On May 11, four San Francisco State University students calling themselves the Third World Liberation Front 2016 ended a ten-day hunger strike after university President Leslie Wong was forced to respond to their demand for increased funding to the College of Ethnic Studies.
An emergency rally was scheduled for the afternoon of May 11 in preparation for the outcome of their negotiations with the President that took place earlier that morning.
A call from organizers read: “As the Third World Liberation Front, representing the needs of the nation’s only College of Ethnic Studies, we have demanded from our president a budget for our college which would allow its students and faculty to thrive. We feel that this budget for the College of Ethnic Studies should be $8 million. We have asked our university President, Leslie Wong, to negotiate with us, but he has been largely unresponsive.
“We have now given Wong until Wednesday at 11 am to end negotiations with us. If these negotiations are not over by then we, the student body, will escalate our tactics. We are calling on SF and the Bay Area community to stand with us. We plan to use the advancement of ethnic studies to educate, radicalize, and empower our SF and Bay Area communities. We want to begin a process of creating a bridge between our SFSU campus and our Bay Area communities and we feel that this action will be the first step.”
President Wong offered nearly half a million dollars for the College of Ethnic Studies that would allegedly be used towards 11 demands that included among others supporting “the salaries of two full-time tenure-track faculty positions in Africana studies … towards ongoing budget transparency, including but not limited to implementation of independent and transparent audits of the University’s budget … to initiate, grow, and sustain Pacific Islander Studies over the next five years,” and to not punish students for their involvement in protests.
Students involved in the struggle for the defense and advancement of the College of Ethnic Studies spoke of how they were not under any impression they had won everything they asked for, but were absolutely certain of the power they had to take their fight into the next stage of organizing.
Helen Ghebreyesus, a Women and Gender Studies major, spoke with Liberation News and said that she supported the hunger strikers: “The CSU (California State University) system is so corrupted that it affects everyone on campus. If you look at it almost half of the majors on campus are impacted … just because they’re out here defending the College of Ethnic Studies doesn’t mean that other colleges on campus won’t get affected by it. So it’s starting this student activism on campus so that people can understand that they can also demand their rights. There’s talk that tuition is going to increase again so that’s a part of the problem as well … so this is just the beginning.”
Why students are fighting to defend and advance Ethnic Studies
Larry Dorsey, who was born and raised in San Francisco, told students that he had recently heard this: “A parent complained to their high school here in San Francisco that they didn’t want slavery in the curriculum because it made their children ashamed to be white. Think about that. What are they trying to do to history right now? They’re trying to bring it from a Eurocentric perspective. … If they remove Ethnic Studies they’re removing some knowledge that you could gain about the original people that inhabited this land. … If they take away the thing that could teach you about who you are … that’s our identity gone, erased. And that’s what they’ve already been trying to do, and that’s what they’re gonna keep on trying to do.”
Juana Tello of the San Francisco Unified School District reiterated the importance of an education in Ethnic Studies:
“I’m representing hundreds of students in the Ethnic Studies classes in SFUSD. If you didn’t know very much from the legacy of 1968, six years ago students organized at the high school level. Fourteen, 15, 16, 17-year-olds organized to get Ethnic Studies in our high schools. Now, it’s currently at nineteen schools, a beautiful victory. So I’ve been talking to them about this work and this legacy, because when we’re fighting for Ethnic Studies it’s not just for a relevant education, it’s to have relevant careers, it’s to have a relevant profession, it’s to be able to be in our communities fighting back.
“So that when all of you graduate from here it’s not about an individual being successful, it’s about going back to our communities and how we apply the knowledge we’re learning here to both deconstruct the lies that have been told to us and also to build a vision of what we want for our communities. That should not be left at the hands of other people to write our narratives, but for us to write that history.”
#FireChiefSuhr struggle advances
Edwin Lindo of the Frisco 5 hunger strikers expressed solidarity at the celebration rally to congratulate the student strikers and the efforts of those around them. The nearly two and a half week hunger strike by the Frisco 5 in front of the Mission District police station to demand the firing of SFPD Chief Greg Suhr galvanized hundreds to march on the Mayor’s office, received widespread national and international media attention, and has importantly escalated the struggle for justice.
This past weekend sheriffs deputies brutalized both journalists and protesters inside City Hall who were demanding Mayor Lee take action. Ed Lee has re-doubled his support for Chief Suhr, a chief who routinely covers up racist police terror. Lee has since blamed protesters for violence and offered up a pathetic attempt at reforms that in part gives millions of dollars to SFPD and equips officers with “piloting defensive shields, net guns, tasers, bean bag guns.” Lee’s plan is to increase the arsenal of weapons that police employ in their violently racist occupation of predominantly poor Black and Brown communities.
To the same degree that students overburdened by massive tuition fees and debt owe nothing to their administrators, poor and working class people owe nothing to cowardly Mayors and Police Chiefs who work hand-in-hand against their interests. SFSU students in the struggle to defend and advance the College of Ethnic Studies are rightfully taking advantage of a shared people’s history to help guide their movement, and have contributed with a powerful conviction to the struggles that will continue to prevent forces of oppression and exploitation in San Francisco from experiencing business as usual.