Meeting minutes from the open meeting of the Free University of NYC at 60 Wall Street, February, 24, 2013, 1-3pm:

Plan for March 14? There doesn’t seem to be much happening locally in support of the call from Students for a Democratic Society [SDS]/Occupy Colleges for a National Day of Action to Defend Public Education. The event is scheduled for Thursday, March 14. We have discussed this event over the course of several meetings now, and have no position/plan of action for the day. See here for the national call:

Report-backs: Conor reports that some faculty at Hampshire College are already onboard with holding a Free University on May 1, proving that our reach goes beyond NYC.

How is the Free U manual/pamphlet coming along? No one was present to report back from the work event at Sid’s last weekend. Several folks feel the Free U manual/pamphlet is coming along, but very slowly, and it is not yet clear what media/format the final product will be.

Outreach working group reports: there is a google spreadsheet with a list of local (and national, international) student/education groups that we want to communicate with regarding May Day. We need to collate everyone’s knowledge of groups, orgs, contact info, and put into this spreadsheet. Then we need to figure out how to divide up responsibility for reaching out to each of these groups.

May Day ideas :

-mass/dispersed locations (autonomous Free Us) but all meet up later in the day? General agreement to this idea. Morning: Free Us everywhere across the city (and beyond), then, early afternoon: a student/faculty/education convergence at Madison Sq. Park (or Washington Sq. Park, or somewhere else), perhaps an assembly, and then march to Union Square to join the mass rally in the late afternoon.

-also run our own Free U at Madison Square Park, or not? Many different feelings on this. In the end, we agreed that our May Day proposal should not include a commitment to running a Free U at Madison Sq., but also not exclude it from happening as one of many Free U nodes across the city if there are folks that want to organize this.

-More thoughts on whether we hold one, big Free U at Madison Sq. or facilitate many smaller Free Us across the city. Pros for big Free U: 1) easier for us?; 2) people across the city get to connect together in one space. Cons for big Free U: we deprive local campuses/communities/neighborhoods from an opportunity at more local movement building.

-the Free U “toolkit” (manual/pamphlet) can reach locally, nationally, even internationally

-some possible pitches/slogans: “Free University in every park”; another idea: “Turn the city into a Free University.”

-how do we publicize/campaign for this May Day plan? Do we reach out to specific groups to ask them to participate? We largely agreed that it will not be effective just to put out a call for action. We need to help push it along (campaign for it) and publicize it.

-What is our pitch? How to convince others to create their own Free Us on May 1?

-Do we reach out to students or faculty? Both simultaneously?

-Do we ask that autonomous groups hold their Free Us out in public space? or can they hold Free Us on campus? Issues of public vs. private space. How to ensure access to education by those unaffiliated with universities. Many felt that we should let each Free U autonomously decide where (and why) to hold their Free Us. Some student groups might want to hold a Free U on campus, but invite the public in. Others might take “private” classes out into public space. There’s a lot of flexibility here.

-What is the political message of what we are doing? Do we want a big, flashy gathering in public (like at Madison Sq.), or less visible, but more sustainable movement building at the local/campus/neighborhood level? The latter helps us build networks and alliances, while the former is more like last year: one big rally, but then momentum falls off on May 2. Where are we at now? How is May 2013 different from May 2012?

-Following from the above, are we calling for a “student strike” or not? Pros: the education system is no better than it was one year ago, so why be less militant now than last year? Also, calling for a student strike may reinvigorate the militancy in the student movement that was present a year ago. Cons: the General Strike didn’t work last year. A strike is a one-day action with no continuing/momentum to aide movement building moving beyond May 1. Maybe this year the strike is not really realistic/connected with where we are at as a community/movement?

-Thus, as to the political message of what we are doing on May 1, we agreed that we are not calling for a strike. We want to focus on community political education, not flashy actions. And leave the messaging more open to each group to autonomously determine based on the needs of their campus/community.

-Thus, in our pitch, we have to explain: 1) Why May Day?; and 2) Why Free U?. But otherwise keep the message open and broad-based and inclusive (and non-dictatorial!)

