The Time is Now

Originally published in February 2011 in Mirror Magazine.

By Rocio Rayo

How far will we let people push us before we push back? How many rights will we give up, before we speak up and demand equality and justice? Who will we allow to be oppressed before we stand up with them?

Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:  Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free…Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.  That however is not the case in most places around the world.  Including the leading economic powers of the world.

This was apparent last November when students began protesting in London.  The Independent reports that the general consensus that brought the students out was,  “…anger. The rights afforded by education are not simply the reserve of the elite, a claim implied by some commentators.”  The Independent further reported that:  “the fury on display also seemed to contain other strands, such as a sense of ‘them and us’, and the conviction that direct action was the only way to convey the desired message to those in power. If such sentiments come to be shared more widely, this may turn out to be no unseasonal squall, but the first storm in a new winter of discontent.”  This is an example of students organizing and unifying for a common goal.  Sometimes talking and holding meetings is not enough to make people listen. The students in London after the riots had the attention of the world.

At the same time in New York City, one of the most “progressive” cities in the world, last November, the City University of New York’s Board of Trustees voted to raise the tuition beginning in Spring 2011.  A 5% increase for Spring 2011, along with a 2% increase for Fall 2011.  When students are already struggling to enroll in school, while working, or raising a family, how can this tuition increase be in compliance with Article 26 of  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights?  This is an example of narrowing the pool of people allowed to obtain higher education not by means of merit but by what their financial means are.  The CUNY students did not riot though.  We barely protested.  The information for the minimal protests that were taking place in resistance to the increase was not given out until the last minute, and there was not a feeling of fire, or organization.  When will we have swallowed enough to be mad?  When will we be ready to fight?  There is a small group who I know is ready, and will be ready.  However, until our communities are sick of being targeted, or witnessing injustices, the people in charge will continue to exploit and neglect.

This feeling of “them and us” is not one that is new.  In Bill Quigley’s “Time for a U.S. Revolution – Fifteen Reasons” he states:  “the government does not work for regular people. It appears to work quite well for big corporations, banks, insurance companies, military contractors, lobbyists, and for the rich and powerful. But it does not work for people.”  He goes on to say that:  “The 1776 Declaration of Independence stated that when a long train of abuses by those in power evidence a design to reduce the rights of people to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it is the peoples right, in fact their duty to engage in a revolution.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day just passed on January 17, 2011, and his words still resonate loudly today.  Dr. King preached over forty years ago that “a true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.”  At a sermon given here in New York Cityat RiversideChurchhe said that “We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing oriented” society to a “person oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”   We had a day off of work, and school, but if we are continuing to allow injustices at any level, how well did we honor Dr. King, and his struggle?

Whenever there is a small group of people telling a larger group of people that they aren’t good enough to have an education, that is bullying, and an abuse of power.  We must defend ourselves.  Malcolm X says:  “…don’t even call it violence when it’s in self defense…call it intelligence.”  It is time to stand up, together. Let’s go.

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