For 36 days the students of the University of Puerto Rico have been on strike, closing down an 11-campus system with over 60,000 students. It all began in mid-April as a short-term measure to call for greater transparency in budget-balancing initiatives aimed, in part, at ending merit scholarships and funding for arts and athletics programs.
I’ve been following the strike from afar, listening to radiohuelga and watching impromptu video reports on youtube. I watched with second-hand nostalgia as students hunkered down behind closed gates, determined to stay “as long as it takes” to make their voices heard.
And they have stayed... despite riot police and calls from officials to prevent supplies from reaching them. They have courageously defied the intimidation, Masada-like, but hopefully with a better outcome. While public support has been strong, government and university officials seem eager to prolong the waiting game. Let’s see who gives up first. Let’s see how long our ADD society of media junkies can remain tuned to the student struggle. And now, after a first tragic death attributed to the strike, it looks like the scale may be tilting the other way...
Regardless of the outcome, there have already been many victories. For this generation of students to be organized in nonviolent protest is already a victory. For the actors who took to the streets with riot gear made out of cardboard and brooms to sweep the streets, parodying the disproportionate police force, that’s already a victory. And for us who watch and read from afar, for making us rethink our role as artists, writers and teachers... that’s yet another victory.