Solidarity Rally Turns into Spontaneous Temporary Occupation

On Friday, March 11, 2011, approximately 300 people joined a nationwide student walkout and rally on the quad at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. What was unique about this rally was the number of many new faces of people who did not typically show up for rallies on campus. They have clearly been inspired by the mass protests in Wisconsin and rapidly spreading throughout the Midwest in Indiana and Ohio.

The rally was part of a nationwide call for student walkouts in solidarity with union workers in Wisconsin. On Wednesday, Republican lawmakers rammed through legislation undermining the collective bargaining rights of public sector unions in the state capitol in Wisconsin where there have been ongoing demonstrations for three weeks. On Friday morning, Governor Scott Walker signed the bill into action.

At the rally on the University of Illinois quad, there were some 50 Uni High students who missed class to attend. There were also more than a dozen students from Urbana High School. Also present were many members of the Graduate Employees’ Organization, professors, undergraduate students, and SEIU members who are currently involved in negotiations for a new contract.

The rally ended with a spontaneous march to Swanlund Administration Building and up to the third floor where Chancellor Robert Easter’s office is located. In the lobby outside the Chancellor’s office, about 15 students talked about an occupation. Instead, about 15 students, mostly undergraduates, sat down in the lobby and came up with a list of six demands:
1.    We want more direct say in when tuition is raised and by how much tuition is raised. We want a tuition freeze.
2.    We want transparency in how the University spends its money. We want this information more available and publicized.
3.    Better representation of students and faculty on the Board of Trustees. Students/faculty should be able to elect a portion of the Board of Trustees that is proportional to the amount of funding provided by the students.
4.    Living wages for building and food service workers. The people who prepare the meals and the classrooms that nurture the students of the university should not receive wages below the poverty line.
5.    DREAM Scholarships for undocumented students.
6.    Administrative raises should have to be approved by the students in the student senate.

Two administrators showed up to talk to the students sitting in the lobby Jan Dennis from University Relations and Robin Kaler from Public Affairs but they offered no answers to the questions about next year’s tuition hikes. After occupying the lobby for an hour and a half, students left the building with a new determination.

Student are calling on those concerned to be at a meeting on Monday, March 14, at 11:30 a.m. where Board of Trustees Chair Christopher Kennedy is giving a speech at Beckman Auditorium, 405 N. Matthews Ave. Those wishing to attend are encouraged to RSVP Mary Parker-Smith, or 217-333-3340.
A vote by the Board of Trustees on an expected $500 tuition raise is set to take place on March 23 while students are on Spring Break.

-Brian Dolinar on March 11, 2011 for UC IMC


the sunday after wednesday’s attack and saturday’s masses

by Dan S Wang and fellow citizens of the Midwest Radical Culture Corridor

This past Saturday’s demonstrations brought 150,000 people out in Madison. But unlike the celebratory mood on previous Saturdays, this was a comparatively somber day. It had to be. After Scott Walker rammed his “budget repair” bill through three days earlier, down the throats of the public, even if possibly in violation of more than one law, by Saturday the fact had settled in. Scott Walker had called labor’s bluff and labor did nothing, at least not immediately.

He and the top state senate Republican, Scott Fitzgerald, then went into good cop/bad cop mode, with Walker speaking his reassuring words while Fitzgerald continued to deride all elements of the opposition, especially his Democrat senate colleagues. Either voice by itself would be irritating enough; as a coordinated follow-through to their manuveur, it galls like a hard poke from a momentarily triumphant inferior.

Late into Wednesday night and all day Thursday, angry strike chatter filled the tweet and comment threads. Student walk-outs were floated for Friday, but no union called a strike, and no wildcat strikes erupted. Scott Walker’s move was a dare to the workers. Go ahead, strike, and see what happens, he seemed to be saying. The union leadership studied the situation in emergency meetings and decided against it. Given the lack of strike funds, the likelihood of being fired, and the possibility of public support evaporating behind a work stoppage, there were in fact good reasons for refraining from striking.

The unfortunate thing is, the emotional momentum that would carry a strike forward as a real weapon of disruption, similar to how the occupation of the Capitol had brought forth a previously unknown community of support, is now lost. A strike still may be called eventually, but now it can only be a symbolic strike, a one-day affair with no real power. A disruptive strike, as a premeditated action, will surely lose public support, and therefore is off the table, unlike the spontaneous or immediate strikes that could have happened, and would have been, by contrast, driven by the emotion of the events rather than the political calculations of the leadership.

