Student Participation in the Fight for $15 Movement: Why isn't there more?

By Isaac Uriburu

Demonstrators Take to the Streets of New York / NY Daily News

I am a first year college student, and this is my first time ever participating in any large student movement. Out of high school, I certainly did not think I would help organize a large movement like Fight for 15. I can only describe it as awesome, since my almost spontaneous involvement in the movement leaves me at a loss of words. I got to meet great student organizers from universities all over New York City, all with a ton of experience at organizing. Although some are not as radically left leaning as I am, we all have one goal; 15 dollars and a union.

The meetings between all the universities occur downtown in the SEIU building. The representatives from each school who attend share their progress in fighting for 15 and occasionally paint on things. One weekend, we painted banners for for the April 15th action. I designed the banners with McDonald’s most iconic mascots, Ronald McDonald and the Hamburglar. The only drawback was that I couldn't make it too antagonistic, like Ronald McDonald’s decapitated head on a stake or something along those lines; I settled with Ronald McDonald with a cross through him. The thing is, it didn't feel like we were preparing for a worldwide movement, it felt like a bunch of college students painting in a room. This suggests a question; why aren't more students a part of this?

Organizing is an enjoyable and fulfilling experience for a student especially. Not to downplay the importance of professional organizers, they work long hours and with few resources, but that is more of a reason why students should go out and participate in movements. Students should be raring to fight for 15. Why aren’t more involved? Specifically, not as many working class students of color are participating, in my experience, in comparison to upper-middle class white students from expensive private universities. This despite the fact that the struggle for living wages is a cause that affects the working class students the most.

I go to City College of New York which is known for its radical student movements and a large population of multi-ethnic, working class students. Despite its reputation, CCNY t is often difficult to organize since many students are commuters, often with jobs. A City College student, after finishing their school day, would want to go home and unwind or go to work; many of them lack the time or energy to participate in student organizing.

Perhaps as many students want to get involved on their campus for a cause like Fight for 15, but are afraid to leave their comfort zone and do things like tabling and phone banking, which takes a lot of courage to call strangers over the phone (speaking as an introvert). At large private universities, more of students live (or lived) in dormitories, allowing them to be exposed to student movements, thereby affording them a greater chance to leave their comfort zone and become politicized. But for the working class school, how do you get students to participate? Looking back at the history of City College, it is possible.

I think it takes organizations like YDS to help students overcome their insecurities and be politically active, which we do by bringing together like minded individuals. More importantly though, outgoing students who have already left their comfort zones have an obligation to reach out. By extending an arm outward, older leaders can and provide the courage for students to break from the flock and become leaders of their own. It doesn’t take much; I get involved with Fight for 15 through a simple text. I would say participating was a good decision on my part.

Isaac Uriburu is a CCNY YDS organizer who participated in a leading capacity in the Fight for $15 protests on April 15.

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