Lenina Nadal, December 27, 2008
Lenina Nadal was a founding member of the CUNY Coalition Against the Cuts and SLAM. Having graduated in 1997, she returned in 2000 to help create SLAM’s organizer training institute. She is a filmmaker, playwright, and poet, and works for the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition. Visit http://www.performingprofound.com
interviewed by Suzy Subways
Suzy: I was thinking about how SLAM started at Hunter and how the different clubs kind of created SLAM together, right? What’s the story of that? There was the Palestinian Club, the Black Student Union and, from the beginning, how did they come together and work in the CUNY Coalition and start SLAM?
Lenina: To be honest, I remember a couple of individuals, Chris Day being one of them, who did what Chris Day does, which is put something provocative on a flier and start stapling it around the entire campus. It was only a couple of individuals that said, “there’s something going on here.” At the time, I was working with the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), so we had our own campaign where we had began to tell students that tuition was going to be raised $1,000. So there was already publicity around campus saying that this is what’s going to happen. And then students started talking about this in classes. So even really before any particular clubs got involved, there was a lot of anxiety among the masses of students on campus, because $1,000 just seemed like a tremendous amount of money. However, I would say that there was one group, which was the Black Student Union, where you had members like Takala, a poet and activist, and Asha Bandele. So Asha Bandele and Takala at the time were in the leadership of the BSU, along with Kim Wade and a few other activists. And they were responsible for some of the major takeovers of the Hunter campus and other CUNY campuses in like 1990, 91. By the time 1995 rolled around, they were still in leadership, and while they didn’t play the central role anymore, they were continuing to raise consciousness among Black students on campus on these issues, and continuing to help the movement grow in their own way. And the other clubs that had a sort of political consciousness included the Palestinian Club and the Arab Club, which were very strongly affiliated, and right across the hall was the Puerto Rican Club, and that had some progressive membership that was kind of in and out. And I’d say those were the three that kind of solidified a people of color Left in terms of organizations on campus that were doing work.
But I would say that when it began, it was really a few students that said, “We’re going to do something about this. This is crazy.” And the only alternative that we were being offered was from NYPIRG, which was like, “Let’s go to our congresspeople, let’s go to our senators, let’s lobby, let’s see if we can change it from within.” But the frustration was already building up. And a lot of it was because working class students were feeling like their financial aid was going to be cut, their tuition was going to be increased, and this might be the last chance they had at a CUNY education. So the stakes were very. very high for all students. It was really a mass movement. It’s like most movements – the leadership can claim it, but they have to claim it after the masses have already said, “This is what we want.” Those of us who had been part of organizations or who grew up with leftist parents, we started to get to know each other and kind of see that we had something to offer to sustain a movement. In that sense, that’s how some of that leadership started to come together.
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