The budget cuts in New Jersey are already beginning to impact higher education in various ways (increased enrollment numbers and higher class sizes, etc.). For months now, at my campus, I’ve witnessed my coworkers fret and fume about the cuts, while student activists have, to be honest, been timid and hesitant in their response, at best.
Today was a statewide day of action against the budget cuts. At TCNJ, several students from Student Government and groups like the Progressive Student Alliance (PSA) solicited signatures on letters from their peers; letters that they said would be used in their lobbying efforts in Trenton. Fair enough.
But it’s the students at Rutgers, led by a dynamic team of progressive activists, who are leading the way. And it ain’t rocket science….
A People's History of the United States (Wikipedia)
My freshman seminar is titled “Radicals and Rabble Rousers: Race, Class and Struggles for Justice in America.” Alongside Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, we read works by and about various radical movements and activists. If the mood of this crop of first-year students is anything to go by, I have to say that the future of student radicalism in New Jersey is looking a lot brighter than a year or two years ago.
Don’t get me wrong: they aren’t about to rush off and construct barricades anytime soon. But there’s something different about the sincerity and seriousness with which this group of students seem to be tackling the course material. Discussions about race and class, about “history from below,” about capitalism and slavery, social change and revolution, often elicit defensive reactions from first-year students who are more firmly tethered to ruling-class ideologies than they would like to admit. This time around, however, I’ve noticed among them a more pronounced openness to critical inquiry, and to questioning received ideas.
Call me a vulgar materialist if you will, but I think this openness has to do with the fact that New Jersey’s economy is fast disappearing down the toilet, and many students can see their jobs, their dreams, their futures being flushed down with it. When I asked how many of their families had been affected in some way by the economic crisis, a good three-quarters of the class raised their hands. Small wonder then, that the notion that we live in an unjust and unequal society doesn’t seem all that far-fetched to them.
How bad is it in New Jersey, and where are we headed? It is now nearly a year since Republican Chris Christie won the gubernatorial elections and some nine months since he took office and stepped up his predecessor’s efforts to balance the budget on the backs of working people. Christie’s unapologetic anti-union stance, his publicly professed determination to cut back on “entitlements” (read: union benefits), and his shameless attempts to divide public- and private-sector workers have, in these few short months, had a devastating impact not only on the livelihoods of thousands across the state but on the ideological climate as well. Continue reading