In his recent diary Nick Lento speaks movingly about Cliffside Park students protesting Christie’s school cuts. It’s great to see students becoming activists. We have gone through periods when they were politically uninvolved. Most recently we have admired young Iranian students courageously taking their lives in their hands to to protest corrupt elections.
Rutgers has a rich tradition of activism. For Paul Robeson just staying and excelling at Rutgers (1915-1919) was a form of activism as other students wanted him off the football team and gone from the university. In 1957 fraternity men attended a demonstration in Trenton protesting financial cutbacks. (Now there is an idea to follow up on.) Students protested for anti-segregation in the 60’s and supported jailed integration activist Donald Harris in 1963. Black students took over Conklin Hall in 1969. In the 80’s these students supported El Salvador, Palestinian rights, Lebanon, and Puerto Rico. Later they supported University President Bloustein in his principled stance against apartheid.
As a child in Argentina I saw students protest against Juan and Eva Peron. An outspoken activist at my school was thrown off a train and lost a leg, but Peron was deposed. Later living in the Bay area, I witnessed activism at UC Berkeley where Mario Savio led the Free Speech movement. The university had banned all campus political activity and fundraising, but this firebrand changed Berkeley forever.
More recently students have brought energy, ideas, and enthusiasm to lots of activist causes. Many of the NJ ACT UP members were young local students who were fighting both their own grave health problems and an apathetic government.
At a recent Garden State Equality Town Hall Meeting several students were among the most articulate speakers. High school and college students from across NJ converged in Trenton for the Senate ME rallies. Others helped on the phone bank. Some were dispatched with cell phones to neighborhoods where they urged people to call their local legislators. The gay activist movement itself in NJ has a long history. It gained momentum at the time of Stonewall, followed by the formation of the Gay Activist Alliance of NJ, and demonstrations and lobbying to strengthen the anti-discrimination law.
On March 26 when NJ students started skipping class to protest teacher layoffs, our Governor-General said, “They’re being used. I don’t blame the kids at all. They’re pawns.” Well Governor, I’d be careful if I were you. These “pawns” have taken on bigger men than you and rocked our world. Power to the students!