06
Apr 00

Bulletin No. 8

Day 4, night

There were two No. 7s by accident. I could go into a long statistical thing about the number of hours of sleep triangulated around the number of mistakes made in a given 29.6 hour period, but as you’ve probalby realized, it would be a lot of BS.

I would also like to apologize if you’ve gotten anything twice, or if you’ve missed some. You can let me know and I’ll try to remedy the situation.

Down to business: the SAS Occapation of Jessup Hall is now officially online!!! After some fiddling around, I’ve managed to hijack the phone line down here in the basement (mostly a matter of having the right cord, it turns out), so I’ve been catching up like crazy. We were thinking we should just get a computer up here with the UISAS website up permanently, but I’m not volunteering mine. (After all, we’ve been getting Warnings About Our Safety lately. We find this rather humorous. Then again, we’re starting to find many things rather humorous, which is perhaps the thing about being in a situation with so many dire issues at stake).

But enough on that for now: I’ve got some actual news for y’all.

Today continued with teach-ins like crazy, more handing out of flyers outside, more administrators avoiding us altogether or shooting us dirty looks. We’re all tired and a lot of us had been in the same clothes for days and eating random food and generally just feeling like we’re getting nowhere–not, I should add, that we have any plans to give up. Ha.

But this evening at 5 we had a rally. We had a BIG rally, 250 people or so, including (and this is the really kick-ass part) a busload of steelworkers who came in from Des Moines. Forty or fifty union guys from out there got on a bus and rode two and a half hours out here _just to come to our rally_. They all came filing in together (’cause we started inside, around the time we figured Mary Sue Coleman was sliding through her bathole) and you could just feel the energy level rise.

The rally moved outside for speeches, MC-ed by Heidi, who started out by asking for shouts from all the different groups represented. My God! It was amazing. COGS-UE (the grad student union, who have been terrific about letting us use their office and are generally a nifty bunch of people whom I’ll be joining next year) had their own little rallying cry going: “Who’re we? UE!” And the steelworkers–wow! Not to mention all the other unions who’ve come out, and various current and former City Council members (some of whom came to visit us yesterday, too–shouts out to Karen Kubby, Steve Kanner, and Irvin Pfab!). I should mention that the City Council has decided to do some looking into where City apparel is manufacturing. (Or did I say that already?) Anyway, we’re spreading.

Well, we all made a lot of noise outside of Jessup, and we heard some great speeches–a few notable lines (sorry for the lack of attribution in some cases; I’ll happily add it if anyone can remember):

  • Back in my day, the teachers taught the students. But nowadays, it’s the students teaching the administration!
  • And what is the definition of a corporation? A body without a soul! (Greta Anderson)
  • Thanks again to the steelworkers! (Everyone)

We even got a new old labor song, specially adapted for us by the guy Patrick Hughes from the Iowa City Federation of Labor (sorry I’m blanking on names again!!!)

And then Heidi said, “Well, we’re thinking about taking a little walk, since we haven’t seen Mary Sue all day. . . want to go over to her house?”

Aww yeah.

So we all marched the five or six blocks to her house, chanting about Mary Sue=Kathy Lee and the old standbys of Hey hey, ho ho, sweatshop labor’s got to go (changed by some to “has to go”–probably the same people who changed the Pennsylvania state license plate motto from “You’ve Got a Friend in Pennsylvania” to “Keystone State,” whatever the hell that means) and Workers United Will Never Be Divided and Hey, Herky, take a stand, living wages we demand and of course Here, there, everywhere, sweatshops make your underwear!

Campus security was on site when we got there, so we all stood carefully behind the dotted line and made a little more noise (that little is a dramatic understatement, just in case that wasn’t clear). Tons of cars honked in support for us. And Ned made a fantastic speech. He said (as best as I can recall):

“I think we scared a lot of people on the way over here. And I think the reason that we scared them is that they know we’re right. [Cheers] Everybody has to draw the line somewhere on this issue, and we’re drawing it RIGHT HERE. [And now you’ve got to imagine the way we’re all standing spread out in front of the President’s house, which is this big mansion-type affair with pillars and red brick and all–I think it looks like a Southern plantation home, actually.]

(NB this next part is really paraphrased–I wish I had a tape of the real thing) “We’re not trying to cross over the line into disorder and violence, but we are not going to give up until our demands are met. That’s where we draw the line.”

“We’ve got a busload of steelworkers from Des Moines who came in today just to show solidarity with us. And I understand that they’re having a rally out there on April 29th to mark the anniversary of the second year of their strike, and let me tell you, SAS will be there with you on April 29th!” [HUGE cheers].

