In 1969, the legendary African American activist Bayard Rustin wrote, “The Negro can never be socially and politically free until he is economically secure.” Rustin could have been describing the civil rights unionism of ILWU Local 10.
Fifty years ago, students at San Francisco State embarked on a campus strike that lasted five months – the longest student strike in U.S. history. Led by the Black Student Union and Third World Liberation Front, the strike was a high point of student struggle in the revolutionary year of 1968. It was met by ferocious repression, but the strikers persevered and won the first College of Ethnic Studies in the U.S. As part of Socialist Worker’s series on the history of 1968, current San Francisco State University Professor Jason Ferreira – the chair of the Race and Resistance Studies department in the College of Ethnic Studies and author of a forthcoming book on the student strike and the movements that produced it – talked to Julien Ball and Melanie West about the story of the struggle and the importance of its legacy for today.
Zapata’s legacy of integrity, dignity, self-determination and emancipation rang loud and clear to many, not as simply a worthy cost of freedom but a call to duty, to fight and challenge for a deserved justice. Zapata and the EZLN generalized their plight. Exposure itself can be a force when successfully framed: “Circumstances create man as much as man creates his circumstances.” As the vanguard, we must create ours.
The powerless are always at the mercy of the powerful. In San Francisco, voters would not knowingly allow the poor to be pushed out of the city. Those who have the votes, but not the information, often buy the explanation that gentrification is an economic issue. It is an economic issue but not the reason that causes the community of the poor to be displaced.