Occupy energy ramps up Boston’s student power movement

OB 201: Intro to Tuition Strikes  
By LIZ PELLY  |  September 12, 2012

HONOR ROLL "A lot of students were energized from the Occupy movement," says BU student Ian Chinich about the recent surge of student-power activism. 

On a gray Saturday afternoon in Cambridge, the first meeting of Boston's new student power movement is assembled in a Harvard auditorium: about 50 students from more than eight Boston-area schools, working out goals, structures, and values. With this radical new group, some of Boston's hardest-working student activists are planning to fight increasing tuitions, change the infrastructure of student unions, and get their interests met through collective action. Their short-term goal is citywide tuition freezes at public and private schools; long-term goals include reducing power of administrations and fostering a sense of self-determination among students and workers.

If any students in Boston can kick off a citywide movement toward tuition freezes, it's these: for today's meeting, there are reps from BU Anti-Authoritarians, Brandeis Students for a Democratic Society, and Tufts Occupiers, plus activists from UMass Boston, Bunker Hill Community College, Boston College, Emerson, Northeastern, and more. Last fall, they were the faces from Students Occupy Boston — a working group with its own general assemblies and a designated tent at Dewey — and the ones who marched and screamed through downtown Boston by the hundreds last Columbus Day.

"A lot of students were energized from the Occupy movement and saw how things could be changed," said Ian Chinich, a BU PhD student, on the day before the meeting, when I met him at BU's Center for Gender, Sexuality, and Activism. "There's now an idea that it's possible to be self-empowered. And I think that has been a huge influence here."

Chinich is one of Boston's busiest anarchist activists, and a driving force behind the Student Anarchist Federation — another group that grew out of Occupy. He studies political science — "Or as Howard Zinn called it, 'the department of political silence,' " he says — and also works 40 hours a week at Panera Bread to counterbalance his $100,000 in student debt. He was one of several Boston students and many post-Occupiers who attended the Student Power Convergence in Columbus, Ohio, this summer, alongside over 300 students from other US cities plus Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Quebec. ("Student movements start at gatherings like the National Student Power Convergence," said author Naomi Klein in a video of solidarity sent to the convergence.)

"It's not just about tuition," Chinich says of the new Boston student coalition. "We want to democratize the schools. We want student input, student power. We want control over policies. It's about autonomy, and working together with faculty and campuses workers."


To help set the infrastructure for this new movement, experienced student organizers from Quebec have come to today's meeting to give a presentation and answer questions. Since the beginning of the year, over 200,000 students in Quebec have been on strike, set off by a government proposal to raise annual tuition. These students are currently winning: last week in Montreal, the Liberal government scrapped its proposed hike.

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