Yesterday, on June 28th, six young high school and college students held a press conference inside the Georgia State Capitol and were later arrested outside in an act of civil disobedience. This was the second action of this kind in Atlanta since April 2011. The youth were protesting the passage of Georgia House Bill 87 (HB87) and were there to send a message to other undocumented youth.
Nataly Ibarra, a 16-year old high school student testifies: “We are doing this because we want other undocumented youth to realize they need to be unafraid- unafraid of the politicians, of the police, of anyone who tells them they deserve fewer rights than anyone else. We will no longer remain in the shadows.”
The event drew several hundred community supporters and featured speakers from the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta, and the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance, and former members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
On Tuesday, April 5th, 2011, seven undocumented students risked prison and deportation to protest recent laws passed to ban undocumented students from attending college. The students engaged in non-violent civil disobedience and sat defiantly in the middle of Courtland Street in downtown Atlanta. As dozens of police arrived on the scene and approached the seated students with handcuffs, the students and their supporters chanted “Education, Not Deportation!”
Starting this fall, undocumented students cannot attend Georgia State University, the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Medical College of Georgia, or Georgia College and State University. Coincidentally, these are the same southern universities which banned African Americans from attending college more than fifty years ago. The seven students are a part of a national movement seeking to pass the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act). The DREAM Act was first introduced to Congress in 2001, but has yet to pass successfully into law. The DREAM Act would apply to persons who (1) enter the country before the age of sixteen, (2) graduate high school or obtain a GED, (3) have good moral character, and (4) have at least five years of continuous presence in the US.
Before their act of civil disobedience, the students shared their stories. Georgina Perez, 21, shared that she has been in the US since she was three years old. “I am doing this for my friends who are in the same situation and also for my mother who did everything she could to give me a better life and to have an education. We are being denied an education and criminalized for wanting an education!” Perez was the first to be arrested.
David Ramirez, who arrived in the US when he was one year old, declared: “If you are undocumented, don’t be afraid to defend your dignity. If you are an ally, don’t be afraid to be an advocate. We need to come out of the shadows and show the State of Georgia we are not afraid.”
The video, Estudiantes Arrestados Durante Protesta en Atlanta (Students Arrested During Protest in Atlanta) produced by Mundo Hispanico, documents the testimonies and arrests of these students. Dayanna Rebolledo, in the moments before she was taken to the Atlanta City jail, speaking in Spanish, said: “They can’t make us feel like we are criminals or that we are anything less than human beings.”
After watching weeks of protests in Jordan, the collapse of the Tunisian government, and mass rallies for democratic reforms in Yemen, all eyes are now on Egypt, as the most populous country in the Arab world erupts in an unprecedented wave of civil disobedience. For four days, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have flooded streets throughout the country, calling for the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak and demanding an end to government corruption, economic inequalities, and authoritarian rule. Many of these brave protesters include young men and women who, as one Cairo professor describes, feel that “they may actually be able to determine their own destinies” for the first time in their lives. Solidarity actions are being organized around the world in support of the Egyptian protestors.
In response to increasingly violent protests, the Egyptian government deployed its state army to confront the civilian uprising. Independent human rights observers have counted more than 1,200 protestors who have been detained, and the government has cut off all access to the internet as well as cell phone transmissions in some areas. Yet, despite the chaos, it has also been reported via live news streaming that protesters have formed a massive human shield to protect the Egyptian Museum, the most extensive collection of Egyptian artifacts and mummies in the world.
While these protests undoubtedly represent a growing tide of mobilizations for democracy and economic reforms in North Africa and the Middle East, in the case of Egypt, it is still unclear if President Mubarak will respond with further repression, if he will institute reforms as recommended by the United States, or if there will be a President Mubarak at all.
It began four weeks ago. Thousands of students at campuses across Puerto Rico began a strike to demand their right to quality public education. After the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) instituted $100 million in budget cuts, and in part inspired by other student movements in California earlier this spring, students began occupying their campuses. Sustained by food and water tossed over fences by family, and encouraged by faith leaders and unions across the country, it appears that these students will remain committed into month two until the university agrees to come to the table. University professors and workers have declared their support for the student strike and are strongly urging the UPR administration to begin negotiations. Professor and dramatist Roberto Ramos-Perea has sent an appeal to the international community outlining the reasons for the strike and documenting the human rights abuses that are being committed in response to the strike, such as the refusal of light, water, and food to the students. Thus far, the university has refused negotiations and has only responded with the deployment of riot police. Curiously, coverage of this historic strike by Puerto Rican students has been virtually non-existent among U.S. media sources. Democracy Now, however, is one exception.
