The contribution of students
ON NOVEMBER 15, student activists from the University of North Carolina at Asheville (UNCA) organized a rally in downtown Asheville's Pritchard Park to demonstrate against the Dakota Access Pipeline and raise funds for protesters and water protectors in North Dakota.
What began as a small effort between a group of students and local organizers became a large demonstration of some 200 people, who marched on federal buildings several blocks from Pritchard Park, one of which was a local office for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
During the fundraising portion of the demonstration, students and organizers gathered at Pritchard Park and, with a single megaphone, let local Native individuals and voices be heard in solidarity with those at Standing Rock and with Indigenous peoples throughout the United States and the world who face repression from international capital and from the "Global North" of developed, majority-white nations.
A pail was passed around to receive donations exclusively from ordinary people who had come to the park for the rally. During the rally and march, despite a police presence and oversight, no one was arrested, and the demonstration wasn't harassed as it made its way to government buildings.
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WHAT IS the significance of the overwhelming success of the demonstration, and the roughly $500 that was raised to help feed, clothe and support the water protectors at Standing Rock?
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The demonstration proves that students and student activism still have a central role to play in any bid to oppose capital and the state, especially on a local level.
Although many skeptics have tried to drive a wedge between the students of today--who are criticized as privileged and uninterested in evolving beyond false consciousness--and people who are engaged in working-class and indigenous struggles, doing so is dangerous and self-defeating for any intersectional movement, especially one in the United States.
What many people fail to appreciate about college students in America, particularly those in the American South, is that the unfettered social environment of college--where many people can be (relatively) free from parental, familial authority for the first time in their lives--is a kind of incubator for those who wish to go on to support and participate in radical politics.
High schools in the American South, dominated by local PTA moms and regional neighborhood sports leagues, have very little to offer anyone whose politics do not line up with conservatism.
Schools in counties that have no Young Democrats or other center or left-wing political groups have very little hope of providing people with the tools and the framework necessary to break out of false consciousness, or even to assert their own identities, in the case of queer people and those whose Indigenous cultures and lifestyles are forcibly repressed.
For many, college is the first place that they can "be themselves" and seek out both people and politics that truly interest and affirm them.
It's no surprise that so many students come out of college radicalized--to the terror of America's reactionary politicians and talking heads--and determined to "make a difference," like all the brochures say. Without people from this student background, with unique experiences and unique insights, activist movements risk losing able minds, warm bodies and determination and enthusiasm.
If students at UNCA can successfully and independently organize large demonstrations in their hometown, off campus, then students at other colleges can as well.
Michael Mayo, Asheville, North Carolina