About Student Power Networks

Student Power Networks are an evolving model of student organizing that can look different from place to place. Florida’s Dream Defenders, Ohio Student Association, and Ignite NC are some of the earliest and best-known examples. There are versions operating in at least 15 states.

Strongest Networks (8)
Developing or Rebuilding Networks (7)

At least a dozen more states have expressed interest or begun exploring the model (ie. AK, NM, MO, KY, RI, MN, KS, GA, AZ, IN, MA, NE, NY, LA, AR).

Related efforts

There are related efforts connected to Alliance for Youth Action, Power Shift Network, Student Action, USSA, Young People For and others (including in Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Wisconsin, California, Texas, and Illinois) and Student Unions inspired by a more international model from Quebec and Chile (these mostly no longer function in the US).

See also: Campus Power Networks for what this model looks like on a specific campus. After you graduate, you can also form a Local Power Network in your town.

Student Power Alliances are typically the 501(c)3 sister organizations to a Student Power Network.


What makes a Student Power Network?

Five key characteristics:

  • State-wide and multi-campus – Usually on at least 5-10 campuses statewide, including covering major campuses and population areas, but ideally including private and community colleges too.
  • Multi-Issue – From climate to LGBTQ to racial and economic justice to college affordability – they pick key issues to build broad, deep, powerful, passionate bases and alliances. They are intersectional.
  • Multi-strategy – From non-violent civil disobedience to GOTV, issue lobbying to arts activism and culture, winning student government elections to divestment campaigns, they are driven by winning real change and power- -using all the tools in the toolbox.
  • Partners with community and labor – Deep strategic partnerships with community and labor groups bring resources, sophistication, mentorship, infrastructure support, and institutional memory.
  • Not limited to 501(c)3. Most states have 501(c)4 as well as 501(c)3 fiscal sponsors to allow students to speak freely and engage in lobbying, elections, and non-violent civil disobedience as needed.
Other important characteristics:
  • Diverse, racially and otherwise – Different in different places – but leadership and base generally reflects the diversity in each state.
  • On and off campus – Organizes for local issues on each campus AND takes part in major relevant city and state-level fights.
  • Ideology is bold and transformative yet practical – Has both a bold transformative or radical analysis of power, a sophisticated strategy to win concrete victories, bread and butter solutions, and “non-reformist” reforms.
  • Focused on winning and building a broad power base – Much of campus activism is primarily symbolic and focused on organizing small cliques. The focus of Student Power Networks is organizing broadly for concrete winnable systemic changes.
  • Leadership development – Emphasis on developing younger leaders, and hard skills including organizing and management, political education, strategy, movement history, landscape, interpersonal skills, etc.
  • Creativity and courage plus discipline and accountability – Emphasis on both creativity and courage to capture imaginations AND discipline and accountability to build strength and trust.
  • Non-sectarian – Strives to be in relationship with multiple relevant partners and seeks to bridge progressive/radical divides.
  • Beloved community culture – A culture of love, fellowship, team spirit, fun, respect and caring for each person, not just external goals. And definitely not a mean or judgmental culture that burns relationships and burns people out.

What does it take to start a Student Power Network?

  • At least one committed and competent organizer –ideally a team (this is the hardest part!)
  • At least one progressive community group/union to support the organizer (preferably local as national orgs rarely have enough capacity to truly support)
  • Understanding of the basic model and a vision.
  • A state-wide problem and a clearly-articulated solution motivates leaders to come together, dedicate time, and recruit others who are affected.
  • Ideally some money, buy-in from a range of ally groups, local and national, youth, labor and community orgs.



Student Power presentation at Ford Foundation

Videos of 11 State Student Power Alliances doing presentations at Ford Foundation (Summer 2015)