NJ student activists convene at Rutgers for 1st meeting
The first organizational meeting for the New Jersey Student Power Network, a group of students and community organizers from all over the state, was held on Saturday.
Several Rutgers students attended the meeting, alongside students from other schools including TCNJ and Monmouth University.
The meeting was coordinated by New Jersey Student Power, an organization devoted to developing networks of student activists, and Anakbayan New Jersey, a Filipino-American group that advocates for free education and social services.
Matt Cordeiro, the millennial strategist for New Jersey Student Power and a Rutgers alumnus, said that the meeting served to unite otherwise disparate groups through the common goal of political change.
“We can get people to come together and work on similar campaigns and channel that energy into concrete change,” Cordeiro said. “It's good for folks to know they're not alone in this, their group is not the only one, there are other people around the state that also do it.”
Throughout his career, Cordeiro has developed similar student power networks in other states. As a student at Rutgers, he founded an organization called New Jersey United Students, which served a purpose similar to what he hopes that New Jersey Student Power will.
Cordeiro said that being part of a larger network enables student activists to share strategies and collectively find solutions to common problems.
April Nicklaus, a School of Environmental and Biological Sciences junior and the state board chair of NJPIRG, was one of the Rutgers students at the meeting.
“The student organizations involved in the Student Power Network are diverse in origin and focus,” Nicklaus said. “While that may mean we can't work on the same issues all the time, it also means we have a greater array of experiences and resources to bring to the table ... I think one of the great things about the Student Power Network is that the groups in it are so different, and those of us who have more experience can help those groups who are newer to the organizing scene.”
Gian-Carlo Toriano Parel, the secretary general of Anakbayan New Jersey, said that the groups represented at the meeting are unified by their relationships as student groups to their surrounding communities.
“It's a wide, abstract unity that we're all here for, but I think the launching point is, 'How do we use the campus to empower our communities?'” Parel said.
Ruthie Arroyo, the chairperson of Anakbayan New Jersey, said that a student power network would help students to understand how to organize and perhaps how to move into careers as community organizers.
“As an organizer, I'm just helping take care of the trees that people have planted before me,” Arroyo said. “I'm not doing this just to reap benefits for myself but really thinking of the future.”
Arroyo said that Anakbayan New Jersey's ultimate goal is that the money that the government currently spends on the military and warfare would be redirected toward social services and free education programs.
“I think it's totally doable,” she said. “No one is saying that it will be achieved in one year, two years, three years, but so many other countries have done it, and if they can do it, we can do it too. It always starts with that one spark from the students and the youth to really demand. The youth are going to be inheriting this land, this society, so why not invest now?”