Fighting to keep HOPE alive

March 14, 2011

ATLANTA--Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal's controversial proposal to put new limits on the HOPE scholarship was passed by the state legislature, but not before students organized a series of actions that captured the attention of the state.

Community groups throughout Georgia protested the bill, with Georgia Students for Public Higher Education (GSPHE)--a group of students fighting to defend the right of public education for all, and specifically access for people of color, undocumented students and the working class--taking the lead in activism.

With Deal's proposal coming up for a vote last week, students organized two emergency events.

One was a protest of the Board of Regents meeting. Last semester, the Board of Regents passed a ban on undocumented students studying at research institutions within the University System of Georgia--legislators have recently introduced bills to ban undocumented students from all University System of Georgia institutions.

At the Regents' meeting, students organized three staggered disruptions, with everyone taking part wearing shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Stop Re-Segregating Our Schools." Banners read "Lift The Ban!"

Meanwhile, students from the Georgia State University chapter of GSPHE held a rally in the school courtyard, gathering forces and then marching to the Capitol to meet up with students from the Board of Regents action. After an hour rally outside the Capitol, students entered the building and took seats in the Senate gallery while the debate on the bill to change the HOPE scholarships was taking place.

Students unfurled a banner reading "Defend Your Education" over the gallery banister, which was confiscated after about 30 seconds. Five minutes later, a second banner reading "HOPE is our only HOPE" was unfurled and confiscated even more quickly. Before a third banner could be unfurled, the first group of students was "escorted" out of the gallery. Police eventually "escorted" other students with banners out of chamber.

About 15 minutes later, the 10 or so students who remained began chanting "Kill the bill!" and "Tax the rich!" These students were grabbed and removed from the gallery, with one activist singled out and arrested.

Much to the chagrin of politicians, though, media outlets didn't label the students as extreme or radical--and their reports have in many cases discussed the effects of this legislation.

The student who was arrested, now affectionately known as "GSPHE 1," was released from Fulton County Jail the next morning. A Democratic state senator has arranged for legal support for the student, and bail was posted by two professors.

While the bill did pass the legislature, clearing the way for Deal to sign it this week, this battle should be seen as the beginning of a larger movement. Discussions about HOPE at the demonstrations at Georgia State University and in the Capitol expressed a deep-seated anger at the legislation, though this hasn't immediately translated into activism.

As we move forward, student activists in Georgia must work now to bridge the gap between rhetoric and concrete steps towards successful action. We must develop a better understanding of the successful movements around the world today, and incorporate these ideas into our everyday actions and our vision for the future.

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