Since the beginning of the people’s upsurge in Wisconsin in early February, the students and workers have resisted in numerous mass actions. One of the most courageous of these was a student occupation at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which ended in the early morning hours of May 7 after the students were evicted from their occupied space by the administration and charged with “trespassing.”
“For the past 66 days our occupation has been an aid and inspiration to students, unions and community organizations. We have participated in marches, rallies, the days-long occupation at the state Capitol, educational activities, canvassing, and even improvisational musicals. We have been organizing and building solidarity for the benefit of Wisconsin’s educational system, our communities and the labor movement worldwide,” said Jeremey Kowalski of UWM Occupied. (uwmoccupied.com)
The students’ occupation began at the Theatre Department, which is facing virtual elimination under Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011-2013 budget proposal, which entails at least $22.4 million in cuts to UW-Milwaukee and tens of millions more for the entire 24-campus UW system.
The students then moved to occupy space in the Student Union, which became the longest occupation in U.S. history according to the students. During the occupation, UWM Occupied, along with supporters, set up a kitchen, held educational workshops, hosted cultural events and engaged in other activities for the entire campus community.
On May 2 the students were given 24 hours’ notice to vacate by the administration, but they and their supporters fought back, and the university then gave an eviction notice of midnight, May 6.
Throughout the week the students garnered support from around Wisconsin and beyond. Signers to the “Showing Solidarity with UWM Occupied” petition included people from over 30 states in the U.S. as well as supporters from other countries, including India, Croatia, France, Canada, Britain, Portugal, Italy, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Ireland, Australia and Germany. A Bail Out the People Movement international petition also generated numerous signers, including struggling students and workers from the University of Puerto Rico.
Just before midnight on May 6, all of the students involved in the occupation moved into their space and set up live Ustream feeds, where they gave regular updates. After they shut off the live stream in the early morning hours, the campus police came in and forced the students out. They were taken to a different location on campus and told they would be given municipal citations for trespassing after hours on campus.
The administration hasn’t yet moved on the occupying students’ demands, which include the administration’s public denunciation of the state budget as devastating for the future of UW-M and Wisconsin; public support for the integrity of the UW system; participation in a pay cut of administrative salaries; a tuition and fee freeze for students; no union busting; and keeping in-state tuition for undocumented students.
Despite being evicted, the students remain defiant and continue to fight for their and other poor and working people’s lives.
“Our aim in this action was to go out on our own terms and re-energize the anti-austerity movement in Wisconsin and all over the country. The university did not want us arrested on camera. I think that speaks volumes to the level of true support of the university administration, which, on one hand, has come out against the anti-collective bargaining legislation, and on the other hand, has had no problem stifling us. But they were too cowardly to arrest us in front of the entire world,” said Peter Adamczazk of UWM Occupied.
UWM Occupied is continuing the fight for its demands along with the Students for a Democratic Society, the Milwaukee Graduate Assistants Association-AFT, AFSCME Local 82, and other student and worker organizations within the UW-M campus community.
The next major statewide protest against union busting and other anti-people attacks is a May 14 “We Are Wisconsin” rally at the state Capitol in Madison. A major focus of this rally will be fighting the new attacks by Gov. Walker and his capitalist backers, including a May 4 announcement by Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature that if the courts have not ruled on the legality of Wisconsin’s collective bargaining bill that was passed earlier this year by early June, it will be added into the proposed 2011-2013 state budget by the Joint Finance Committee.
Contact UWM Occupied at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sign their petition at http://tinyurl.com/4yhvy9r. To support the Wisconsin struggle, visit www.wisaflcio.org; wisaflcio.typepad.com; www.vdlf.org; www.defendwisconsin.org; and www.bailoutpeople.org.