Solidarity Rally Turns into Spontaneous Temporary Occupation

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Solidarity on the UI Quad

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.

At a speech given by Board of Trustees Chair, Christopher Kennedy at Beckman Institute on March 14, about 20 students, both undergraduates and graduates, picketed outside. They chanted, “No Cuts to Education! We won’t Take Re-Segregation! That’s Bullshit! Get off it! This School is Not for Profit!”

About Brian Dolinar

Brian Dolinar has been a community journalist since 2004.
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