This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend a welcome party for the four students who are marching from Miami to D.C. for immigration reform. It was a beautiful event filled with music, food, and people from throughout the Atlanta community. The event was organized by the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights and the Georgia Association for Latino Elected Officials, among others. The four students shared with us stories of their march thus far, including a recent encounter with a KKK anti-immigrant rally in south Georgia. Luckily, the students were accompanied by local NAACP members, and were able to sing freedom songs together while surrounded by the KKK. As they move through Atlanta, supporters are worried for their safety as they pass through Gwinnett County, where Sheriff “Butch” Conway has instituted serious anti-immigrant measures in his police force. According to Georgia immigrant rights leader, Adelina Nicholls: “Sheriff Conway is one of the most dangerous figures in Georgia, who has turned Gwinett County into a place of fear, racial profiling, arrest, and deportation.” While the welcome party was a time of celebration and fellowship, there was also recognition that there may be further incidents of fear and intimidation for the students on their long journey to the capitol. However, the students shared their unwavering hope and commitment to their cause with the audience and will proceed north in the days to come…
In a post I wrote on January 1st, 2010, I highlighted the effort of four immigrant students who intend to walk 1,500 miles from Miami to Washington, D.C. along a Trail of Dreams. Their goal? To inspire a nation to stand up for immigration reform that respects human dignity. With great enthusiasm for their continuation of a long tradition of student activism, mirroring the courage of the Freedom Riders (but this time traveling north), it is exciting to announce that these students, along with many others who have joined them along their long journey, will be arriving in Atlanta on Saturday, February 27. A festive welcome party hosted by the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights will be held at the First Iconium Baptist Church. To follow the Trail of Dreams, click on this map.
Fifty years ago today, on February 1st, 1960, four black students in Greensboro, North Carolina refused to leave a segregated lunch counter in a direct challenge to Jim Crow laws in the South. This tactic of civil disobedience spread like wildfire, especially among students- by the end of the year, more than 50,000 students defiantly and strategically used the sit-ins to protest racial segregation and injustice. A great article by Hasan Kwame Jeffries in Race-Talk rightfully highlights the importance of recognizing that the students were not only protesting against something, they were also positively asserting their human rights and actively living out their alternative visions of a free and just society. (Photo: Courtesy of Greensboro News and Record)
As many of us were preparing for festive celebrations on New Years Eve, a group of college students in Miami were preparing for a different kind of celebration: a 1,500 mile march from Miami to Washington, DC to highlight the dignity and rights of immigrant families in the United States. Inspired by the great marches of the Black Freedom Movement, such as the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965, and the Farm Workers movement, which included a 340-mile march from Delano to Sacramento in 1966, these students are hoping to bring attention to the discrimination and human rights struggles faced by immigrants today. In reading an article in the LA Times, I was struck by a quote by the students’ legal counsel, who stated: “They really believe they can make a difference and are willing to put their lives on the line, but they are going to be walking through some very unfriendly places for immigrants.” The determination of these students to march for four months in the name of social justice (despite the very real risk of violence) is reminiscent of the courage held by the students of the 1961 Freedom Rides. This march may in fact demonstrate for this generation the power that youth have always had, however idealistic or naive they may first appear, in shaping the moral convictions of a nation.
Students around the country who have mobilized with the United Students Against Sweatshops are celebrating as the target of their human rights campaign, Russell Athletic, caved to public pressure on Tuesday and moved to rehire more than 1,200 workers in Honduras who had been fired for organizing a union in order to collectively bargain for their labor rights. An article in the New York Times sheds light on this victory for global student/worker solidarity.
A teen in Cobb County, GA withdrew from his high-school after being told to dress “more manly.” Read the story here. The school says his mode of dress disrupted class. He says he won’t attend where he’s not allowed to express himself. Does the student have a right to dress however he wants? Is the school’s response smart policy or gender discrimination? Should the school have taken a position on the matter at all? If so, what do you think it should have been?