The Million Student March (MSM) has rocked the University of California, Santa Barbara campus with four bold demands: free college tuition, the cancellation of student debt, the $15 minimum wage for student workers and divestment by the UC from private prisons. On April 14, approximately 250 students rallied together a second time and called for this economic revolution.
But in this case, imminent change seems questionable.
There is currently no official response from UCSB administration regarding these demonstrations. The cause does not push for any particular legislation addressing their target issues nor does it lobby any politicians to pursue their interests. There has been no tangible outcome produced from these protests thus far, proving to be unproductive in inciting real change in the system.
However, the demonstrations have excelled in creating a cohesive community of impassioned students and raising awareness on crucial economic issues.
The issues brought to light were not found in vain — according to the 2016 report by newyorkfed.org, the U.S. has racked up approximately $1.23 trillion in total U.S. student debt. Last December, the University of California divested $25 million from private prisons (a success attributed to the Afrikan Black Coalition) but still has $425 million invested in Wells Fargo, which owns over a million shares in private prison firms.
It is clear that the motive of the movement is rooted in solidarity. Although the organization is not formally affiliated with any presidential candidate, the MSM dialogue is heavily influenced by Bernie Sanders’ platform. Sanders’ call for free public education is one of the driving forces behind this cause, stated on the Million Student March website, “as [Sanders] says himself, we won’t win free college without a mass movement of millions on the street.”
The campaign aims to create a powerful image of students revolting against these injustices, emblematic of the conviction “power of the people,” a term that rings in most American ears. With respect to that outlined purpose, the Million Student March is doing its job.
Over 100 college campuses marched last November. The hashtag #MillionStudentMarch trended rampantly throughout social media — the images and videos of students chanting and picketing were shared all over the globe. The image of a united congregation of students permeated all forms of media and proved to be an uplifting symbol for some communities.
Many praise the successes of MSM in educating the public on critical economic problems and unifying financially- and socially-oppressed students. But others regard the demonstrations and demands with disdain. Terms like “hand-outs,” “socialist solution” and “economically unsustainable” make numerous reappearances in the argument of the opposition.
Despite the mixed reaction from the public regarding MSM’s demands, the awareness of these controversial economic issues are in fact significant, good or bad press notwithstanding. From these protests, more people are informed and now paying attention (and we need more of this in the world).
Yet, this does still not compensate for the lack of palpable progress in changing the system.
The main defect in MSM’s efficacy is the dependence on politicians to take up the cause. This movement takes up the message of Sanders, but leaves the invitation to Washington open ended. Without a straightforward venture, a void forms within this invitation, diminishing the potency of the overall message.
It is nice to picture the “big wigs” of Washington shivering in their seats as a mob of citizens shout their demands from the streets below because that is how it should be. The power in our government derives in the people, and the voice of the voter should be the loudest for politicians to hear
But the truth is, there are other authorities that influence the hands of politicians. An open-ended cry is not strong enough to coerce politicians to comply with the “rough draft” reform. If the challenge had a particular direction, such as lobbying Congressmen or directly addressing the UC Regents to reconstruct the system, change is possible. Narrowing the scope of attack would make tangible reform within reach.