We know that we are facing a serious crisis, which means we need an equally serious strategy to win Free College for All. In order to win, we need to change what is politically possible in this country, so that Free College for All is no longer a lofty idea but the new common sense — across different states, regions, political parties, etc. Here we lay out our multi-phase strategy to make College for All a reality in the U.S.
A note on gratitude: our strategy is informed by the lessons of campaigns that were won through the hard work of Student Action organizers over the past few years. We are also the benefactors of wisdom from past liberation movements and allied organizations around the world who have been boldly experimenting with new models of organizing and power-building. What we have learned from all of these movements and campaigns is reflected throughout this toolkit.
Our Multi-Phased Plan: Our multi-phase plan is simple: we do not have the power at the national level right now to win national Free College for All and Debt Relief policy. We do have the power to win locally, though. If we continue to build support at the local level, we can win local policy. That local policy will build a history of success, proving our model and building support for our campaign. As our support and activist base grows, we will be able to win bigger fights, eventually building to the national level.
We will win policy change through a cycle, illustrated below. We build our base of supporters and activists, and take bold direct action that brings pressure to decision makers while drawing attention to the issue. Seeing our bold action, more young people will be inspired to act. We will bring them into our campaign, making us able to take even bigger action. Meanwhile, we’ll elect champions to public office who will fight for Free College for All with us.
Tactics: The primary tactics we’re using are direct action and electoral work.
Martin Luther King Jr. defined direct action well: “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.” Examples of direct action include sit-ins, protests, and acts of civil disobedience. Direct action non-violently disrupts business as usual in a way that a decision maker is forced to deal with. For more information on direct action, see the “Action Flurries” section of this toolkit.
The U.S. public is much more familiar with elections. Elections are the commonly accepted way for the public to engage with our political system. But they are just one of many tools in our toolbelt to be used strategically. Young people are underestimated in elections, and that creates an opportunity for us. We know that when young people are inspired, we vote, volunteer, and donate to get candidates we believe in elected; we saw this when young people showed up for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK in 2017. We can engage with candidates who share our values and elect them to office to advance Free College for All from inside the capitol, in partnership with us.
We use direct action and elections hand in hand to build on each other. As we do direct actions, it pressures decision makers to support Free College for All, and it changes the political climate around this issue. For example, seeing students around the country walking out of classes and occupying buildings demanding Free College for All would force college administrators and legislators to take action on our demands. We do even better in that scenario, though, if some of those legislators are people who we put into office, who see themselves as allies in our campaign. And we do better yet if their colleagues know that we got those allies elected, or if they’ve seen us do direct actions and draw bad press for candidates who don’t support our issues. We do best if all those things are true, and we’ve unseated an incumbent who doesn’t support Free College for All. These are all examples of how we change what is politically possible and make Free College for All a reality.
Our 2018 Timeline: Our affiliates in eight state have already launched local campaigns for College for All. Now we’re making this campaign public so that more people can join us in this fight. This is our campaign timeline through Fall 2018:
- June: National Free College for All Organizing Guide is released
- July: First Free College for all Mass Training in California
- August – October: Birddog candidates for public office around Free College for All
- September: Retreat to plan for our fall work
- September – November: Work to elect progressive champions who support College for All
- Fall, TBD: Mass direct action and civil disobedience at campuses across the country