I consider it a honor to have been asked to present this award to the Chilean Student Movement and to the two remarkable leaders seated here before me, Camila Vallejo and Noam Titelman.
I serve as president of the United States Student Association, the country’s oldest and largest student run student lead organization. For 65 years, we have pressured decision-makers for an accessible and affordable higher education for everyone. This year, student leaders and allies across the country have focused on federal and state-based legislation that give undocuments students an opportunity to apply for federal loans and afford a public education.
We have mobilized students across the country to register to vote, to fight against budget cuts for important programs for communities of color, and we demand corporate accountability and student loan debt forgiveness. All while training young people to build community by learning skills that build real power on their campus to fight for a just society.
Many of our students are inspired and fired up from the strategy and power lead forward by the Chilean Student Movement.
They have created and sustained, for over a year and a half, one of the most dynamic student movements the world has ever seen, raising up the right to education as a fundamental right for every student in Chile and inspiring the tactics of other student organizations across the world.
They have organized a half million people onto the streets of Chile, a nation of only 17 million people. That would be the equivalent of us getting over 9 million people on the streets in this country.
These brave demonstrators have stood up to brutal police repression, and they come back the next day even stronger. Camila has faced death threats. One senior government official tweeted to they wanted her dead but Camila did not stand down. She stood up defiantly and said: “What motivates me most is to fight for the dignity of human beings.”
The organizing that has held this movement together motivates me because the tactics are non-traditional, non-violent, and accessible so that every student is educated.
They have rethought social protest in bold and often humorous ways, from kissathons to superhero dance offs, to a mass zombie Michael Jackson Thriller dance routine.
They have innovated with social media — Camila has a half million followers on twitter.
They have forged alliances with miners and unions and a broad spectrum of Chilean societies.
They have focused and never compromised on their demands for free universal education, and they have rejected “piecemeal” government offers of reform. They have refused to be bought off.
While focusing in on education, they’ve made the critical leap to the larger development model and the inequality that is endemic in that model.
For us in the United States, they are a model of forcing a society to face and grapple with the giant crisis of millions of students who cannot repay their student loan debt.
This Chilean Student Movement is led by internationalists. They are making links to, and helping to motivate, a global movement. They see the links from the indignations of Spain to the revolutionaries of Egypt to the Occupiers of the United States.
Tonight, I pledge to you that students of the United States stand in solidarity with you, we have your back. We join in your demands to end student debt fairly and justly, and will continue to fight for a free education.
Tiffany Dena Loftin, president of the United States Student Association, presented Camila Vallejo and Noam Titelman with a 2012 Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Award from the Institute for Policy Studies.