Check It Out:

Agents of Change

February 13, 2018 | Revolution Newspaper |


“As the Trump administration continues to promote racist anti-immigrant policies, this film serves as a reminder of how college students have been at the forefront of protests for inclusion and diversity for the past 50 years. The film highlights the events which took place at SF State [San Francisco State University] and Cornell University in 1968 to 1969 and reveals how far we have come and how far we have yet to go as a society that proclaims equality but fails to implement it.”
(From AFAM Point of View)


On the day this film was shown at Harvard University, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois was speaking at the Kennedy School of Government. In the Q&A at that event, several students rose to challenge Sen. Durbin on the inaction of the Democratic Party around the fate of not just Dreamers, but of immigrant communities as a whole. Over and over Sen. Durbin answered their challenge with, “Do the math, we don’t have the votes.” Agents of Change is a film about a time where an entirely different kind of math was in use. The film examines the four-month long San Francisco State strike and the occupation of Cornell University when students demanded that Black studies and ethnic studies be added to the school curriculum. It shows students who were not counting on votes of an establishment vested in the preservation of white supremacy and the elite institutions of education. In contrast there was a generation willing to take on the establishment and demand change—by organizing and mobilizing the minority in those institutions to take determined direct action.

Through archival footage and interviews with student leaders at the time, the film depicts the process through which those who had justice on their side rebelled because they had had enough, and they wanted to make a statement that no one could miss. And by taking this stand, they compelled the entire university and the broader society to take a side. In San Francisco, the students who went on strike were joined by faculty and then by the broader community who defied the clown puppet university president S.I. Hayakawa (who had been installed by then Gov. Ronald Reagan) to crush the strike. At Cornell University a conservative faculty and broadly clueless white student body were convulsed into months of mass teach-ins which transformed into a more positive polarization—due to the uncompromising and determined actions of Black students who were responding to a cross burning in front of the dorms housing Black female students recently admitted to the university. After facing threats from the Klan, students occupying the student activities center felt they needed to arm themselves in self-defense.

Both student actions were seminal events in the late 1960s that sparked and inspired literally thousands of similar demands and actions across the country. Real changes were not made by orderly attempts to work within the system. Change happened when people stepped outside those dead-end confines and when they did, they actually challenged the way millions of people think. While they met stubborn opposition and ruthless repression from those who ran the system and those who liked and wanted to defend that old-time white supremacy... millions more were changed through those societal convulsions and won to stand with the oppressed who were rebelling.

At a time when those gains are now under fascist assault it’s good to learn how they were won in the first place. This film can help in opening up some needed and renewed ways of thinking about the horrible present and how to transform it, and in wrangling with the process of repolarizing society for revolution. It’s worth checking out, watching together with other people and discussing.


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