By Jon Dowding
A school bus full of African American children came to a halt on North Broad Street as protestors marched to city hall chanting, “Education is a right, not just for the rich and white.”
Temple University, Drexel, University of Pennsylvania, Community College of Philadelphia and University of Pittsburgh were the only universities in Pennsylvania to have students participate in the Million Student March on November 12.
The nation-wide protest fights for tuition-free public college, cancelation of all student debt, and a $15 minimum wage for all campus workers. High school, college, and graduate students along along with recent graduates, campus workers, former students, parents, and grandparents participated in numerous protests.
Student leaders at Temple who organized the march drafted a list of seven demands in addition to the three national demands of the march. According to the Facebook group for the Temple chapter of the march, the list of demands include the right for adjunct professors and campus workers to unionize, creation of a sexual assault and sexual violence crisis center on campus, termination of all university investments from companies supporting “Israel’s illegal military occupation of Palestine,” and an increased likelihood of North Philadelphians to attend the university by implementing free college-prep programs in the area.
The demands continued and urged for the reconstruction of the liberal arts program and the reinstatement of Dr. Anthony Monteiro, an African American studies professor who “was unjustly dismissed because of his dissident views,” according to the list of demands on Facebook. The list also calls for the university to address the community’s concerns of Temple’s gentrification of and displacement of North Philadelphia residents and to provide resources for Latinos and African Americans in the community.
The last item, demanding the termination of Patrick O’Connor from the Board of Trustees, says Theobald should dismantle the Board of Trustees and replace them with a democratic body of democratically represented officials or resign if he does not adhere to the presented demands.
O’Connor, chairman of the Board of Trustees at Temple, received criticism after agreeing to represent Bill Cosby in court for a sexual-assault lawsuit filed against Cosby. O’Connor’s involvement with Cosby presents a “conflict of interest” and gives reason for his termination from the Board, according to a statement from the Temple University faculty union in an article in the Inquirer last July.
The protest began in the early afternoon at the Bell Tower before meeting with Drexel, University of Pennsylvania, Community College of Philadelphia, high school students and other Philadelphia area college students at City Hall.
Before being escorted by Philadelphia and Temple police to City Hall, protestors surrounded the entrance to Sullivan Hall, where the President’s office is located, to deliver the list of demands to President Theobald. They were met with a line of Temple police officers at the entrance and Vice President of Public Affairs William Bergman, who accepted the list on behalf of Theobald. Protestors also said Theobald has refused interviews with the leaders of the march for the last six months.
The protestors took to Broad Street and marched to City Hall with the help of police escorts and multiple street closures. Although police officers outlined Broad Street, each officer refused to comment or said they were instructed not to.
The police presence multiplied as well as the size of the protestors as they ventured closer to City Hall. The crowd gained students and bystanders who sympathized with the protestors chants of “People united will never be divided” and “Down with the stadium,” in reference to Temple’s proposed construction of a $100 million football stadium within its North Philadelphia campus.
“I found out about the march through Facebook,” said Jared Brooks, a freshman at Temple. “I don’t know much about the other issues but I support lower student debt and the $15 minimum wage.”
The crowd started chanting, “Missouri, we love you” and “Missouri, we got your back” before arriving at Dilworth park. Upon arrival, the protestors united and advocated for issues associated with the Black Lives Matter movement and current events unfolding at University of Missouri.
“The recent events at Mizzou fueled the protests- they excited and catalyzed it,” said Kate Goodman, organizer with “Philadelphia 15 Now,” an organization advocating for a $15 national minimum wage. Goodman, who was also the media coordinator for the Million Student March in Philadelphia, said the detachment from the initial purpose of the march only exposes other issues faced in society.
“Police brutality is always an issue we advocated about [as well],” Goodman said.
As for the inspiration for the protest, Goodman cites Senator Bernie Sanders because he is one of the few politicians, and presidential candidates, advocating for affordable higher education. The fact a politician believes higher education is too expensive shows it should be more affordable, said Goodman.
According to the Million Student March website, the average college graduate of the class of 2015 has $35,000 in debt. The website says more than 40 million Americans have a total of $1.2 trillion in student debt as well.
“If we can find $100 million for a stadium to gentrify the area,” Goodman said, “then we can find the necessary funds for higher wages and a sexual violence crisis center on campus.” Goodman also expressed her concern over the stadium by referencing other universities who she said eventually raised tuition when the university underestimated construction costs.
Organizers of the protests hope the momentum from the march last Thursday will create more national awareness for their issues.