What Will We Offer to Autonomous Free Us across the city?

-interactive city map on Free U website with locations and data of every Free U event. And although Free Us may be held outside of the city, our map would only focus on those events held in the five boroughs.

-interactive schedule on Free U website. Between the map and schedule, our website will offer both spatial and temporal windows upon the May Day Free University event. Folks can explore our website to see both what is happening at specific times during the day, as well as in specific places.

-Free U manual/pamphlet/”toolkit.” We will distribute this to all groups holding Free Us.

-We can also offer folks to give workshops to groups planning to hold Free Us, and/or host troubleshooting meetings for folks from across the city to connect and talk through what hosting a Free U would look like.

-Press/Outreach. We will help all groups holding Free Us with publicizing/press.

-Question: Will we ask each autonomous Free U group to follow certain principles (such as “safe spaces”; horizontality; etc.) or not? What to dictate/demand, and what not to? We agree that the Free U pamphlet/manual should address this, perhaps reprinting the principles of the Free U within the manual.

-We might also bottom-line facilitating/organizing the early afternoon education convergence/assembly prior to marching to Union Square.

Concerns about our May Day plans:

-What if no one grabs onto our call for many Free Us and it flops? Initial outreach to groups to get their “buy in” is critical. How to convince others to “buy in”?

-Maybe prioritize which groups to target on the Educational Orgs Google Spreadsheet. Which key groups do we want to target for hosting Free Us?

-How to cushion ourselves against potential failure?

-What do “we” do on May Day as Free U folks? If not organizing a Free U at Madison Sq., are we all free to go wherever we want that day? Or will we take on tasks, for example, collecting media (photos/videos/stories) at each of the Free U event sites?

Proposal for Next Meeting:

-We have three (3) important Google Docs to focus on for the next week: 1) the Outreach spreadsheet with list of radical education groups to contact; 2) a new Google Doc featuring our proposal for May Day; and, 3) a new Google Doc with our potential “pitch” (our call to action) for May Day. Conor has agreed to bottomline #3. Gregory already started #1 and will bottomline #2.

-As for the May Day Proposal Google Doc, we will invite everyone on the Free U listserv to add their comments/concerns/amendments and/or alternate proposals to the Google Doc over the next week. Folks who cannot attend our next meeting may also “vote” on the proposal by inscribing their notes of support or not-support in the Google Doc and/or via the listserv.

-Gregory will set up a Doodle for scheduling our next Free U meeting, to be held in approximately one week. We have set a deadline for voting on the May Day proposal by no later than the end of the next weekend (11:59 PM on sunday March 3!). This means making the Google Doc available throughout the week, as well as the Doodle. Then having our Doodled meeting around the time March 1 through March 3, but certainly before March 4.

Next Meeting: TBD by Doodle, will occur sometime before the end of the next weekend (March 3). For the agenda of next meeting: 1) vote on the May Day proposal; 2) plan (and then execute) outreach/publicization campaign.

Upcoming Events:

-March 8: Alternative Community Meeting on the topic of CUNY Graduate Center restructuring, at the Graduate Center

-April 8: “The University Beyond Crisis” at the Graduate Center. Conor will be speaking.

-early April: Book Bloc exhibit at the Interference Archives, Gowanus, Brooklyn

-June 7-9: The Left Forum

-fall 2013: the Brecht Forum will be holding a Free U. Stanley Aronowitz may be willing to come to one of our Free U meetings to talk about this.

Loose Ends:

Twitter: there are other communities using the #FreeU hashtag in ways that are proving a distraction. Do we want to change our hashtag, or just abandon it for now? We agreed to stop following #FreeU on the Free U website, but bring back the hashtag around May Day. Mariya will do the webwork to fix this.

Facilitation Training: We had talked about whether we might do facilitation trainings within our Free U group, or perhaps for other groups. There was a feeling that this might be useful to offer to those groups holding Free Us on May 1.

Respectfully submitted. Minutes by Gregory. Cheers!