Videography documents the Free University (with post-event press release)

Rhodes Pictures has released a short documentary with interviews from students, teachers, and co-creators of the Free University held on May 1, 2012 at Madison Square Park.


“Free University” in Madison Square Park Draws Thousands Part of City-Wide May Day Protests

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New York City (May 2, 2012): The morning might have begun with rain, but that didn’t stop hundreds of students from gathering for morning classes or huddling together to hear Geographer David Harvey speak about reclaiming the city for anti-capitalist struggle in Madison Square Park yesterday.  By 2pm the park was packed with people there to attend one of more of than over 100 free workshops, activities, and courses.  The participation and attendance clearly showed that what began just two weeks ago as a simple question about what students and educators could create for MayDay had become a living example of what education could be.  As one participant posted on the Free University’s facebook page: “ If school meant being outside (rain OR shine), walking to open,equal discussions as you please, where REAL learning was happening, with educators who really wanted to be there, I’d never moan and groan about waking up early. This is what learning should look like. I’ve never seen people so excited to teach and learn..truly a beautiful thing–and definitely worth skipping a regular day at college for.”

Those present  — estimates are upwards of 2000 — not only attended a gamut of courses, workshops, recitals, and skill shares, but also experienced a transformation of public space into a thriving commons where strangers and friends came together of their own volition to create and converse.   “It was the best teaching experience I ever had in 32 years,” wrote an instructor of software applications.  The participants were from Brooklyn College, CUNY Graduate Center, Eugene Lang College, New School for Social Research, Hunter College, Pratt Institute, New York University, Queensborough Community College, Rutgers University, Columbia University, and Princeton University (replete with a banner that said, “YES EVEN PRINCETON!”).   In addition, the Free University hosted a number of lectures by prominent intellectuals such as Frances Fox Piven, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Neil Smith who spoke about the future of radical politics and other themes related to the Occupy Wall Street movement.  In a city where “public” spheres such as parks, sidewalks, and educational institutions are defined and constrained by commercial interests, reclaiming the public Madison Square Park  was an empowering May Day intervention and what many hope will be the beginning of a continued collaboration.

Before the anticipated convergence and citywide march from Union Square to Battery  Park, the Free University closed with colorful political theatre, consisting of a satirical wedding that began on the steps of the CUNY Graduate Center with a thirty-piece band and marched down 5th Avenue as its “aisle.”  The betrothed were the City University of New York’s Chancellor Goldstein and Kroll Security Group.  The performance highlighted the illicit “marriage” of education and securitization “for richer and for richer.”  But as befits the day, the wedding was broken up by music, laughter, and collective voices “striking to build a world we believe in and that believes in us.”