Occupy CUNY; with community support

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Before there was an occupation of wall street, African American and Puerto Rican students occupied City College in 1969, with demands to open CUNY to our communities; to create opportunities for us to compete; but to also provide the space for us to create our own revolutionary intelligentsia.

[Op-Ed]

Occupy Movement; learn from 1960s protests

On November 21st, over a dozen City University of New York (CUNY) students got arrested at Baruch College to protest a decision by the University’s Board of Trustees to increase tuition. While the so-called “experts” claim the economic recession is now behind us, the Black community has been in an economic depression long before White America felt the impact of a failed capitalism. Long before an international Movement popped out of nowhere to occupy wall street and cities around the US and the world.

We should be very concerned with events at the City University, in regards to the future of our Black youth. It is not just about the youth who have already found the opportunity to currently be enrolled – but more importantly, for our youth who are potential students. In this society, a college education is still a difference maker for increasing the quality of living for an individual, household or a community. With our community already in an economic depression, a significant tuition increase can affect a generation of our people.

The truth is that we have been involved with the struggle for CUNY long before the arrests at Baruch, in mid-November. There has been a struggle for CUNY to be demographically inclusive since the late 1960s. Before there was an occupation of wall street, African American and Puerto Rican students occupied City College in 1969, with demands to open CUNY to our communities; to create opportunities for us to compete; but to also provide the space for us to create our own revolutionary intelligentsia.

They were creating the opportunity to produce skilled intellectuals and workers to advance our collective struggle in the community and the workplace. These radical Black and Brown students were the privileged few who, in a majority White public university, did not have to pursue these goals. But they placed the needs of the masses before their individual needs and social ladder- climbing. That occupation in Harlem was through bravery and spilled blood – and it was how CUNY was truly racially integrated, here in the north.

But the key factor was the community support. The students in 1969 were successful because they had support from community organizations like the Black Panther and Young Lords Parties and the people of Harlem and figures like the legendary Adam Clayton Powell Jr. There was even support from the anti-Vietnam war student activists from Columbia University. If CUNY is to succeed now, then our people need to support this struggle against a tuition increase and to push for the reinstatement of new and revised Open Admission policies that were initiated to support the entrance of Black and Brown youth that are coming from the worst inner-city high schools.

Also, CUNY, was free until the mid-1970s, until the argument for tuition was passed as policy during a fiscal crisis. But if the truth is to be told – CUNY was free for poor White students during the Great Depression of the 1920s. There has been no fiscal crisis greater than that one.

This is the opportunity for us to create the "Hope" and "Change" messages that resonated with all of us from Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign. The symbolism of Hope and Change has turned out to be bigger than the man; but as a community we can fulfill the desire for Hope and Change ourselves. As Frantz Fanon once put it, “Each generation must discover its mission, fulfill it or betray it, in relative opacity.”  

Our mission is before us.

Orlando Green is a City College Graduate (’04) and Baruch Alumni.  He was the National Treasurer for the National HipHop Political Convention and co-founding member of the CUNY-wide student organization – the Student Liberation Action Movement! (SLAM!).

"Speaking Truth To Empower."


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