it that 'our' channeler is getting over $200,000 a year while our fees go up? Why is she up for the possibility of an $80,000 raise soon? In recent years, many of us have been evicted and foreclosed on. When that happened, when the bank took back your house or you couldn't pay the rent, who came to your homes? It was the Sheriff. Armed with a gun and sanctioned by the government to hurt you if needed. It was the the enforcer of the right of private property to rule over your life. He was just following orders. He was just 'working with what he had.' The administrators are the same. They may not make ALL the rules, but they enforce them. If we are going to resist the way things are, we're going to have to resist the administration as well.
Furthermore, some students have stated that things like a walkout should only be attempted after all other avenues have been exhausted. We disagree. Fees have been rising at all public colleges and universities since they opened. Classes have continued to be cut, and teachers have continued to be laid off. The school has drifted away more and more from a resource for poor and working students towards a business model. How much longer can we dialog? What do people need to happen to understand that the people that run these institutions simply do not care about us? Their job is to manage, control, and also layoff people. They aren't acting out of turn - they are doing exactly what they have been trained to do. Lastly, if dialog is the best solution, then the administration will only come to the table when we have created a situation which is out of their control. At this point, they hold all the cards.
To our detractors, we do not wish to see walkouts at MJC happen just so people can break windows or be violent. At the very least, collective acts of resistance put us in a position of being able to make demands of our enemies. To show that there are consequences for them attacking and hurting our lives. At their most powerful, by striking and taking over space, we can negate the power of the economy and the political system to manipulate and control our lives. In their stead, we can start to create the kinds of relationships that exist without bosses and bossed, of rich and poor, of police and policed.
If history is any indicator, walkouts will continue to happen in Modesto and across the world, with or without Modesto Anarcho. Harass and decry us all you want, but resistance is still going to happen. The question is, are we going to allow the nay sayers to get us to stop before we've even begun?