He talked about our sit in, about us talking to classes and students and using the time-honored methods of passive resistance and managed to hit that exact note between militancy and civil protest that we all strive for, the one that gets everybody fired up with out making anyone explode. I’m feeling so frustrated right now because I’m realizing the total inability of print (or pixels, if you want to get into that debate, which I recently wrote a whole article about and I’m actually getting kind of sick of it, but more on that later) to express the power of a really good speech–and Ned’s was the culmination of a whole evening full of them.

He ended, though, by saying, “For now, though, I’m going home, which for me means Jessup Hall.” And we cheered assent.

So we marched back, and on the way the steelworkers met up with their bus, and we all went around shaking hands with them. I had tears streaming down my face at that point, just telling them how much it meant to us to see ALL THOSE PEOPLE coming out to support us (and they’re steelworkers! I mean, that’s like the coolest of the cool!–at least to us bookish liberal arts wimp types). I told several of them, as I’ve been telling people over the past few days, about when I was 9 or 10 years and my mom took me shopping for school clothes one fall. I was trying on a new pair of jeans, and as I took them off, deciding that I liked them, she pointed out to me the union label and told me about why it was there and what that meant. Since then I’ve learned a lot more detail about unions and their history and all, but I still remember that day–it’s as vivid a picture in my head as the time I had a magician at my birthday party when I was seven or the day in August of 1990 that I moved back to Iowa City when I was fourteen and my best friend called me up and asked if I wanted to go to a meeting that night about opposing the stuff going on in the Persian Gulf.

So we waved the steelworkers off with a chorus or two of “Solidarity Forever” (we have got to learn the lyrics) and came back home.

Now a number of us have had the opportunity to go to our other abodes and shower and pick up some new clothes, and everybody’s pretty mellow (although actually I’ve been down in the basement working on e-mail stuff for the past several hours, so I’m not really sure what’s going on.

I had a great conversation with one of the janitors down here–she’s totally behind us. And someone from one of the business offices down here said some kind words to me on her way out. That’s the kind of thing that keeps us going–that and the steelworkers, of course. I’m sorry to keep bringing it up, but they made our day. Really really really.

So that’s what’s going down around here. For those of you who’re in NYC, let me mention again:

Demonstration at Niketown
Sunday, April 9 at 11 am
57th Street and 5th Avenue

We’d love to hear a report–and if any of you heard anything about the one in Boston today, we’d love to hear about that, too. I’ve heard we were mentioned on WNYC and briefly in the NY Times, so maybe the national press is picking up on this. But keep your eyes peeled and let me know–it’s good to hear from you all, as I’ve said. Thank you SO MUCH again for the e-mails I’ve gotten, and I’m sorry if I haven’t responded to you personally. But I often read your stuff to people, and it makes us feel warm and fuzzy.

Yeesh. I’m thinking maybe I ought to get some sleep.

Solidarity!

Laura


06
Apr 00

Bulletin No. 6

Day 4, 9 am

Ned just delivered the Gazette to Deb, who is still in bed (she’s quoted in it, it would seem). “Oh thank you personal slave,” says Deb.

“That’s right,” I said. “We have no spokesman, but we do have personal slaves.”

KRUI‘s been playing that song about “gonna smack her when I see her.” We tend to agree. (Figurative smacks only, of course).

Dave’s live on KRUI! Our message is goin’ out to the masses! He’s talking all about differences in monitoring and sounding intelligent and much more together than anyone who’s spent the past 3 days on the floor should.

In other media, this morning’s DI is a riot. CEO Coleman wrote a guest opinion all about the usual crap and how she hoped that we’d be part of the solution blah blah blah blah blah. Then, right next to it, was Jim’s column, a sort of expansion of the thing he sent to the listserv, where all the questions are answered with “I too share your concern. I think that this is a very important issue. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.” Etc. Except this time instead of just answering sweatshop questions this way, she answered all questions like that–from educational funding to racist e-mails at the dental school to the Tiger Hawk logo.

And so another dawns at the SAS Occupation of Jessup Hall. (I do love it when we answer the phone that way). General plan for the day: more teachin’, more preachin’, more getting out the word, and then a HUGE rally, which may be taking a little field trip. (After all, fresh air is good for us). There’s a possibility that Holly and I may go over to West High at some point, but given how loved we were by the administration when we were there, we’re not sure how well that will work.

Dean Jones just stopped by to tell us we had to post guards during the night because we could not assume that everyone who came in here was our friend. Duh. He then repeated himself about eight times. I swear, these adminstrators, they’re all like broken records.

