Young people from across the state confronted the North Carolina General Assembly when they convened their opening session on Jan. 26. The youth demanded, “Education is a right, not a privilege!”
The “Day of Action to Defend Education” was organized by a coalition of youth-led groups who are involved in education struggles around the state, from fighting back against budget cuts and tuition hikes to winning full and meaningful access to higher education for undocumented students and pushing back the growing tide of resegregation in the state’s public school systems.
Despite the cold and rainy weather, nearly 100 young people, including many high school students and immigrant youth, came out for the day, which began with a press conference and lobbying in the morning, followed by a march and rally in the afternoon.
The spirited march through downtown Raleigh filled the air with chants of “No cuts, no fees, education should be free!” and “Education, not deportation!” as it hit three targets: the governor’s mansion, the Department of Public Instruction and the NC Community Colleges offices. At each stop, speakers raised the connections between these education struggles and the need for young people in the state to fight back to stop the slew of cuts and reactionary bills being proposed by the new, Republican-led legislature.
Monse Alvarez, of NC HEAT (Heroes Emerging Among Teens), stressed: “This day of action was important because we can’t just let this new legislature come in without making some noise about it. … They want to take us back to a time of Jim Crow segregation where immigrants and people of color are treated like less than human. They want to push through their anti-immigrant, anti-worker, anti-education, anti-everything-that-people-need agenda, unless we do something about it.”
Education on the chopping block
Like many state governments across the country facing budget shortfalls, politicians have placed every public service on the chopping block to deal with the state’s nearly $4 billion hole. The Republican majority, which recently took over both houses in the legislature for the first time in 112 years, has promised to manage this with spending cuts alone. Thousands of state workers could be laid off. The university system is facing a 15 percent cut as public school systems around the state are facing cuts of nearly $100 million. Entire health programs face elimination, and every social good is under attack.
The GOP wasted no time in proposing reactionary pieces of legislation. On their session’s second day, they introduced an anti-immigrant bill modeled after Arizona’s SB 1070, a bill that would ban undocumented students from community colleges and the university system (HB 11), a bill requiring voters to show IDs, and more.
“We made our voices heard that day, and it was important to be there and speak out about issues in our community like education. They were afraid of us being there. They sent out cops to try to stop us. Unfortunately, they introduced HB 11 the next day, but this was only the beginning, and we are going to keep fighting around this,” said Raul Arce.
Groups across the state are mobilizing to fight back against the legislature’s proposed, massive cuts and to stop the growing racist attacks on the immigrant community. Activists plan many different actions and demonstrations for the coming weeks.
Workers and students all over the world — from Egypt to Tunisia, from Yemen to Jordan, from Britain to Puerto Rico — are showing the only way forward out of this crisis, which is to take their destiny into their own hands and fight back. Continued, determined action is exactly what is necessary to stop the attacks on education and the public sector and to push back the reactionary forces that have risen in this period.
With a national Month of Actions to Defend Public Education set for March, youth and students can only expect to see more of these types of actions throughout the country.