If College Students Can Do It, So Can You

What would you do to prevent being arbitrarily fired or laid off? How much time are you willing to spend to make sure that you, your family, and your friends don’t ever have to face being discriminated against? A day? an hour? half hour? ten minutes? A two-hour drive? a five-minute telephone call? I read today about some North Carolina college students, to whom a tuition hike means the difference between a full-time caseload and a part-time caseload, or choosing between classes and adequate meals, who have decided to take action. But instead of sit-ins and noisy protests, they have instead visited their legislators. See the article “Tuition hikes turn students into lobbyists.” These students aren’t experienced fat-cat lobbyists, or even kids with trust funds. In most cases, those lobbying are first-generation college students from poor and lower-middle-class families. They don’t have a lot of life (or lobbying) experience yet, and many have to dig pretty deep in their closets to find professional clothing. But they do know how important it is that higher education and grants for needy students be adequately funded, and despite their youth and inexperience, they’re taking their story to the politicians that matter. In a particularly effective PR ploy, students in New Mexico handed out packets of ramen noodles (the diet staple of poor college students) to legislators to hammer home the effect of budget cuts. Legislators can no longer make drastic cuts to university budgets before first staring in the face the victims of these cuts. And that can be very effective.

In the next several months, there will be a number of issues that will affect you personally as an employee, whether it’s a law under consideration in Washington or your state capital, the actions of a company CEO, or the appointment of a judge hostile to the rights of workers. (See Demand Fair Judges!) At this site and elsewhere, you will be asked to do something about these issues. We may need individuals who can tell their story to legislators. (Share Your Story) We may need you to write a letter or make a phone call, sometimes on very short notice. (Action Center) We may want you to tell your friends and coworkers and mobilize as many people as you can. (Tell-a-Friend)

When we ask you to do something, if your reaction tends to be “I can’t do that…lobbying is for those articulate politician types” or: “I’m too busy” then think again. Think of those college students who talked about eating grilled cheese sandwiches in order to pay their tuition bills, and who ironed their shirts and wore ties to speak with legislators who made the choices affecting their lives. Surely you can do as much (or even less in many cases–a letter takes 5 minutes or less) to preserve your livelihood, and to demand that you and your coworkers be treated fairly and with respect at work, right?

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.