I’m gonna go get some more of this mailed off. Keep those e-mails coming. Keep on rockin’ in the free world.

Oooh ooh! The KRUI DJs are just chatting about us and how cool we are and how we’ve bucked generational apathy and how human rights are important, and all that.

11:20 am

I got to answer the phone! The chick from West High called and said she’s going to bring a posse over here to get some learning this afternoon, so that rocks. Ever since then I’ve been teaching. We had a great African history class come in and talk about the ways in which the US has produced the conditions which lead to sweatshops in other countries, and the legislation (something like “Opportunity and Growth in Africa Act”) which would allow that to spread to Africa. More of that fun doublespeak–“fair” labor, “opportunity and growth,” and, of course, President Coleman’s “respect” and “concern” for our issue.

Now I’m really going to get some more of this sent off. We will overcome, dammit.

And the latest, just as I’m typing this up–apparently we got mentioned on the radio, WNYC. Right on!

L.


05
Apr 00

Bulletin No. 7

Day 3, 10:20 pm

Head count: 5, plus many more at a meeting elswhere. The walls have ears.

People downstairs (Steve Kanner has arrived) are playing Tibetan music, which is cool in theory but is actually annoying me, so I’ve come up to the Geography Department lounge to write. I want to go over to Weeg to check e-mail and send some of this shit out, but someone needs to stay here to hold down the fort.

I don’t really know what’s going on.

What’s going on. I think someone brought a Marvin Gaye tape. How odd.

All that energy that I had last night, all that sense of world-conquering power–I wish I knew where it went. Am I just exhausted? I don’t know. Am I too principled to belong to any movement? That would be troubling indeed.

I’m fascinated by the concept of movement, of a movement. Is a movement necessarily all the same time in a single direction? Or is it the way Sam Turner always described the New Bad Things–a whole group of people singing the same song, but all with a different idea of how it should be, and all singing it simultaneously–a tower of Babel sort of thing. Being moved by the spirit and all that.

I think maybe I am just tired–which would make sense, what with my whole 2 hours of sleep last night.

I can’t decide what to do.

I think I’ll call my mom.


05
Apr 00

Bulletin No. 5

Day 3

5 pm

Many have left to go to the Day of Silence rally. I have stayed to hold down the fort.

7 pm

And many did stop by. I had a great conversation with a girl named Rebecca, all about the efforts I’ve been making to educate the campus about the history and purposes of civil disobedience and nonviolence and all that good stuff–that we’re not just here ’cause we wanted to take over the administration’s building, dude–that we’re here because we want to be an education to the campus (wow, that Pericles stuff can really stick with you. Of course, here I am alluding the Funeral Oration left and right without mentioning things like, oh, say, slavery in Greece. But, as Mr. Emerson says, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds). Right.

Things are pretty mellow right now. Dave put Liz Phair on the stereo pretty low, and we were chatting briefly about the appropriateness of my favorite line from this album, the one I quote to you all the time: “It’s nice to be liked, but it’s better by far to get paid.” Damn straight.

But, while I’ve got the time and it’s fairly quiet, there are some other things I should talk about–a little change of pace from the humor and philosophy, I guess.

First of all, thanks SO MUCH to all of you who have e-mailed me over the past few days. I know I haven’t replied to all of you personally, and I hope you won’t take offense either at that or at the hasty, scrappy responses that I do get sent out. But know that your words are appreciated, that they’ve given me strength of purpose, and I’ve been doing my best to pass that on.

The energy is high here a lot of the time–so many of the students we’ve talked to have been amazing. Again, hundreds came through today, stopped to hear about sweatshop conditions and the FLA and the WRC and the lack of responsibility on the part of administrators. But we’ve also had to deal with the continual–I don’t know how to say it except wrong-headedness–of the administration. Mary Sue Coleman and Anne Rhodes won’t even talk to us anymore. Those who will continue with the party line, which is to be expected, I know, but after a time of talking to them you start to feel that you’re nothing but a pingpong ball balancing on the top of a water jet at a fair. You know you’re right, you know that the facts are on your side, that history is on your side, that everything that counts is on your side. But it’s hard. It’s hard. You’re sitting here in the same clothes you’ve been wearing, in this building with all its gold lettering and formality, and you’re tired and you haven’t showered and you’re eating the weirdest collection of food you’ve ever had, and here’s this administrative type in a suit, who slept in a bed last night, and who’s pulling out every older-and-wiser-than-thou stop they have. There are times, I admit, when I think it would be simpler just to go on letting them run the world. Paternalistic benevolence can be a powerful force, particularly when it comes to brainwashing.

