Saturday, January 22, 2005

Seattle Central Community College: A Crucible of Organic Intellectuals?

Among countless counter-inaugural actions held nationwide on January 20, 2005, the feistiest one took place in Seattle. Look at the photograph of Seattle Central Community College students forcing Army recruiters off campus:
Seattle Central Counter-Recruitment
Sgt. 1st Class Jeff Due, right, a U.S. Army recruiter, is surrounded by protesters at Seattle Central Community College, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2005, in Seattle. After about a 10-minute standoff during which protesters tore up U.S Army literature, the protesters were successful in getting Due and another recruiter to leave their table under escort by campus security officers. Several hundred students walked out of classes at several Seattle colleges and universities to protest the inauguration of President Bush. (Ted S. Warren/AP)
Naturally, no national media carried the photograph except Yahoo! News.

What makes this action especially promising? The class and race of the students who organized it. According to Andrew Goldstein's profile of Seattle Central students, "everyone at Seattle Central lives off campus, and 80% hold full-time or part-time jobs" (emphasis added, "Seattle Central," Time, 2001) -- normally a condition that makes it difficult for students to organize themselves, for the simple reason that such students have less time to socialize together, to cultivate peer-to-peer networks, and to develop social and political bonds that unite them than rich students at prestigious institutions do. But Seattle Central students showed that they could organize despite their material disadvantage.

Let's take a closer look at the Seattle Central student and faculty demographic as well as the Seattle Central campus's social-geographic location:
[W]ith 52% from minority groups, Seattle Central is one of the most diverse colleges in the U.S. And the diversity goes beyond race: 26% of the students are age 35 or older, 25% are immigrants, and about 65% are the first in their family to go to college. It helps that Seattle Central is situated at the meeting point of Seattle's historically black Central district, the mostly Asian International district and the mostly white business district. But just as important are the nearly 200 scholarships the school gives each year -- thanks to alums who are far more loyal than most community-college grads. Seattle Central also boasts a faculty that's 28% minority, nearly three times the national average. (emphasis added, Goldstein, 2001)
Sounds like an ideal crucible for forging organic intellectuals of the multiracial American working class, breaking racial boundaries and bridging generation gaps!

Robert J.S. Ross compared the class backgrounds of student activists for Students for a Democratic Society in the sixties and United Students Against Sweatshops in the nineties:
For white civil rights and antiwar students, and the New Left of SDS and other groups, the earliest movement participants came disproportionately from upper middle class homes.9,10 Eventually however, by 1967, the movement and SDS membership spread among students of working class and lower white-collar families. Institutionally, the movement began at exclusive or elite private colleges, for example, Swarthmore and Harvard, but also at the cosmopolitan public institutions with long histories of radical colonies -- like Berkeley, Wisconsin and Michigan.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

. . . One study of anti sweatshop activists finds that they are twice as likely to come from high income households as are the universe of college freshman; much less likely to come from lower income households; and roughly similar in the middle of the income distribution. (emphasis added, Elliot and Freeman 2000) There are interesting differences in the dynamics of class and region between the new movement and the old.

The old New Left witnessed a progression from larger and/or more selective elite institutions, outward to more broad-based institutions. From Michigan, Swarthmore, and Harvard early on, for example, chapters later developed at places like Indiana, St. Cloud State, and Roosevelt University in Chicago. This process took five years and was speeded up after SDS was discovered by the national press around the time of the (first) March on Washington to End the War in Vietnam, in April 1965. By the late Sixties community colleges had chapters of SDS or other New left groups.

The current pattern of outward diffusion has some, but highly compressed similarity to the Sixties.11 From 1999–2000 there was marked "outward" movement from more to less elite campuses. The first wave of sit-ins, in 1999, was at relatively "elite" or flagship state universities. In this regard, looking for initiating movement groups among young adults with higher income and/or educational family backgrounds is similar in both generations.

However, history is moving at warp speed. Despite the fact that the early and strongest presence of USAS was, as with SDS, at the most cosmopolitan institutions, outward motion is very rapid in comparison to SDS. During the next spring, 2000, sit-ins were much more representative of the national student body. (See Table 3) The speed with which chapter construction is moving to non-elite places -- and growing -- is faster than SDS before the War in Vietnam. It compares to the Southern students' civil rights movement, which spread the sit-ins and lunch counter boycotts around the south within weeks, and created SNCC within three months of the first sit-in. It also compares to the tremendous growth of SDS after the March on Washington of April 1965. (For material on SDS chapter growth, see Sale 1973)

Already, by the fall of 1999 campuses in Alabama, Arkansas, and Georgia were involved and active. There were contacts at South Carolina, and a few community colleges. Acting in response to local demonstrations, or fear of them, or even a desire to do the right thing, 122 universities had joined the Fair Labor Association by June of 1999, 150 by Spring of 2000. Then when USAS initiated WRC [Workers' Rights Consortium], and campaigned against the FLA, membership increase slowed drastically. There are 178 college and university members of the Fair Labor Association (as of March 2003), a growth of only 28 in two years. In the meantime the WRC membership is now one hundred twelve, having grown by 25/year in the same period.

To summarize the demographic picture on the basis of nonsystematic data, it appears the structure of membership and the geography of institutional diffusion is similar to the Sixties, but democratization is more rapid. (emphasis added, "From Antisweatshop to Global Justice to Antiwar: How the New New Left Is the Same and Different from the Old New Left," Journal of World Systems Research 10.1, Winter 2004)
A quicker pace of democratization than in the sixties is in keeping with expansion of tertiary education since then, which has made the majority of college students decidedly working-class. Can a new phase of student activism -- after the 2004 elections dissolved much of the anti-war movement that began on September 11, 2001 and absorbed many activists into various components of the Democratic Party's electoral mobilization machine -- break the pattern of diffusion in student activism from elite to non-elite institutions, making Seattle Central students and others like them (rather than usual suspects at schools like Harvard, Berkeley, and Michigan) new national leaders who assert a working-class perspective in opposition to not only the Iraq War but also the power elite's attacks on workers at home?


No-Wuh said...

I'm with an Anti-War group @ Kent State in Ohio. Does anyone know what organization(s) played a role in organizing this anti-recruiter demonstration, or how i can contact them?

Anonymous said...

Anti-War at Kent State huh? Didn't work to well last time, hope you like CS dumbass.

Anonymous said...

anti-war any and everywhere is a good idea and has worked quite well in the past. Hope you know freedom is the only antidote to repression, sourpuss!

Anonymous said...

did you ever find the orgs that kicked these recruiters off their campus?? i want to get in touch with them too.

Anonymous said...

The main organization behind the Seattle protest was the Campus Antiwar Network (CAN), I think....

Lonnie L said...

The two groups most instrumental in organizing the event were the Campus Anti-War Network ( and the International Socialist Organization (