UMass students participate in nationwide Million Student March

Photos by Robert Rigo and Kristen Richard

Undeterred by the afternoon drizzle, hundreds of University of Massachusetts Amherst students gathered for the Million Student March in the Student Union Thursday, Nov. 12. The event was one of over 100 demonstrations at colleges and universities throughout the country.

Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders inspired the nationwide Million Student March in an interview with Katie Couric for Yahoo News in June. Sanders said that, if one million students marched on Washington to demand free higher education, they would achieve their goal.

The rally at UMass, planned to take place outside, moved into the Student Union at 12:30 p.m. Students chanted, “Rain can’t stop the revolution,” and flooded the lobby or lined the balconies, holding signs listing their three national demands: free public higher education, a cancellation of all student debt, and a $15 hourly minimum wage for all campus employees.

Filipe Carvalho, policy and legislative director for the Center for Educational Policy and Advocacy (CEPA), was the first student to speak. He grabbed the megaphone and stood on a chair, his eyes scanning the crowd.

“The power of students, when they come together, cannot be underestimated,” he said.

The crowd cheered as hand-painted black and red banners were unfurled from the balcony, signaling the start of the rally.

“While we’re here to uplift the national demands,” continued Carvalho, “we are also here to do more.”

The demonstrators at UMass proposed six additional demands, including a Survivor’s Bill of Rights for survivors of gender-based violence on and off campus, and a five percent increase in recruitment and retention of students of color over the next four years.

“We do not live single-issue lives,” Carvalho explained of the additional demands.

Before representatives from student organizations spoke, Carvalho asked the crowd to participate in a moment of silence to honor students at the University of Missouri, Ithaca College, and Yale University as they struggle in the midst of racial controversies.

Senior Chrissy Dasco, on behalf of CEPA’s Access and Affordability Team, took to the megaphone next, focusing primarily on the cancellation of student loan debt. Students, she argued, will be held down by student loan debt after graduation and will not be able to actively participate in society.

“A nation that praises freedom and democracy ought not bind its citizens to burdensome debt that excludes us from participating inside democracy,” said Dasco.

After a string of chants rang out from the crowd, Erika Civitarese, a member of Student Labor Action Project (SLAP), climbed up onto a chair to stand above the crowd. The first-generation college student directly addressed the expensive cost of higher education and pressed for a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers.

“We are going to raise up and fight back,” said Civitarese, “I believe that we deserve better.”

Though the individual causes at the rally were diverse, all demanded that students stand together and fight for what they believe in. As students spoke, pieces of paper circulated the crowd via volunteers with clipboards. Students could sign the “Pledge to Act” to “build student power and escalate within the student movement until the demands… become a reality.”

Casey Pease, co-founder of UMass for Bernie, stressed the importance of grassroots organizing in initiating real change.

“In order to achieve our goals, we have to create a grassroots movement, a movement this country hasn’t seen before,” said Pease. “I think we can do it; I think we’re doing it now.”

Here’s a story from WBUR on college affordability. Check it out.

For coverage of the rally, follow Amherst Wire on Twitter.

Email Stephanie Murray at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @StephMurr_Jour.

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