On March 1st the group Occupy Education, part of the larger Occupy Movement, called for a National Day of Action on behalf of higher education in the United States and across the globe. Here in Chicago events centered around the National Education Association (N.E.A.) Higher Education Conference (held at the Palmer House Hilton). Members attending that conference led a group of educators, students, and concerned citizens on a march through the Loop. The group’s first stop was at East-West University where a picket line marched in front of the main entrance to demand the reinstatement of Curtis Keyes, a Professor at East-West who was fired for his union organizing activities on that campus, as well as pressure the university to meet with the now federally recognized union to negotiate a contract. From there those taking part in the march stopped in front of the main building of Columbia College Chicago at 600 South Michigan and were joined by members of Occupy Columbia and the student group C.A.C.H.E. (Coalition Against Corporate Higher Education). A picket line was formed here as well to protest rises in tuition at Columbia that are accompanying cuts and massive restructuring about to occur in the college curriculum as part of the school’s year-long “Prioritization” process. The student organization C.A.C.H.E. took over the march after this point from the N.E.A. and led the group from Michigan and Congress first to Chase Bank (one of the major lenders for student loans) and then to De Paul University where they joined members of Occupy De Paul to protest a 5 % raise in tuition rates.
This day long series of marches, rallies, and pickets was intended to expose to the general public the dire state of Higher Education in the United States, which has become unaffordable for average citizens at the same time that a Bachelor’s degree is needed to even be considered for most jobs. (A friend of mine without a college degree was recently turned down for a telemarketing position that required a Bachelor’s degree of all its applicants even though it paid just a few cents over the state minimum wage of $8.25.) Those taking part in the National Day of Action all had different perspectives on the solutions needed but all agreed that immediate changes are needed to keep college education open to the largest possible number of people.
I had the privilege to march along with both the N.E.A. led and then student led groups during the course of the day. It was humorous to note the large Chicago police presence, which got even larger as C.A.C.H.E took over control of the march from the N.E.A. Even without the police presence it seemed clear that protestors were determined to keep the event peaceful in order to gain public support. Many bystanders in the Loop stopped to learn more about why we were marching and more than a few nodded their heads in agreement. Local news coverage was disappointing, but that is to be expected of our geriatric journalists in Chicago. Unless the news comes to them, they don’t bother reporting it. Next time I guess we should march over to CBS studios and the Tribune tower. Occupy De Paul got a quick reference in the evening news as did the portion of the march that occurred in front of Chase Bank.
The most heartening event of the day occurred right before I was about to head home that afternoon. A police officer said to me, “Hey, you can’t leave. The protest ain’t over yet.” I told him I had been outside most of the day and needed to head in to warm up and get some food. He let me know he was just kidding around with me but then we had a brief conversation. We agreed that college should be open to all who needed or even wanted it. We also agreed that peaceful protest was the best way to reach those outside of the college and university campuses, many of whom don’t realize just how bad things have become. He worried about his own families chances of going to college and being able to live the American Dream. I worried about my loan debt and the ongoing struggles I’ve faced to find a full time job let alone a career. Problems in search of an answer. March 1st was simply the beginning.