By MARTY GOODMAN
Without warning, war was declared on the mainly working-class students at City College of New York (CCNY), when early Sunday morning, Oct. 20, the CCNY administration shut down the Guillermo Morales/Assata Shakur Center, a hub of student activism since 1989. Morales, a Puerto Rican independence fighter, and Shakur, a former member of the Black Liberation Army now living in Cuba, were former CCNY students.
The attack coincides with a militarization drive on New York City campuses. The Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) was reintroduced last spring at CCNY for the first time since it had been booted off campus in 1971 after militant protests by mostly Black and Puerto Rican students. ROTC has also been introduced at York College, Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, and the College of Staten Island.
The war drive was intensified by an invitation from City University of New York (CUNY) to former General David Petraeus to teach a course at Macaulay Honors College in Manhattan. Petraeus was a top commander in Iraq and headed President Obama’s war on Afghanistan. He later accepted the post of CIA director but resigned last year after a so-called sex scandal. A March 6, 2013, article in the British Guardian linked Petraeus and his top aides to torture in Iraq.
Petraeus’ CUNY course is entitled “Are We on the Threshold of the North American Decade?” Petraeus was offered an outrageous $200,000 to teach the three-hour course once a week. Protests forced him to back down and accept $1 instead. Student and faculty protesters have demanded that Petraeus get off campus, not because of his ideas, but because he is a war criminal.
Thus far, some eight students and supporters have been arrested, some brutalized, in angry but peaceful protests against the loss of the Center and militarization. Two of the protesters were arrested by NYPD at a Morales/Shakur rally and suspended from school on charges of inciting to riot and “endangering” the school. They face a year in jail.
Protests against Petraeus are being led by the Ad Hoc Committee Against the Militarization of CUNY, a coalition of campus-based organizations. Sharmin Hossain, a student activist in the Ad Hoc committee, put it this way to Socialist Action, “CUNY is going through heavy changes that are happening without the consent of students. The administration is taking a lot of actions to not only limit free speech but also to impose ROTC on public campuses to continue recruiting young people of color in New York City, while bringing in David Petraeus, a war criminal and ex-CIA director.”
Hossain continued, “There was a Sept. 17 private gala fundraiser for Petraeus outside the Macaulay Honors College, where Petraeus was honored and speaking. Over 150 protesters rallied and picketed outside Macaulay. Police were very violent and repressive and continued to barricade protesters. Police violently attacked and brutalized six student leaders. The police decided to beat them although they were not resisting arrest or blocking roads. They were not violent. This was a peaceful protest, and police attacked without notice. Protesters now face criminal charges.”
The Morales/Shakur Center was a resource for many political and student organizations with anti-imperialist and anti-racist politics. That status has now been revoked, which has angered many students. “They are meeting the needs of top notch capitalist bureaucrats and not the needs of working people of color,” said Hossain. The hearing date for all eight protesters is 9:30 a.m., Jan. 19, at 100 Center Street in Lower Manhattan.
Ominously, students and professors will likely face a new CUNY “expressive conduct” policy, which, in effect, will ban most political activity on campus. Activists say the proposed policy is expected to be passed by the CUNY Board of Trustees behind closed doors over the holidays. Says Hossain, “The administration wants students to believe that any form of direct non-violent action is a criminal act. The [expressive conduct] policy would bar faculty from peaceful protests, limit free speech, and limit the ability to flyer and congregate in groups of more than 10. Groups planning to protest must notify the administration. We have seen the policy draft, and it restricts First Amendment free speech. We have videos of cops attacking and punching student leaders one a time. The police show so much ruthlessness towards students. CCNY has backed the police attacks.”*
Students have received support from the Professional Staff Congressional Congress (PSC) union, which represents about 25,000 faculty and staff. The PSC is engaged in a fight against “Pathways,” a teaching program that emphasizes test scores over actual learning. In a poll of the membership, 92% of the PSC rejected Pathways.
The Morales/Shakur Center at CCNY was used by some 30 student organizations. It was established in 1989 during the occupation of 13 campus buildings statewide and a massive march on Wall Street to protest a $200 tuition hike, a struggle won by students. In October, the Center was renamed the “Career Center.”
Recently, CCNY also established the Colin Powell Center, named after the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the 1991 Gulf War and the 1989 U.S. military attack on Panama. Powell infamously presented to the United Nations the Bush administration’s fake “evidence” of Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq.
In 1969, African American and Puerto Rican students occupied CCNY’s South Campus and won “open admissions,” a policy that allowed anyone with a New York City High School diploma the right to attend CCNY for free. In 1975, amidst a phony “budget crisis” engineered by the banks with the help of Democratic Party politicians, tuition was reintroduced. Since 1991, CCNY tuition has increased 300%, resulting in a drop in the enrollment of African American students from 31.2% in 2001 to 14.4% in 2010.
The attacks on the historically activist CCNY campus, located in Harlem, represent a major blow to public education and the entire working class, especially the African American, Hispanic, and immigrant communities. In addition, there has been an illegal NYPD infiltration program of Muslim organizations on campus. But the struggle continues. A Nov. 25 protest outside the Board of Trustees drew 150-200 angry protesters. There were no arrests. On Dec. 2 there was a protest against Petraeus, who was honored at a New York Historical Society gala, which has also honored war criminal Henry Kissinger in the past. Tables went for up to $100,000.
Capitalism is in crisis and would like to smash all centers of organized resistance to policies of endless war, racism and poverty. The struggle against the ruling-class agenda at CCNY/CUNY will be a long one, one that needs mass support. Labor and community groups need to join the fight. We say, “Re-open the Morales/Shakur Center! Open admissions at all CUNY campuses! Petraeus/ROTC off campus! Abolish the Board of Trustees! Drop all charges against protesters!”
Photo: CUNY students rally. By Marty Goodman / Socialist Action