[News] Puerto Rico: Students Making the Pieces of a Different Society

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Sat May 22 23:50:41 EDT 2010


Author, "Territory, Authority, Rights"
Posted: May 22, 2010 05:37 PM

Protests: Students Making the Pieces of a Different Society


Students in Iran, in Greece, in Puerto Rico -- 
all have shown a noticeable endurance to fight on 
for weeks against governments which are 
threatening their basic rights. Even more 
important, in this struggle they are not only 
protesting but developing the elements for 
alternative politics and social settings. The 
Puerto Rican students who have occupied the 
campus of the Unviersidad de Puerto Rico for 
weeks, surrounded by armed forces, are doing 
urban agriculture, collective cooking, 
environmentally sustainable practices, art, 
music... in brief, they are striving to build the 
elements of a different society.

Here below is the account of one of the 
professors who has joined the students in the strike.

Politics of a New Generation: The Student Strike 
at the University of Puerto Rico
Mareia Quintero-Rivera

They wake up early for a long and unpredictable 
day: practice yoga, separate garbage for 
recycling, and turn on their own radio station 
Radio Huelga "to get in tune with resistance," as 
the slogan goes. Ten out of eleven campuses of 
the University of Puerto Rico, which encompasses 
65,000 students, are on strike. Their fight is 
not new: the vindication of public education. But 
their modes of struggle speak of untraditional 
ways of thinking and making politics.

In the midst of a profound economic crisis, and 
facing a government that is enforcing an 
aggressive program to shrink the public sector, 
students have taken a stand for a social 
dialogue. They demand participation and 
transparency in the decisions concerning how to 
deal with budget cuts. The University of Puerto 
Rico confronts a deficit of nearly $170 million 
for the next academic year 2010-2011, due to a 
reduction on the base of State's incomes from 
which the allocation of its funds is determined. 
This is a consequence of a special law that 
declared a state of fiscal emergency on the 
island (Law 7), approved in March 2009.
Moving away from the violent images of the first 
morning at the Río Piedras Campus' gates, which 
were quickly disseminated and repeated by the 
media, the student movement has succeeded in 
gaining respect and admiration for their 
organized and creative means of leading the 
strike. They have been consistent in their call 
for a politics of dialogue and mediation. Time 
has been one of their allies. Living on Campus 
together, for more than three weeks now, has 
allowed them a space to put into practice and 
strengthen new ways of understanding and undertaking political action.

Organized in committees, they have been emphatic 
in using participatory and horizontal processes 
of decision-making. They speak through different 
voices, and have displayed an extraordinary 
command of diverse registers of discourse: from 
assuming with success their own defense in the 
courts (where the administration tried to 
displace the conflict), to developing an 
alternative network of communications (blogs, 
radio stations, youtube channels), and a wide 
range of artistic interventions. This plurality 
of actors and actions has overshadowed 
traditional political organizations, with their 
confrontational styles and rhetoric.
The student movement has shown a deep 
understanding of the challenges faced by public 
education in our days. But their commitment goes 
beyond a restricted catalogue of demands, or the 
defense of a fixed ideal. Their struggle arises 
as an ongoing search for a different order of 
things. As they declared on the first emission of 
Radio Huelga after ten days of strike: "We are 
not the same. This process is part of our aims. 
We are being transformed day by day, and we have 
started seeing things in another way. This strike 
contains the desire of another world, which is 
possible if we construct it in the process. 
Making it from within." While developing 
strategies to enable a negotiation with the 
administration, an active calendar of academic 
and cultural activities has been organized with 
the support and solidarity of professors, 
artists, farmers, and many others. This includes: 
daily lectures on a wide variety of topics, 
poetry readings, film screenings, traditional 
bomba dance workshops, and even a communal garden 
with lettuce, tomatoes, plantains, basil, and 
other crops which they plan to maintain after the 
strike is over. Five major concerts have taken 
placed at the campuses of Río Piedras, Humacao, 
Cayey, Arecibo, and Mayagüez, with the 
participation of some of the most recognized 
Puerto Rican musicians of different styles and 
generations. They celebrated Mother's Day cooking 
together and inviting their families to the University's gateways.

In the academic community, and in the Puerto 
Rican society in general, there is a growing 
consensus that the crisis cannot be faced blindly 
following what the "committees of fiscal 
efficiency" decide, as the University's 
administration and the Government have tried to 
make us believe. The student movement has 
vindicated the University as a place for critical 
thinking, for an informed debate of ideas, for 
the development of alternatives, and for 
democratic participation. They have done it with 
contagious enthusiasm, firmly but beautifully, 
throwing flowers to the policemen who surround campus.

After a massive ratification of the strike by a 
student's general assembly held last Thursday, 
May 13th, the administration has responded with 
the astonishing decision of closing the Río 
Piedras Campus until July 31, and calling on the 
Police to surround and take control of the 
University grounds. The closure of our 
institution is a devastating act that compromises 
too many substantial elements of academic life. 
It means the paralysis of important scientific 
research done at the campus laboratories- which 
researchers have been able to maintain during the 
strike-, the silencing of the University's radio 
station, the risk of loosing the semester and 
punishing mainly those who are candidates for a 
degree, the cancelling of the summer session, the 
ceasing of legal, psychological, social work, and 
other clinics that provide services to the 
community, the uncertainty of hundreds of 
professors that work for hire and whose contracts 
end this month, the interruption of international 
agreements and collaborative efforts, the 
suspension of funding proposals for research, 
among others. Most important, it conveys the 
message that there is no place for a social 
dialogue, and that dissidence will be ignored.

Professor at Columbia University. www.saskiasassen.com. Twitter @SaskiaSassen
Author of Territory, Authority, Rights (Princeton 2008).

Follow Saskia Sassen on Twitter: 

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