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At noon on Wednesday, November 2, an estimated 200 students from Boston-area colleges walked out of class and took to the streets, joining forces with representatives of PHENOM, Jobs With Justice, Mass Uniting and UNITE HERE. Their goal was to bring attention to a variety of concerns related to their colleges and to the current educational system.
The march came on the same day that Occupy Boston marched in solidarity with Occupy Oakland, who a week prior had been subject to a police raid on their encampment which included the use of tear gas and rubber bullets. The students’ march, though not directly related, still bore a few traces of solidarity with Occupy Oakland, including a few signs which made referene
The march began in Dewey Square, where faux-businessmen wearing top hats and holding signs proclaiming “Let them eat Lobster!” incited marchers to “chase” them through the streets of Boston’s financial district, making a few stops before they reached Massachusetts State House.
The theatrical “Protest of the 1%” first brought the students to the front of Bank of America’s headquarters, where they mockingly announced that there would be a $5 surcharge to continue the march, a jab at the bank’s recently-revoked $5 debit charge fee.
Another grievance the protesters lodged against Bank of America was their status as the largest holder of student debt. Allison, a senior at Boston University, said “I have worked my entire life from the moment I picked up a crayon in kindergarten, to the moment I dropped my pencil at the SATs – to be $80,000 in debt.” Nearby, another marcher interrupted to shout, “$160,000! It sucks!”
When asked how many in the crowd were also in debt from student loans, almost all the hands went up. A speaker from PHENOM warned that student loan debt, increasing at $3000 per second, is rapidly approaching $1 trillion and could be the next thing to crash the economy.
Amid chants of “Bank of America – Bad for America!” and “Bankers profit, students pay! Let’s take over Sallie Mae!” the protesters continued their march, heading next to the Harvard Club. On the streets below, workers from UNITE HERE explained that Harvard Club management had withheld health insurance and frozen wage increases for past 6 years.
“We’re here to stand in solidarity with these workers, because an injury to one is an injury to all,” said Gillian Mason, a member of Jobs with Justice and an instructor at the University of Massachusetts. “We want our educational system to work for all of us: Students, workers, and faculty alike!”
At the Massachusetts State House, the emphasis was placed on holding public officials responsible for providing affordable education for the working class – to “Keep Public Education Public,” as the signs said. Student Alexis Marvel explained that UMass Boston’s current healthcare policy forces students to pay 15% of all outside medical services, which can add up to thousands of dollars out of pocket. Heike Schotten, an Associate Professor at UMass Boston, demonstrated how the state had ceased to invest in the University of Massachusetts over the years:
“In the 1970s, the state financed UMass approximately 75% of its budget. That is now less than 25%. To compensate, the university’s administration gets that money from students in the form of fees. This is a travesty. This is why we are here.”