Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Million Student March to be held Thursday

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Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

As the clock neared 6 p.m. Friday, Filipe Carvalho, a senior majoring in economics and finance, sprawled across the floor of Center for Educational Policy and Advocacy’s office and let out an exasperated sigh. His humorous gesture was an acknowledgment of the exhaustion shared by all the students in the room.

Carvalho, the policy and legislative director for CEPA, was surrounded by representatives from UMass for Bernie Sanders, MASSPIRG, the Coalition to end Rape Culture, the Student Labor Action Party and a few others. The collection of RSO’s have collaborated since the beginning of the semester to organize an event that they hope will serve as a catalyst for future student activism and draw attention to issues on the national and local levels.

The Million Student March, planned for 12:30-1:30 p.m. in front of the Student Union Thursday, is the brainchild of nearly a dozen RSO’s and coincides with demonstrations on nearly 100 campuses across the country, according to Carvalho.

The event, which borrows its name from the Million Man March in Washington D.C. of 1996, is an independent and decentralized day of action where students, workers, debtors, teachers and citizens come together to protest a broken capitalist and political system that runs on exploitation, according to the event’s website.

The agenda for this year’s Million Student March consists of three demands: liquidation of all student loan debt, a national minimum wage of $15 an hour and tuition-free public higher education.

“I think these three issues are the biggest facing students in terms of economic justice and they’re all related.” Carvalho said.

He explained that the 1.2 trillion dollars of student debt owed collectively in the United States is detrimental to the economy. Carvalho said loan payments limit the purchasing power of graduates and the production potential of individuals as future contributors to growth. The call for a minimum wage relates to the right of each individual to have access to livable wage, he said.

Carvalho acknowledged that the liquidation of debt is an idyllic goal and the resistance of the institutions and mentalities that the idea of debt has have been interwoven into is a daunting opponent. However, he believes with enough fervor and demonstration from the populations that are impacted, small victories could lead to long-term change.

“We want people to shift their mind and their frame of thinking from the dominant narrative. The dominant narrative is that education is private assets instead of a public good that should benefit all of society,” Carvalho said. “It’s difficult in our country that’s definitely individualistic and capitalistic to convince people that education isn’t an asset but something that should improve the livelihood of human beings.”

Carvalho said that student activists face particular difficulties because their cohorts tend to limited by their day to day schedules.

“These issues are difficult because they don’t become real until after you graduate. But the consequence is huge compared to missing a class to participate. In relative terms, thousands of dollars of debt is more important than missing a discussion section,” Carvalho said.

The itinerary for Thursday begins with a staged dodgeball game between a team of students and “big interests” representatives. The game will be fixed in favor of the team representing big interests to demonstrate the unequal political and economic system that citizens operate within, according to the event’s organizers.

A series of unity claps and banner droppings will come after the dodgeball game and then a series of speakers from various RSO’s will give small speeches highlighting the issues they wish to act on. At least 10 RSO’s will present specialized statements about issues that will be grouped onto a petition along with the Million Student March demands for attendees to sign and pledge their support.

The incorporation of topics that affect more marginalized groups with the national movement is an effort to bring overall awareness to hardships experienced by students at UMass, according to Charlotte Kelly, a senior majoring in political science. Kelly, the director of communications outreach for CEPA, said that there are no isolated concerns within the student activist movement.

“It’s all connected; the issue of education affects us all but the overall importance is equality. I don’t feel right about advocating for free higher education if there’s still discrimination based on someone’s gender or race going on. You can’t cherry-pick with equality,” Kelly said.

Kelly described Thursday as an opportunity to educate students about the issues presented but also to motivate people to become more civically engaged.

In addition to the three demands of the March, speakers will discuss trans rights, racial and gender equality, the Israeli occupation of Palestine and will demand UMass to release its private investments as well as divest from fossil fuels.

Lucas Gutterman, a member of MASSPIRG who was present at CEPA’s planning meeting, said the grouping of the various issues would force attendees to consider the plights of groups that they otherwise wouldn’t consider.

“I think that’s the point, by supporting these demands together rather than specialized interests- it brings all of this to the table.” Gutterman, a Computer Science major, said.

Carvalho admitted that student activists face considerable resistance both overtly and covertly through built in biases of the institutions that dominate American society. But, he said, that is not a justification for apathy.

“These issues disproportionately affect millions of people. The worst response is to say nothing.” Carvalho said.

Brendan Deady can be reached at [email protected]edu.

1 Comment

One Response to “Million Student March to be held Thursday”

  1. Rob on November 9th, 2015 9:13 am

    So why shouldn’t students have to pay nah their loans? That is a ridiculous demand. And what about the ones that were responsible and paid their loans? Should they get that money back too. Grow up.

    And why should someone with no skills doing an easy job make considerably more than they are worth? Good luck finding someone to do roofing for that much when they can just bag groceries.

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