As clocks hit 1 p.m. on March 1, students will cap their pens and close their notebooks to march in a nationwide walkout for educational reform.
Students from universities throughout Philadelphia are preparing to mobilize as part of a walkout to take place on the National Day of Action for Education, a movement sponsored by the Occupy organization.
Participants will gather at 1 p.m. at their respective colleges and the march will begin at 3:30 p.m.
Students from universities such as Drexel and Temple universities will march to various locations. Penn students will march to meet in Thomas Paine Plaza, located in Penn Square directly across from City Hall.
Once the group arrives in Center City, they will introduce their demands for educational reform, including a more diverse college environment, a democratic decision-making process within universities and full forgiveness of student loan debt.
College junior Meghna Chandra, a member of OccupyPenn, is hopeful about the event’s turnout.
“People are starting to wake up,” she said, adding that she hopes to see at least 40 Penn people participate in the walkout.
Chandra is expecting the city to take safety precautions.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they have cops there,” she said, adding that there are Philadelphia police officers on the Occupy Philadelphia listserv.
However, Chandra said the students have not contacted the mayor directly. “We haven’t reached out for permission to march, because we don’t need it,” she said.
Temple students will march to the Philadelphia School District headquarters at the School Reform Commission on North Broad Street.
“We’re focusing on education as a right, not a commodity,” said Temple freshman Walter Smolarek, who is a member of Temple’s Occupy movement.
Even though the groups will protest at different locations, the two colleges are working cooperatively. However, they are quick to recognize that not all students share the same educational concerns.
“Something that’s really important to understand is that… not everyone always agrees with each other,” College senior Katie McCabe said. “It’s kind of the beauty of the movement.”
McCabe, who was inspired by her research on community engagement in the public school system of New Orleans, is most concerned about the structure of Philadelphia’s school system, which she believes traps minorities in failing schools. McCabe hopes the march will have an impact on countering these issues.
“That’s the fun part of activism: shoot big, dream for a really big walkout, and we’ll see what happens on March 1,” she said.
As students prepare for the walkout, OccupyPenn is hosting a series of teach-ins every Friday at 2 p.m. at the button. The talks are focused around issues in education and are given by professors and activists, including Urban Studies and Social Policy & Practice professor Walter Palmer.
Palmer’s teach-in last Friday was centered around resegregation in public schools and discussed how minorities are being neglected in the allocation of educational resources.
Palmer, who teaches a class on grassroots organization, is no stranger to student protests.
In November 1967, Palmer helped organize one of the largest strikes in American history to campaign for the rights of African American students in Philadelphia. On Nov. 17 that year, over 3,000 protestors assembled outside of the Board of Education Building. According to Palmer, the protest was so powerful because its participants knew “exactly what they wanted.”
While offering advice and recommendations to the students, Palmer said in order for the march to be successful, its organizers must build on the work done by past protestors. However, he also expressed some doubts about the group’s focus.
“A small group has to do more than just talk to each other,” he said. “It can’t just be like a day out for the students. It’s got to have some real traction. It’s got to be well-planned.”
“Organizing for social change … is not romantic,” he added. “It’s not sexy. It’s not a joke. It’s hard work. It’s a lot of hard work.”
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