Youth Continue to Fight For Their Future

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The Nation

Youth Continue to Fight For Their Future

Throughout the budget battles, it’s become a common GOP tactic to invoke the martyred image of impoverished future children in order to depict President Obama’s spending plans as being irresponsible and reckless.

"We keep kicking the can down the road and splashing the soup all over our grandchildren,” said Sen. Tom Coburn of the nation’s debt.

“It’s a debate over whether we act responsibly so our children and grandchildren aren’t left carrying the burden of unsustainable debt,” said Senator Orin Hatch.

Ironically, the GOP’s plans to slash budgets in the name of fiscal solvency will not only likely put any future children at a permanent disadvantage, but also currently hurt real-life youth who are now fighting back against austerity.

In addition to groups consisting of young citizens, such as US Uncut, many other cells have sprung up across the country opposing the budget cuts.

Local students from Opa-Locka organized and held a protest Monday to bring awareness to the state of education and how budget cuts are affecting their future.

Fifty participants in Teen Upward Bound, a teen advocacy program that assists in reading and life skills, met at the corner of 13521 NW 27th Avenue Monday afternoon to speak out about their educational rights.

“The students have really taken to this cause,” said Executive Director Jannie Russell in a press release. “We advocate at our program students being leaders in their community at every level.”

The students say they held the protest to bring awareness of steep budget cuts.

Opa-Locka is located in Florida, meaning it falls under the supervision of Gov. Rick Scott, a man who has gone to war with the education budget of his state. It was Scott and Florida’s Legislature that cut $1 billion from education in this year’s budget, a drop of 8 percent, which equals cuts of $542 per student.

Meanwhile, in California, students are legendary for their protests, most recently for the sit-ins staged in opposition to budget cuts at their school. The occupation was in response to CSU President Milton Gordon’s refusal to sign a symbolic declaration in defense of public education when Cal State was facing at least $500 million in cuts during the next fiscal year.

Now that Cal State students are facing an additional 12 percent fee hike, more protests are likely. When the Board of Trustees announced the new fees, they simultaneously approved a salary of $400,000 for the new president of San Diego State, Elliot Hirshman ($350,000 in state funds and $50,000 from the campus’s foundation), a raise of more than $100,000 from his predecessor’s salary.

When the trustees voted to increase fees by 12 percent, around 100 students and faculty members were there to protest the meeting. Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom and student trustee Steve Dixon also opposed the hike.

While the student protest movement does occasionally have brief moments of shining promise (California’s sit-ins and occupations are always heartening to witness), there does appear to be an endurance problem in the youth protest community.

For example, U.S. student protests pale in comparison to what is happening in Greece. Now, that’s for a variety of reasons, first and foremost being that the U.S. and Greek economic situation are vastly different and Greece is in much worse shape than the United States. Additionally, the 2010 Greek riots were in part fueled by residual anger stemming from 2008 when Greek policemen killed a 15-year-old student.

But why the lack of moxie on the U.S. side? Well, part of the problem may be that millions of poor kids have already been priced out of an education. Simeon Talley over at Campus Progress explains how the disinvestment of education has been happening for generations.

[A]s Tom Hayden, one of the co-founders of Students for a Democratic Society, told me “The question for today’s student is not whether they can read Zinn, Anais Nin or Noam Chomsky, but whether they can afford to.”

Hayden added:

The challenges they (students) face on their campuses are far different than the past and perhaps more profound. Tuition costs at UM in 1960 were one hundred dollars, and I can’t remember if that was for a semester or an entire year. So I could obtain my degree, edit the paper, go south to the civil rights movement for two years, return and enter graduate school, and never feel I was falling behind in the competitive economic rat-race…A student today falls tens of thousands of dollars in debt, even after holding two part-time jobs, a burden which limits their career choices. Dropping out for social activism brings competitive disadvantage.

When we take these things into consideration —cost of tuition, cost of living, in addition to possible at-home issues like helping their family with cost of living arrangements, health care payments, insurance—suddenly, it becomes clear that we shouldn’t be disappointed that American youth are “lazy”, but rather amazed that so many students continue to fight for a better future despite having the deck stacked overwhelmingly against them.

Allison Kilkenny

Allison Kilkenny is the co-host of the progressive political podcast Citizen Radio (wearecitizenradio.com) and independent journalist who blogs at allisonkilkenny.com. Her work has appeared in The American Prospect, the L.A. Times, In These Times, Common Dreams, Truthout and the award-winning grassroots NYC newspaper The Indypendent.

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