By Associate Professor, English and Communication Jerry Blitefield, PHD
I want to foment a revolution.
At noon on Friday, Sept. 20, college students at campuses around the country and the world walked out of whatever they were doing to strike in defense of the planet’s stability and livability. They demanded bold, decisive action in response to the October IPCC report. And they planned to continue striking Fridays.
Students: Friday lunch hour protests aren’t going to get it done.
It’s time now for you, students of Massachusetts, to walk out and stay out.
Yes, you were watched, listened to, given vows of action. But if not yet, shortly you will be passed over for other matters, and the promises made, buried. Friday strikes will become routine and invisible. Even if grown to massive proportions, still they will only be massive for minutes. Your admin audience can and will wait them, and you, out. Then, eventually your masses will peter out. That’s just the way it is.
The change you want is colossal. If you want to effect colossal change you’ve got to get down to serious business, literally. That is, college business; the business of your college. Friday strikes produce admin nods. It’s time to make admins quake, and in so doing, send shockwaves up the higher ed spinal cord, to all the Chancellors and Presidents and Boards of Trustees across the state; to state legislators; to Governor Baker; to Mass US Representatives; to Senators Warren and Markey. Your message must be clear and unflinching to those who have sought and now find themselves in positions of power: We’re not going to continue shelling out money for a future you’re kicking down the road. Fix our future. Now.
It is time to employ a tactic that can bite. I am talking a tactic your school already affords you: the student leave of absence. Check it out: it’s in your catalogue.
As a student you can take a leave of absence that allows you to remain a student in good standing while scooting from campus for a while. Students do it all the time. Maybe you know someone who has.
A leave is not “dropping out.” It’s not quitting. It’s simply pausing. But here, pausing with purpose. Instead of pausing for the lunch hour on Friday afternoons, pause for a semester This spring. Next fall. Etc. If enough students band together and use it, the leave can – will – be a powerful lever. Very powerful. Because when students take leaves, students don’t pay tuition, students don’t pay fees, none of that. And when students start withholding money from schools, schools panic. And then they pay true attention. Not lunch hour attention.
Think about this: Elizabeth Warren proposed a 2% tax on the ultra–wealthy; imagine if students in Boston, for example, all imposed a 2% inaction tax on colleges, demanding that their school and all Beantown schools take on governmental or corporate incrementalism, indifference, or inertia? What if 2% of Boston students said, “We’re taking the spring semester off. Call us when you get serious about protecting the tuition we pay out as a down-payment on our future.” What would the admins do if in December 2019, 2% of Boston’s 152000 students, that’s 3000 plus, banded together and publicly announced as one “See you in September – maybe.”? Do you know what 2%, or 3%, or more % of students not paying tuition, not paying fees, would do to college operations and balance sheets? Want to find out? Just pitch the idea. Just start the dialogue.
A leave of absence does not equal derailment. If you want to strike big and strike hard, organize and take one collectively. Postpone graduating for a semester. Spring 2020. Fall 2020. Convince your peers and friends to also. Not only your classmates, but your other friends at the schools wherever they attend them – MA, NY, CT, USA, World. Beware: you can’t do this alone. That would be meaningless. You need numbers, numbers that will pinch, numbers that will sting. Network. Build a movement. Start with 2%.
Perhaps half a year off now to escape decades of crappy ones down the road could be a really smart investment of your generation’s time.