Got Activism? From Wisconsin to Ohio, NEA Student Members Do!
Forty years ago, NEA student leaders organized a broad coalition to change the Constitution of the United States and lower the voting age to 18. Today, from Wisconsin to Ohio, from collective bargaining rights to college affordability campaigns to efforts to protect Pell Grants, NEA Student members have joined together to advocate for quality public education and give a strong voice to the next generation of teachers.
Through the efforts of Student members active in the high profile Got Tuition? Campaign, in 2007 NEA helped pass the College Cost Reduction and Access Act, which cut in half the interest rates on subsidized student loans, increased the scope of the Pell Grant program, and created new grants for those who pledge to teach in schools serving low-income students.
Project 18: The Untold Story of How a Group of "un-hip" Student Activists Changed the Constitution
More recently, in the face of assaults on union rights and collective bargaining, and severe cuts to education budgets in states across the nation, Student members have been an integral part of protests, recall efforts, and grassroots organizing.
In Wisconsin, it was the Student members who came up with the plan to stage a sleep-in at the state capitol, which attracted national attention for its show of solidarity at the height of the protests against Gov. Scott Walker’s drastic policies.
“We called a meeting, bought pizza, and got 70 college students to sign up,” recalls NEA Student Program Chair Tommie Leaders, who slept on the Capitol’s cold marble floors for 12 days. (Though he confesses that with all the organizing and demonstrations, the students didn’t get much shut-eye during the “sleep-in.”)
Leaders believes that the resourcefulness and enthusiasm of NEA student members leads them to accomplish, or at least try, what others may think is impossible.
“One of the big strengths we have is our creativity as to how to get things off the ground. We can take limited funds and stretch them pretty far—after all, as college students if we want to eat something other than Ramen noodles we have to get creative.”
Even with a full plate of Ramen noodles, the NEA Student Program continues to innovate with its new Student Program Action Movement (SPAM), which will help them organize in the face of upcoming state battles and the 2012 elections.
It is not a cliché. The power of engaged, motivated, and organized young people can make a difference in our world, and the NEA Student Program has a long history of organizing for change and creating a better future for educators and their students.
The Stereotypes are Wrong
“I registered to vote as soon as I turned 18,” recalls Molly Rogers, a special education major at Youngstown State University, who can’t imagine having to wait until 21 to make her voice known at the ballot box.
Rogers is an active member of the Ohio Student Education Association and at 20 has already organized rallies, distributed petitions, lobbied her friends (and strangers) and testified against legislation attacking workers’ rights and public education.
“Speaking in front of senators and representatives I was very nervous, but this is about our future and is also affecting teachers now. I was proud that we were involved,” recounts Rogers, who was active in the efforts against Senate Bill 5, which targets union rights and collective bargaining.
Even though Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed the measure into law, Rogers was part of a grassroots ballot initiative to repeal the bill, which included collecting close to 1.3 million signatures, more than any other campaign in Ohio history.
She believes that stereotypes about young people as unconcerned about the issues affecting the world around them are wrong; they are aware, and ready to participate, and even change the world, when they feel engaged.
“We can make a change…we can have an impact, we can make a difference. We can take baby steps, reach out to our community, town and state, and even the national level and help transform the big picture.”
From voting to collective bargaining rights, college affordability campaigns to efforts to protect Pell Grants, the NEA Student Program has a long history of organizing for change and creating a better future for educators and their students.
Molly Rogers, an NEA student member raising her voice for union rights.
Members of Project 18 Honored at 2011 RA
Watch a clip from the Twenty-sixth Amendment certification ceremony on July 5, 1971 in the White House.
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