For a movement that unites us

March 9, 2010

Activists organizing against cuts and tuition hikes at New York City's Hunter College issue an open letter calling for respect and freedom of expression.

ON MARCH 4, 2010, students throughout the United States held actions as part of the National Day to Defend Public Education.

CUNY Hunter College students in New York City joined the national call and held a walkout and rally on our campus with the widespread support of faculty and staff. The Hunter Professional Staff Congress endorsed the National Day of Action, and many individual members helped to build our rally by encouraging students to attend. Over 300 students participated in the protest that promises to be the beginning of a growing movement to stop budget and child care cuts, halt tuition hikes, and revive CUNY's mission to provide access to public education for all.

However, our right to self-expression was severely hampered by the Hunter College administration, CUNY police and the NYPD, who confined our campus all day and prohibited passage through our own halls to spread word of the protest. Many of us have experienced crackdowns on campus protests before, so we were not surprised by this.

Hunter College students march to the citywide rally for the March 4 Day of Action
Hunter College students march to the citywide rally for the March 4 Day of Action (SW)

The Hunter administration has been moving ahead with its plans to close the campus by installing turnstiles and making Hunter a closed campus. We refuse to see our school become a jail and have expressed our discontent and disapproval. This is a gross misallocation of resources and a limit to the community's access to a public institution of knowledge.

Additionally, our self-expression was further limited when, on a day that should have united students in solidarity throughout the city, our event turned sour, as a group of self-defined anarchists disrupted the protest. While we were expecting hostility from the police, we were not expecting a hostile force among the students themselves.

Instead of lending support, these students became saboteurs who disrupted speakers, destroyed public property, vandalized Hunter College buildings, set off fire alarms, assaulted students including a parent, and injured a faculty member and social justice activist in the head. This led to reprisals by the authorities, and not only created a confusing and demoralizing situation for many Hunter students, but has also inadvertently aided the administration's and police's efforts to suppress student voices. These actions will only encourage more stringent surveillance on student organizers and activists, and have not furthered our cause.

WE ARE activists at Hunter from different groups and with different ideas and organizing backgrounds. But these are the common basic principles that we stand by:

1) Solidarity with other schools starts with Respect. Allies must respect fellow activists and their work. Some of the saboteurs were from some private schools. They chanted "occupy everything," but the only thing they seemed to occupy was our protest. It is beyond arrogant for private school students to treat our public campus as a playground for their childish fantasies. Moreover, they tried to justify their violence by claiming that one of the Hunter protest organizers turned someone in to the police. We know this not to be true.

2) Violence and harassment against other activists will not be tolerated. We the organizers, students, faculty and alumni were punched, pushed, shoved, spit on and threatened. These actions only divide and alienate those already involved in the movement and those who can potentially join our cause.

3) Social justice movements must be democratic and accountable. Movements cannot function unless they are able to democratically decide what to do and hold themselves accountable to those decisions. The visiting students not only bypassed the democratic will of the Hunter community, but when they could not win other students to their cause, they responded with violence instead of respectful debate.

Unaccountable action using other people's lives is the very definition of what it means to be an authoritarian. We reject a method in which a tiny minority of off-campus students appoint themselves the saviors of our movement. We stand for the Hunter community's right to democratically control our own movement.

There is something peculiar about private school students coming to a public school and vandalizing it with their slogans, instead of bothering to talk with people and learn the issues they face.

4) Building a social justice movement begins with organizing. The saboteurs mocked us for calling a next organizing meeting and shouted for "occupation now." Only people who try to win their political points through physical intimidation would mock the need for meetings.

Rallies, protests, sit-ins and other actions are only tactics; they cannot become the goal or vision themselves. Tactics cannot supplement a real strategy for political movement. Social change comes through people broadly, not through the theatrics of self-appointed saviors. The pillar of organizing is building and maintaining social relationships. If we cannot cherish and honor each other, we have already abandoned the cause for social equality and justice.

5) We must create a safe space for working class, immigrant, people of color, women, and LGBTIQ-identified students. The saboteurs repeatedly disrespected and shut down women students and organizers who were speaking. Moreover, their violent and instigating actions created a risky and unsafe environment for many.

We, the organizers, are aware that the struggle for education affects every CUNY student, especially those from marginalized communities. Sixty-one percent of us are female. We are racially composed of over 25 percent each African-Americans, whites and Latinos. Asian students make up over 15 percent. We represent 172 countries and speak 131 native languages in addition to English. Thirty-eight percent of us are immigrants. About 68 percent attended New York City public schools, 45 percent of us work over 20 hours a week, and almost a quarter support children. We make room for members of marginalized communities to take leadership roles. We take a stand to fight oppression against all.

Education is a fundamental human right that is under attack and we stand today and always in its defense. Let's build a movement that integrates and inspires people to take action for justice and equality.

With Love and Respect,

Maria Arettines, Hunter Student
Freddy Bastone, Hunter Student
Monica Carr, Hunter Student
Casey Detrow, Hunter Student
Owen Hill, Hunter Student, Hunter ISO
Tami Gold, PSC CUNY Hunter Chapter Chair, Filmmaker & Professor
Danny Katch, Hunter Alum
Natalia Lopez, Hunter Student
Jackie Mariano, Hunter Student
Angela Molfetas, Hunter student, Hunter Parent Union, president
Claudia O'Brien, Hunter student
Nathan Schrader, Hunter Alum '10
Luz Schreiber, Hunter Alum '10, Defend Hunter Childcare
Leanne Tory-Murphy, Hunter Student

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