By BECKY LITTLE
At about 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 14th, 13 members of the Mary Washington chapter of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) piled into a UMW van, which they endearingly call “Vanarchy,” and drove into Washington D.C. to attend a protest.
Mary Washington’s SDS chapter had been invited to Friday’s protest by D.C. SDS, which sent out e-mails about the event to different SDS groups.
“We’re protesting for accessible education,” said senior SDS member Sylvia Sierra. “Which means making education more affordable so that more people can go to college without having huge amounts of debt when they graduate.”
Junior SDS member Kayla Kuhn said she thinks the government bail-out is being used as an excuse to decrease funding for schools and other social programs.
“It’s really part of a larger systemic thing of decreasing government welfare for the people, or any kind of program that is a social program, rather than an initiative for capital gains,” Kuhn said.
At 4:00 p.m., protesters from various SDS chapters began to assemble outside of the Department of Education.
Within half an hour, over 100 students from colleges and universities such as the University of Maryland at College Park, Brown University, Howard University, George Mason University, American University, the University of Rhode Island, Providence College, and the University of Mary Washington had assembled outside of the department.
Students held signs with statements such as “Student Debt Is Our Financial Crisis,” “Bail Out Students Not Banks,” and “Education Is A Right” while chanting slogans to the department building.
According to Jasper Connor, a member of the George Mason SDS chapter who helped organize the protest, similar protests were held in Italy, Spain, Liberia, and Croatia on Nov. 5th.
“We’re organizing a national campaign with a couple of big demands,” said Connor. “All levels of education from k[indergarten] through doctoral school should be universalized because education is a right not a privilege. We also want total and immediate debt forgiveness for students.”
Though Saturday’s protest focused on universal education and student debt, Connor said that SDS chapters are also demanding student-run education.
“[In] a workplace, largely, all the work is done by the workers and not by the bosses,” Connor said. “So students should run curriculum, students should run university life – because students know what the issues are.”
When all of the protesters had assembled, representatives from the various SDS chapters made speeches with loudspeakers as police on motorcycles and bicycles gathered near the protest.
“I make a very good GPA, I am a talented student, and I was actually a merit scholar,” senior SDS member Channon Fulton said to the crowd of protesters. “But I have a problem attending Mary Washington next semester because I am a loan applicant, and not just a good student.”
“That is a shame, when people who are able, willing, and want to and can excel in learning cannot do so because of financial reasons beyond their control,” continued Fulton, amid cheers from the protestors.
Turning to the growing number of police, Fulton asked the officers to join the students’ cause.
“Officer,” said Fulton. “Come over here if you have a daughter, if you have a son. If they want an education, this is your problem.”
Despite Channon’s pleas and cheers from the crowd, the officers remained at their posts.
At 5:00 p.m., the protesters marched to the main entrance of the department building, each holding a copy of a letter addressed to U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.
As Connor asked the department’s security guards to bring Spellings out so that the letters could be handed to her, protesters chanted “We know you see us” to curious members of the department staring down at the crowd through their windows.
Moments later, Connor returned to face the crowd.
“Secretary Spellings is not here apparently,” announced Connor. “You know, I work a lot to pay for my education, but I guess she doesn’t have to work a nine-to-five.”
Because Spellings was absent, the protesters lined up to deliver their letters to Chris, a department security guard, who promised to deliver the letters to Spellings.
“Don’t throw them away,” senior Maggie Smith said, a protester from UMW, as she handed her letter to Chris.
After delivering the letters, the protesters turned onto 4th Street and began their march through the streets of D.C.
As the students marched, chanting slogans such as “When I say student you say power,” by-standers looked on with mixed reactions.
One observer gave the protesters a “thumbs-down” and booed them while others moved to the beat of the students’ chants.
In order to regulate the protest, police cars followed the marchers and officers on bicycles rode beside the marchers, continually reminding them not to take up more than one street lane.
Officers on motorcycles rode ahead of the protesters in order to block off intersections for the students. At Pennsylvania Avenue and 4th, the blockade quickly created by officers almost caused a collision as two speeding cars attempted to come to a halt.
Turning onto H Street, protesters realized that they had no free lane to walk in, and so marched against the stationary cars on the one-lane road that was blocked off by police. Many drivers honked at the protesters as they marched in between the cars.
At 5:50 p.m., the students ended their march in a small park at the corner of 16th and H Street, not far from the White House. Waiting for them were organizers from Global Justice Action and Food Not Bombs as well as television cameras and riot police.
A stage and open microphone were set up in the middle of the park. Though students used the microphone to talk about student debt, others used the microphone to protest the G20 meeting of world leaders, against which Global Justice Action would lead protests later that weekend.
Across the street, a free pot-lock dinner prepared by Food Not Bombs was set up on the sidewalk. Protesters and pedestrians alike grabbed provided plates and helped themselves to the food.
Smith, who was interviewed by a Turkish news station during the free dinner, said that the Food Not Bombs had provided the food for the pot-luck as well as the food at an SDS program that she had attended over the summer.
“They always do a really good job with food,” said Smith. “It was banging then and it’s banging now.”
After a long march and good food, UMW protesters headed home in their vanarchy.
“I think it was a really good turn out, I think a lot of people saw us,” said Sierra after the protest. “We were really visible marching through the streets. We’ll see if they respond to our letters.”
SDS members had previously protested at Sarah Palin’s Fredericksburg rally in October. However, many SDS members had also attended anti-war protests through the Anarchist Social Theory Club.
SDS meets every Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. in Monroe Lobby and the Anarchist Social Theory Club meets every Monday at 5:00 p.m. in Monroe Lobby.