Rights Before Power

Now familiar images of young people taking to the street amid this age of global revolt illustrate the role students have played in advancing more just societies. In IstanbulCairo, Philadelphia and Santiago students are demanding their voices be heard. In the US, the history of student protest is storied. One of the nation’s most influential organizations was the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

Officers of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in Atlanta on May 23, 1966. From left to right: James Forman, Cleveland Sellers, Ruby Doris Smith Robinson and Stokely Carmichael. Image courtesy of AP Photo and Horace Cort.

Officers of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee in Atlanta on May 23, 1966. From left to right: James Forman, Cleveland Sellers, Ruby Doris Smith Robinson and Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael). Image courtesy of AP Photo and Horace Cort.

Beginning with the famous Woolworth’s lunch counter sit-ins which denounced racial segregation in the South, SNCC soon grew into a national network of grassroots organizers. SNCC advocated nonviolent direct action and led protests, sit-ins and voter registration drives throughout the American South.

Many prominent Black leaders got their start in SNCC, including Eleanor Holmes Norton, Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) and John Lewis. But it was the countless other committed students who gave SNCC the power to change the course of history. The influence of SNCC can be seen in many current movements including student demonstrations in Chicago protesting school closings and Occupy Student Debt, an off-shoot of Occupy Wall Street led by university students. These movements are a reminder that students are a dynamic force for social transformation.

by Brittany Duck

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