I am Tristan Munchel, a student at UNCG, and you are reading this column because I, along with four other students, have been arrested.
All of us are members of the North Carolina Student Power Union, and were arrested in Raleigh on May 1, International Workers' Day, while demanding the chance to have a future. We and around 200 other students and activists marched for several hours before the five of us moved past a police barrier, tried to enter the legislative building and were arrested for disorderly conduct.
This needed to happen.
We students, workers and immigrants joined to refuse a government that lowers the corporate tax rate while letting one in four children go to bed hungry each night. We refused to watch silently as laws suppress the votes of people of color, students and the elderly. We refused to listen to lawmakers who imply anybody who is not white, male, cisgendered, well-to-do, heterosexual and non-disabled is being un-American by demanding recognition.
We joined together because Gov. Pat McCrory and state Budget Director Art Pope want to cut around $200 million from the UNC System over the next two years, when over the last two we have lost $414 million. Eight thousand students are going to lose their financial aid. Tuition will continue to rise. The people whom our society has always oppressed will feel first the cuts to education, just as they will feel first McCrory’s rejection of Medicaid and destruction of unemployment benefits.
We took to the streets because we no longer believe in an electoral system that tells us to choose between pro-business fascists and pro-business centrists. We took to the streets because our student governments and our single, non-voting member on the UNC Board of Governors do nothing for us. We took to the streets because we believe that education does not exist to train workers, but to encourage thinkers who can create rules rather than just follow them.
I know conservative think tanks have already labeled us attention-seekers, and that they and liberals alike will call into question our ability to achieve tangible differences. I am not sure whether our actions will have any impact on the reactionaries in Raleigh. However, I think that by being visible we reshape the political discourse. Whenever we help people realize they do not have to fear the police, whenever we help people step off paths of least resistance and realize they have political potential, we move towards a better society.
I have never felt more alive than I did May 1. We began marching at 2:30 p.m., chanting for hours, stopping to hear youth and students speak against oppression and regression. A few times through collective daring we managed to break off the sidewalk and march in the streets, shutting them down for blocks at a time. Cars honked and workers cheered to us from the front steps of buildings as we passed.
When our march reached Jones Street, the five of us unfurled a long banner reading, “We Demand a Future.” We marched down Jones while the police attempted to force us off the road using their horses and bicycles. Just before reaching the legislature the five of us sat down.
Instead of arresting us the cops backed off. The rest of the marchers formed a circle around us and for most of an hour we stayed on Jones Street, singing protest songs and chanting. Two little girls, sisters, came next to me and helped hold the banner, and I began to cry.
At least 50 police watched us. I don't know how many thousands of dollars the state paid them to be there and intimidate the kids, immigrants and workers advocating for equality. I sat in the middle of everything and cried. I cried for the workers whom our society refuses to recognize on International Workers' Day. I cried for all the time I had wasted not knowing that these people, of so many different experiences than my own, were my sisters and brothers. I cried for the police and for the awful, empty system that would waste so many resources to convince the little girls next to me not to ask for a future.
Then, while I was crying on Jones Street, the parade marshals tapped our five shoulders and asked what we wanted to do. We decided to escalate, stood up, and began to advance on the front doors of the legislature. The police backed up and formed a long, brawny line of white men in wide-brimmed hats.
Our people marched up to the police line chanting, screaming, "Show me what democracy looks like!” and the five of us moved through. This is what democracy looks like.