So where does this leave the Wisconsin uprising? Back home in Madison late on Friday, Sam Gould, Jerome Grand, and I worked up a flyer to pass out on Saturday, discussing this situation. We got about 400 out by hand, a drop in the bucket of 150k bodies, but nonetheless a real attempt to have people reflect on our options and opportunities at this time. It was heartening to see many, many signs supporting the Kloppenburg candidacy. To me, this showed that the April 5 election is widely recognized as the next urgent battle, and our next best chance to land a blow on the Walker regime.

The text of our flyer:

We will

always remember

who fired

the first shot 

in the      

class war  

As one of our comrades declared on the evening of Wednesday, March 9, 2011, we will always remember who fired the first shot in the class war. On that night the Republican Party of Wisconsin, led by Governor Scott Walker, played the hardliner card. No more pretending. 

After a night of loud protest in Madison, on Thursday the most aggressive part of the so-called budget repair bill—that which strips public sector workers of their right to collectively bargain—was passed by the state assembly. Walker signed the bill, rescinded his layoff notices, and now puts on a happy face, telling everybody to go along with it, that he knows better than anyone how hard the medicine is, but never fear, it is for the good of all. Arrogance is apparently a requirement for the new generation of conservative ideologues.

So even as we prepare for and attend the largest demonstration we can possibly muster for Saturday, we must at the same time consider the reality. This first phase of the struggle—heroic, inspiring, and creative in many respects—is drawing to a close. They won.

But the war is far from settled.

Their opening victory and our setback took place even as the next three fronts open up in full. They are:

The April 5 elections for Wisconsin Supreme Court. That is right around the corner.
Challenges to the legality of the new law. The day Walker signed the bill, Dane County filed a suit to block the enactment of the bill. Other lawsuits may follow.
Recall campaigns, already underway for state senators, and less than a year from now for Scott Walker.
Of the three fronts, the most pressing is the April 5 election. JoAnne Kloppenburg must be elected. David Prosser, who has already declared his intention to support the Walker agenda from the bench, must be defeated. The current court is split 4-3, with a conservative majority. We have the opportunity to overturn the balance. The term for a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice is ten years. Both candidates have accepted public funding for their campaigns and therefore cannot accept donations of funds from individuals. But you can help the Kloppenburg campaign through volunteering, spreading the word, and most of all, voting and making sure your friends and family in Wisconsin vote, too.

The legal challenges are mostly out of the hands of the grassroots. But here again, the April 5 election matters, because many of these laws will be decided by the courts. A vote for Kloppenburg is a vote against Walker!

The recall campaigns need all the help they can get, both in terms of funds and volunteer labor. The sixty day countdown is already down to less than fifty. Being specific to senate districts, all of them depend on the committed activism—and voting!—of local citizens. But there is no precedent for a tide of recall campaigns on this scale. By seeing these recall campaigns through to their ends, with focus and dedication, our movement can make history again.

To sum up this short analysis of where we are at, the utility of the demonstrations is fading. We in the movement must pivot; the electoral campaigns on the horizon can stop and/or undo the Walker attacks, but will depend on grassroots engagement of a level similar to that which went into the demonstrations. And it needs to happen now—both the April 5 election and the recall campaigns are sprints already underway. Many of you have attended demonstrations repeatedly and regularly over the first phase. Let’s apply the lesson from that experience to the next phase of the struggle: how do we build into our regular lives the political work that is now needed?

Scott Walker is counting on us forgetting this ever happened. He and his people will do everything they can to both rewrite history and distract. In addition to their manipulation, we’ll have to combat the natural distraction of the corporate media. This is the challenge as we move into the protracted phase of the struggle.

Electoral politics are not fun, not glamorous, and there is no guarantee that retaking control of the senate or the governor’s office will result in the undoing of the Walker agenda. This is not a philosophical argument for electoral engagement, only a view to what is immediately ahead for us. After April 5 and the recall campaigns, there will be yet more and different things to do. A culture of resistance, with variable tactics and a diversity of engagements, is what we are building. Let’s keep on building it together, in Wisconsin and around America—because we will always remember.

—Your fellow citizens of the Midwest Radical Culture Corridor