nick m reporting from melbourne australia. yesterday was the national day of action against what i see as the “americanization” of education. despite government attempts to make higher education run more like a buisness then a place of growth and enlightenment, many australian student dont pay a cent for their education until they make more than thirty grand a year, at which point they are taxed to pay for the time they spent in university. the percentage is said by students to be manageable if not negligible. these “loans” are free from interest and are not passed down to your children if you dont finish payment. also, in the event that a student leaves the country to work, they are not taxed at all.
at the moment Aus prime minister John Howard is in support of increased student fees. also, with the help of many newly appointed university vice-chancellors, the government is putting pressure on universities to cut all classes that have less then 20 students. this is in an attempt to make the university, as a business, more profitable. it is this same process that we see at JMU that puts large sums of money into the College of Buisness and is slowly chipping away at subjects like geography, philosophy and anthropology. in Australia, this comes along with cuts in funding for the each universities Student Resource Center, quite comparable to our student government except with a more activist agenda. the SRC here, including queer, environment, socialist and indigenous working groups, has already struggled to maintain their spot on campus, and have had a large portion of their funding cut in recent years.
the march yesterday was spearheaded by a national movement with its epicenter in melbourne called the Socialist Alternative. this intense group of militant revolutionaries has students and alumni alike channeling their energy towards every movement that fits in with their ideals. the group is vocally against capitalism, anarchism, racism, sexism and homophobia. the problem, in my oppinion, with this group leading the campaign, is that they marched with their red marxist flags that alienate many who dont find membership in marxist ideas. many students who feel genuinely concerned with the issue of affordable education with a wide range of specialized and unique classes, did not want to be associated with the group who has developed a clear reputation on campus. the group believes that they are the only ones who would organize the movement and sees it as an opportunity to encourage further support and membership in movements to come. some see the loss of support as a necesssary thing because it seems they are more concerned with the long haul then any one movement.
another group of students, more aligned with the environmentalism movement, and some with anarchism, aided the day by organizing a large and festive music circle that i skipped merily from class to join. the were doing call and response singing that sounded like fela kuti with backbone beats from a drumset, djembes and bongos, topped by toots from flutes, cowbells and trash cans beat with sticks. they filled the campus with music and color in between speeches made by students on a PA that was organized by the Socialist group. speaches were made by students both affiliated with the group and not.
we took buses into the city for the march that had to be paid for by student donation, a prime example to of where SRC funding cuts are effecting the students freedom to organize. “The SRC paid for these busses a few years ago,” said Stephen, a 7 year member of the Socialist Alternative. (from an american perspective, the idea that the university would provide resources easily for students to organize against the administration is sadly foreign. we have to sign a release to write with chalk on the ground for goodness’ sakes!)
close to 300 people gathered at the National Library to participate in the march that, for some, implies a deeply disfunctional infrastructure, although the particular action meant different things to different people. as is often the case, contrasting politics unified to form a raucous and effective conga line that canceled street trams and attracted the media. it has been a fruitful debate as to what is the most effective tactic for achieving any specific goal. is it more effective to bring your santa clause sized sack of politics with you to every movement and action OR leave it all at the door to get the most support for the cause. what synthesis of the two is most effective without compromising your own values?
i leave the folks reading this with a question… in what circumstances might it be okay to leave bits of your personal politics out of a movent to achieve greater support for the cause? when is it not ok? a popular example is Amnesty International, who focuses all their energy on releasing people who are being tortured or at least getting them better conditions while incarcerated. part of the reason they are so effective, they argue, is that they focus solely on this struggle for prisoners rights and not on the legality of the crimes they prisoners may or may not have committed, not on ending racism, (here i will be bold) and not on many political questions at all. many argue that Amnesty is not causing any real social change… many argue back.. that of course they are, but perhaps in some sort of a roundabout way.
Amnesty recently changed its stance on abortion, repealing a nearly 80 year period where it decidedly had no stance on abortion. they now stand by the conviction that it is an inalienable human right for a woman to have an abortion. this bold move will certainly cause Amnesty to lose membership and support but, the action implies that they would rather end what they see as the suffering of women all over the world then keep the support of members who do not agree.
i personally think this is a good move by Amnesty but i do not think they should pust the envelope much furether at the moment. it is totally important to focus on the issue you are arguing. for example, if you want clean energy at JMU, then ask for solar panels and windmills… not for people to vote Gore in ’08. thats like trying to go for a french kiss before you’ve ever shared a googly eyed moment with your potential partner. my idea here may seem like piss farting around the REAL problem but, once you get into politics, you alienate potential supporters for that particular cause. if we can get renewables at JMU, then hallelujah! i dont care if we got them with the support of the people who vote for the casino capitalists that allow corporate negligence and massive carbon emmisions and environmental degradation. we will win the struggle against them ONLY when we march on capitol hill. ONLY when we speak up against that specific issue. and i PROMISE i will be there next to you!
please CHEW ME UP AND SPIT ME OUT if you dont dig. on issues of social movement theory we must rap because, HOW CAN WE KNOW WHAT WE THINK UNTIL WE HEAR WHAT WE SAY? be bold, be wrong, be corrected, but be a part of the conversation. in the end, we will all be enlightened.
rally round the family with a pocket full of flyers!
peace and love