UNM students gathered in front of Zimmerman Library on Thursday as part of a nationwide movement calling for abolishing student debt, raising the minimum wage and providing free tuition at public universities.
Marisa Trujillo, a sophomore business administration major, said the rally gave financially struggling students a way to voice their frustrations with peers in similar situations.
“People talk about it, but it’s too quiet; people are brushing it under the rug, the school is hiding it,” she said. “That’s why we put this on, we gave students a chance to stand with us and not to have any fear and to basically let their voices be heard.”
Trujillo said UNM is just one of hundreds of schools nationwide participating in rallies like Thursday’s in hopes that the U.S. can model itself after other countries that offer free education, such as Denmark.
“When people come and tell us that it’s impossible, it’s really possible, and it’s simpler than people think,” she said. “The thing is, people are afraid to stand up against it because they think that the authority of the school is going to shut them down. Which they might, but we’re still going to speak out, because it’s something we deserve.”
UNM was one of hundreds of schools nationwide that had students participating in the movement, called the Million Student March. Several students held signs that read “Kicking ass 4 the working class” and “Education Is A Human Rights Issue,” among others.
It was endorsed by several UNM student groups, including the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, Generation Justice and the Red-Student Faction.
Micheáilín Buitléir, a junior American studies major, said that the movement’s three goals are intertwined in a mission to partake in the assets that UNM collects from students.
“This is just a pyramid scheme to mass-accumulate wealth,” he said. “What we want is, instead of the wealth going into the hands of the one percent, we want the wealth to go to all of us, to redistribute that wealth to invest in our future. Like our sign says, ‘The present is struggle, but the future is ours.’”
Buitléir said that in addition to the core demands, the rally at UNM added a fourth: divestment of the indirect support of the occupation of Palestine, as well as the reliance on fossil fuels.
“(It) is one of the biggest issues we’re facing right now – the extinction of our species. So taking that money and starting to invest it in education and higher wages, investing it in healthcare and jobs and those sorts of things,” he said.
Another supporter said that UNM is being hypocritical in calling itself a public university, and that the University is essentially robbing students by continuing to raise tuition “in the second Great Depression of this nation’s history.”
“I think, if we can work through the setup structure, that would be great because it gives us a good dialogue and a good forum to actually sit down and make a change,” Graves said. “This raises awareness and it gets people thinking about it, but it doesn’t drive the policy change we need.”
Not all UNM students approve of such policy change, however, including more conservative representatives from Young Americans for Liberty, a new organization at UNM this semester.
“Before us, the liberal agenda (on campus) kind of had its way. It was never challenged; people just kind of walked around it and ignored it if they didn’t agree with it,” said Michael Aguilar, president of the group’s UNM chapter. “So we decided to mobilize the conservative cohort that we do have on campus…and we made sure that the liberal agenda didn’t go unchecked.”
Aguilar said that the demands of the Million Student March are not feasible, economically or otherwise, and that someone will have to bear the burden.
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch. Someone’s going to get the bill, and they’re going to realize that the one percent can’t pay for everything,” Aguilar said.
While representatives from the two sides argued at the rally for some time, Aguilar said before his peers left the event, he and Graves agreed that they should hold an organized debate in the SUB.
Such an event would accurately inform students about the issues at hand, something that Aguilar said he always advocates.
“I think that, whether it be a rally like we had today, a counter-protest or a forum, any way (we can) engage the students and get them involved in the political process… I think that’s beneficial for everyone involved,” he said.
Although Trujillo said that the rally’s opponents were there just “to be against us,” she also said a debate is the more appropriate route to discuss the issues at hand between the two parties.
“We want to get stuff done, and shouting at each other isn’t going to get anything done. Whether we agree on everything, or anything at all for that matter, we can still talk and be civil about it and get somewhere,” she said.
David Lynch is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.