Student Activism Wins at USC!

Rachel O’Leary et al.

Recipe to win your campaign



  • Important Issue
  • Concrete Goal
  • Coalition Building
  • Unassuming Position
  • Escalation Plan
  • FUN
  • Support Network
  • Direct Action

Preparation Time:

  • 2 Semesters


  • The World


  1. Find an issue you are passionate about, get together with other people and start holding regular meetings.
  2. Develop an “ask,” a concrete proposal or request from your administration. Ask the administration.  If they say yes, the dish is ready! If they say no, continue with the following steps.
  3. Map the power relations in your community: make a diagram of your strategic assets and the pressure points you can target, such as alumni, donors, faculty and student orgs that are sympathetic to your cause.
  4. Begin piecing together an escalation plan: devise a plan to grow the size of your organization and increase the pressure/intensity of your events over time. Continue this throughout the following steps!
  5. Start building a coalition of student organizations, faculty and community organizations—student power!
  6. Direct action: plan an event with catchy visuals and slogans outside of the administration building.  Get all of the media there that you can and have members of the coalition say a few words between rallying. Repeat and vary until…
  7.  Victory! Administration agrees to sit down with you and implement your proposa

An Illustration of One Group’s Tasty Meal:Image

In November of 2011, our group, the Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation (SCALE) at the University of Southern California hosted a worker “Meet-N-Greet,” where students came to hear about the experiences of hospitality staff on campus. Workers spoke about being overworked, having their hours cut and not being able to find work after seasonal lay-offs during school breaks. This event attracted many new SCALE members, many of whom would become core members of SCALE’s campaign.

At a retreat in January 2012, SCALE decided on a group structure, mapped out the power relations on campus and laid out a semester’s worth of events. We decided that the best way to end sweatshop labor in the making of Trojan apparel was for USC to affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), the only independent factory monitoring organization in the world.

In February, five members attended the United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) National Conference in Madison Wisconsin, giving SCALE the activist basics necessary to proceed with the campaign.

In April, SCALE held a Naked Rally where we stripped down as far as we could without getting in trouble, strategically placed signs over our improper parts and marched around campus with signs that said “We’d rather go naked than support sweatshops!” With 50 people in attendance, it was SCALE’s largest and loudest event to date and got local and campus news coverage.

In the fall, as many as 20 people began to attend SCALE’s weekly meetings. We had an Anything But (Sweatshop) Clothes fashion show, where SCALE members modeled clothes made out of newspapers, plastic bags and duct tape while others collected hundreds of student signatures for our campaign.

In November, SCALE hosted the West Coast Organizer Boot Camp, sponsored in part by USAS, MEChA and STAND Anti-Genocide Coalition, where 75 student activists attended student power and organizing workshops for two days. On the first day, USC’s football team was playing the University of Oregon at the Coliseum and the 75 activists performed a flash mob dance outside of President Nikias’ Presidential Tailgate for wealthy donors.Image

Later that month, SCALE hosted a candle-light vigil to remember and honor the lives of over 400 workers who had died in a pair of factory fires in Bangladesh and Pakistan. USC was indirectly implicated in these fires due to its use of a factory monitor that approved both factories before they burned down.

With a solid core group of 15 and weekly meeting attendance of 40 to start off this semester, SCALE was positioned for the big prize. In February, more than 100 people attended our speaker event where a survivor of a factory fire in Bangladesh spoke on video of her experience working in a sweatshop and surviving a fire in which 114 of her co-workers died. She also shared what she believes students and garment workers can do to help end labor abuse. Days later, 17 SCALE members traveled to Miami to attend this year’s USAS National Conference, bringing back to campus an array of skills and strategies to win.

SCALE delivered letters weekly to Nikias’ office restating our proposals and their urgency, with more and more students joining us each week. In the first two weeks of the month, we did a March Madness blitz of outreach and awareness, culminating in a symbolic community vote on the Worker Rights Consortium, where we collected 730 signatures in 48 hours in support of the campaign.

We had been building the Sweat-Free ‘SC Coalition all semester and had 30 student organizations on board. Forty-eight professors signed onto an op-ed in the Daily Trojan in support of SCALE.

On March 13th, members of SCALE sat down with President Max Nikias to officially propose the WRC. This was the first time that Nikias had ever sat down with a student group to discuss university policy. Outside the meeting were 40 members showing support from our coalition. Nikias said he would consider the proposal and SCALE asked for an answer in two weeks’ time.

On March 26th, Vice President Michael Jackson invited SCALE to the Campus Center and informed us that President Nikias had decided to affiliate with the Worker Rights Consortium.


Social change IS possible! Thanks to all who contributed to this enormous victory!

*vigil photo credited to Constance Ge.


2 responses to “Student Activism Wins at USC!

  1. Connie Ge took the photo from the candle light vigil. I’m cool, you don’t have to cite me, but Interloper, if you want to be respected as a professional publication, I would take issues of citing and crediting really seriously. Speaking as a former Co-Editor-in-Chief of a high school newspaper, holla

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