In mid-December of 2009, an ad hoc committee composed largely of student activists from across the United States collaborated to create the Defend Education (DE) coalition. Among its key members were students — affiliated with the (new) Students for a Democratic Society, United for Peace and Justice, and the Student Environmental Action Coalition — who had participated in two recent takeovers (in December 2008 and April 2009) of the New School building in New York City. In those actions, protesting students had barricaded themselves inside the building and demanded that they be given more input regarding university affairs; that New School president Robert Kerrey resign because of his pro-Iraq War stance; that New School trustee Robert Millard also resign because of his connections to a private security company that was working in Iraq; and that a “Socially Responsible Investment Committee” be established to prevent “unethical” New School investments.
From its inception, DE lamented that “as people throughout the country struggle under the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, public education from pre-K to higher and adult education is threatened by budget cuts, layoffs, privatization, tuition and fee increases, and other attacks.” These “attacks,” said DE, “degrade the quality of public education by decreasing student services and increasing class size, while tuition hikes and layoffs force the cost of the recession onto students and teachers and off of the financial institutions that caused the recession in the first place.”
To remedy the situation, DE proposed an increase in public-education funding — particularly in light of the fact that “non-unionized charter schools threaten to divide, weaken and privatize the public school system and damage teachers’ unions, which are needed now more than ever.” Budget cuts in public education, said DE, “have hit working people and people of color the hardest.” DE further stated these cuts would only exacerbate “the deep and growing structural inequalities” inherent in American society and its education system.
In an effort to drive these points into the public consciousness, DE scheduled a “National Day of Action to Defend Education” for March 4, 2010. This event was endorsed by a host of organizations, including:
Among the more notable individual endorsers of the DE event were Cindy Sheehan, John Catalinotto, and Michael Klonsky. Promotional materials for the event bore such slogans as “Education Is a Human Right,” and “Resist, Mobilize, Transform.”