After the meeting Saturday, several of us went to a forum on urban sprawl at the public library, at which mostly nobody said much of anything except to repeat, again and again, “But we can’t let that area turn into student housing! We’ve got to keep the students away!” “Okay,” I finally said. “I got a question. There are 20,000 students at the U of I. That’s a third of the population of Iowa City. That’s a sizeable small town all on its own. Where exactly are you proposing that all the students live?” Nobody had an answer).
After that, I returned home to Jessup, where SAS members were in a meeting with the UI delegation which had attended the WRC (the organization we like) conference in NYC this weekend. Well, actually, it was only one member of the delegation and three adminstrative lackeys. Laraine Carmichael Nelson, said member, was a part of the Human Rights Commission appointed by President Coleman specifically to look into the issue of sweatshop monitoring, the commission which voted unanimously in favor of our demands, a vote which Coleman chose to ignore. At this meeting, though, it sounded like she had swalled the administration’s take on things hook line and sinker. I don’t know if you’ve ever talked to a blank wall before, but that’s sort of what it’s like talking to these people, except that talking to the wall can actually be kind of peaceful, at least. It reminds me of being on Student Senate in high school, when we couldn’t actually move to do anything, we could only make a motion “that somebody look into the possiblity of somebody looking into someone repainting the lines in the parking lot.”
After that dismal meeting, Doug and I went to finish up a flyer (now rather out of date) about the protests going on all across the country, from Yale to Purdue to Kentucky to Tulane to Oregon. And then I decided to stop by my mom’s house to take a shower (my second of the week–truly I was falling into decadence), pick up my mail, and pet the kitties. I got home and realized it was med students for dinner night, but not too many showed up, so there were lots of leftovers, including a whole pan of lasagna, which my mom kindly donated to our cause. I showered, picked up a few more clothes, packed up the lasagna and some Coke and such, and Mom drove me back to Jessup. We arrived around 11:15 pm to see Dean Jones (or Daddy Jones, as we like to call him, since he really does define the word “paternalism”) poking around the building again, as he’d been doing off and on all day. I should have been thinking, I suppose, but all I thought was “Does this man have a life?”
I went in, bearing the lasagna, and Mom drove off, and I settled down back home for a fairly relaxing evening–no teach-ins the next day, no work that had to be done right that minute, maybe even some time to catch up on sleep–at that point I’d had 16 hours in four days.
About five minutes later members of Public Safety entered the building, telling the guard on duty they were relieving him. They came in from all sides–I’ve heard numbers ranging from 8 to 20 in all, but I’m not sure. As soon as we realized what was going on, Josh ran for the cell phone to call our lawyer. Before he could even flip open the mouthpiece, he was told he’d have to hand over the cell phone or be arrested. Matt started running downstairs to use the phone down there and was stopped. By this time they’d swept all the floors of the building and chained the doors from the inside.
We were stuck in a hallway, we then realized, in the middle of the night, with a bunch of grown ups, police officers and administrators, and all our connections to the outside world had been severed. I kept my seat–I was by Heidi and Ned–and barely breathed. I cannot quite describe the sensation of the next few minutes–it was something like having half your brain be completely stalled, the way my car always used to stall in heavy traffic for no apparent reason–and the other half running, running, running, tripping, stumbling, trying to latch on to anything that would prepare you for this and coming up with some half framed notion of Miranda rights from too many half-watched late-night TV movies.
We were read statements explaining that we had willfully interfered with the carrying out of official business and that we had violated fire code. We were told to pack our stuff and leave. We were told that if we did not, we would face disciplinary action up to expulsion, that we would face criminal charges and arrest.
Somehow I got my computer into my backpack at this point. I guess at some point we were standing, milling around, everyone asking what to do, someone saying we’d all know this was a decision we all might have to walk, everyone looking to her neighbor for some sign.
Five of us were arrested. Four of us were taken down to Public Safety headquarters, seated in comfortable chairs, asked questions about what hand we used to write with (oddly, always phrased, “Are you right-handed?” not “Are you right handed or left handed?” I asked if they ever asked “Are you left-handed?” just for variety). We were charged with criminal trespass and signed and released. The fifth person, who had, in accordance with our civil disobedience training, gone limp, had been carried out and he was taken to the jail, charged with criminal trespass and interference. The other four of us, after we got out, went over to the jail, where 30 or more SAS members and friends had already assembled–word of mouth spreads like wildfire, or truth–and raised the $650 bail to get our fifth member out, after some confusion and some difficulty contacting our lawyer, who finally did make it.
We all went to someone’s apartment for awhile, all in some ways shaken. Our legal observer explained that he had made a list of every single item that security confiscated and that they had told us we’d be able to get it back on Monday (another good story which I should tell you all some time–I spent an hour and a half this morning talking to to administrators and lawyers and public safety, working out a scheme whereby we could get our stuff without filling out a whole lot of forms, in triplicate, with 27 eight-by-ten glossy color photographs with circles and arrows and all that rigamarole). Eventually we broke up, and, exhausted, made our ways home. Heidi, Holly, Susan, and I all crashed at Susan’s, and Holly and I got up early early, after about a two-hour nap, to go to David’s arraignment this morning. He plead absolutely not guilty. The judge informed us that the $650 bail would be returned and that he would be released on his own recognizance. Then we all went out to breakfast.
There’s much more to tell, of course, but that gives you the basics. We were arrested at 11:30 on a Saturday night for doing no more than we had been all week. The very same administrators and public safety officers who, all week, had commended us on how well we were conducting ourselves, the same ones who had been all smiles at our rallies–the ones, as it turned out, who were lying to us that whole time.
The fight goes on.
Yesterday afternoon we had a community video showing/discussion at the public library where we gained some more support. I spoke to a number of members of my church. We held a press conference today to explain that the arrests had only made us more determined, but that now was not the time to focus on them, now was the time to return our attention to the real issues at hand–to the UI’s continued affiliation with the (un)Fair Labor Association (FLA) and consequent complicity with corporate greed and human rights abuses. As I’ve told several reporters, yes, the experience of being arrested was somewhat terrifying. Yes, it was a shock to feel yourself robbed of your liberties in that way.
But at the end of the night I got to go home and sleep in a nice bed with a roof over my head, in a house with hot and cold running water. I ate a good breakfast in the morning. I lost none of my belongings. And when the time comes, I’ll have the best legal counsel that union money can buy. My experience, in short, pales and in fact disappears next to the kinds of human rights and civil liberties abuses which workers in sweatshops face every single day. I was patted down, it is true, but I was not locked into my place of work. I was not given mandatory pregnancy tests which I had to pay for from my own wages. To focus on our little arrests, in light of the seriousness of the problems we are trying to address, would seem nothing but the basest self-interest.
The sit-in is over, but the war is not over. Thanks again to all who wrote and all who thought of us. We will keep going. I will let you know what’s up, if you wish. And I will answer any questions you have. I urge you, though, if you wish to help, please do so, but know that the best way you can at the moment is to educate yourself. Sort through the alphabet soup until it makes sense to you, and then explain it to someone else. If you live in a place where protests are taking place, go talk to the protesters yourself, and maintain a healthy skepticism for what you read in the news. Question why the national media is not picking up this story.
As I have said, there is much more to tell. I welcome any and all questions.
Now, however, I must go to sleep. There is still much work to be done.
We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. . . that to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new Government. . . .
–Thomas Jefferson, 1776