American colleges and universities have a proud history of being the centers of social consciousness and political activity. North Carolina's black colleges, in particular, gave birth to student protest during the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Students stood at the head of a number of protest movements--civil rights, anti-war, feminism, environmentalism--and they were instrumental in a wide range of political activities, including election campaigns, picket lines, sit-ins and marches. Yet somewhere along the way, between 1960 and the present, we lost a generation of youth activists ... or have we?
America is on the brink of war with severe implications for all people of color at home and abroad. Sadly, many of my peers struggle to grasp the magnitude of the Bush administration's ever-encroaching imperialism and racist foreign policy fueled by personal interest. There are a myriad of reasons that explain the overwhelming and resounding "duh" of my generation. Our educational institutions get a grade "F" in developing student critical and political thinking skills. To make matters even worse, students are coming of age in a technologically driven society. We are more likely to join a list-serv, send an e-mail, or log into a chat room than have face to face interaction. This lack of social connection breeds apathy and disengagement from society. In this environment, is it any surprise that some students fail to realize how this war effects their daily lives?
We are not connecting the dots! The budget cuts of education that are due to the wartime budget greatly impact low-income students of color. College tuition will continue to increase to finance this $380 billion a year war in Iraq (Racial Justice 9/11). Students of color are being targeted at extremely high levels by the administration, where disproportionate numbers of Latinos and African Americans are serving in the military and especially as the front lines troops. Military recruiters pimp young low-income minorities because they are less likely to have resources to fund their college education, are more likely to wind up working in a fast-food joint, and are in avoidance of the criminal justice system. To paraphrase an article from the Green County Democrat, military recruiters charm naive, desperate minorities with dubious promises-cash bonuses, loan repayments, college scholarships, etc.
Moreover, the provisions in the 2001-2002 financial aid form deny aid if the student has not registered for the draft or has a criminal record, which is an explicit violation of our constitutional rights. The denial of financial aid is a denial of constitutional guarantees of due process (Amendment VI) and self-incrimination (Amendment V). Denial of financial aid is an ex-post facto law and a violation of the equal protection clause (Amendment 14). Besides, financial aid is a right because all citizens pay taxes and have a right to those benefits.
Student debt is rising as more and more students are taking out loans to finance their education. Students devote four years or more of their lives to college in order to acquire jobs and ascend the economic ladder. But these dreams are threatened by the current U.S. economic crisis and a $157 billion deficit that make businesses less likely to hire recent college graduates. Yet, the war is expected to cost North Carolinians nearly $2 billion in taxes.
Students are concerned about all of these impacts, but the scariest threat of all is the USA Patriot Act. This Patriot Act allows the government and FBI to have access to international student academic and personal files, to collect information and detain students indefinitely without notifying them or their parents. And surprisingly, educational institutions are complying without liability. Bush's "war on terrorism" is really a war on people of color. It is an excuse to target people of color, undermine our rights, spy on us, and to increase the powers of the police, military and INS to racially profile.
Contrary to the misconception that student activism is history, students do care. Yes, we are socially conscious. No, we are not completely apathetic toward the social justice agenda and anti-war movement. We do understand how Bush's war is affecting our lives, communities, families, and the succeeding generation of children. If we are indeed Americans living under innate principles of life, liberty, democracy and the pursuit of happiness, we must stand up for the protection of our civil liberties as well as our brothers and sisters across the globe. An injustice for one is an injustice for all. We do realize that if this war is not stopped, we might lose a generation of people of color. Is this the government's intent? Furthermore, our generation will be left with the onus of cleaning up the mess of this war on Iraq. Sept. 11, 2001, was one clear example of how our generation is already paying for the preceding generations' bad choices. We know we have been at war with Iraq, dropping bombs since 1991, and killing half a million children as a result. We see their blood on our hands!
Erica Thomas is a programming and development assistant at the Southern Regional Economic Justice Network in Durham and a former exchange student at N.C. Central University. D'Weston Haywood is a sophomore at NCCU from Raleigh and an organizer of the "Uhuru Anti-War Rally" held Tuesday on the NCCU campus.