And there’s the issue I brought up earlier, I think–the question of how much resistance we’re practicing when our civil disobedience has been sanctioned–we’ve been allowed to remain in the building. Of course, we get lectures from Security every day about how mature and wonderful we’re being, what good little boys and girls we’re being. At times we despair. Morale is difficult in the trenches, even when you’re on the side of good–maybe even especially then. I don’t know.

So do keep those e-mails coming–and please e-mail/fax/call the administrators at any and all of the SAS schools that you can. I’m sending along a list of all the calls for action that we’ve received as of last night–and let me tell you, I know this is a partial listing. If you’re in NYC or Boston, I know there are rallies planned for this weekend–if I find out more specifics, I’ll send them along, but keep your ears out. Also, my fellow Vassarites–as you’ll note, our school hasn’t joined the WRC. I seem to recall that we did sign onto the FLA around the time it was started last year. Is anything going on on campus there? We want to hear about it. And please, also, if you run across any national news coverage of this, we’d love to hear about that too. We get morning paper deliveries of the locals around here, but given our position and the amount we have to do, we don’t have the time or ability to check CNN or the New York Times or Nightline or whatever else. So keep your ears and eyes peeled, and tell me what you hear.

Thanks again to all of you who’ve written, and those of you whom I know are thinking of us. It DOES make a difference.

Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around,

Laura


05
Apr 00

Bulletin No. 4

Day 3, 8:30 am

Rise and shine and give God your glory glory. . . or give the administration hell, or whatever. Someone came in around 7 I think and turned the main lights on. We groaned. (Those of us who went to bed about an hour before that were perhaps particularly audible). But now I’m up and awake and raring to go, even with out coffee (yet), though it’s coming, along with breakfast courtesy of the Hamburg Inn. They ROCK MY WORLD!

So: this morning’s DI reports that the second day was “calmer” than the first and that Mary Sue Coleman feels she’s taking a “cautious” position. Our man Ned is right back at her though: “You can’t meet halfway on the issue of human rights. There is no middle ground or compromise; you either respect human rights or you don’t. At this point, remaining in the labor association is going to allow sweatshop conditions to continue and corporations to be shielded from the discovery of this exploitation.” What more is there to say, really?

Various staff folk are walking through, not looking particularly pleased with the situation. Go figure: Mary Sue Coleman gets her private hidden entrance, wherever that is, so she can avoid us and feel safe, while the grunts who work in this building have to deal with us. The whole system–even the architecture–is set up to make it hard to get at the people you really want to.

But back to the DI for a moment–right underneath the picture of the march past Mary Sue’s house there’s another headline: “City says ‘time out’ on apparel pending review.” Thanks to Steve Kanner, the City’s decided to look a little harder at where the clothing it orders comes from and just how it’s produced. Quoth Steve, “I thought [UI Students Against Sweatshops] brought up some good points, so I thought we should look into what the city does. The movement empowers the community.” The movement empowers the community. That’s what it’s all about. It’s not about divisiveness or trying to alienate people or piss people off–it’s about showing that we DO have a say in the way things work. Each person does have a voice, and, as Eddie Moore says, “the choice to watch or interrupt is ours.” Or, as Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed in all the flyers put up around campus for Human Rights Week, “It’s always the right time to do the right thing.” The idea, you see, is that that should apply not just to a week but to all the time. And when you remember that you have that voice, and when you claim it and use it, you realize that the very act of speaking, of interrupting, is a revolution in itself. Telling the truth is always revolutionary, especially in an atmosphere where there is a conspiracy of silence. These halls, and the good old neoclassical architecture of this Pentacrest, echo and reverberate pretty well. Those ripples have reached the city–let’s just hope that they are ripples felt round the world.

Okay, enough of the philosophy–you guys probably want to know what’s happening, too, huh?

Well, it’s 9 am now, and the Breakfast Support, Coffee Support, and Paper Support teams have delivered their goods. Ham and cheese and just cheese sandwiches from the Hamburg Inn (with 2 kinds of mustard to choose from! though actually I’m not a mustard person, but I appreciate the gesture) and coffee from brave souls who went out to fetch it. I am a much happier girl now that I’m armed with some good dark roast. The aroma is itself empowering.

We’re planning more teach-ins, more letter-writing, more just plain presence. Holly and I are waiting to hear from our old high school–we might go give some presentations out there today. I’m gonna finish my breakfast and go see about finding a phone line.

It looks like Ned’s talking to someone in the Office of the President, or at any rate he’s stnading in there and looking impassive. Mary Sue Coleman actually decided to walk through the hall this morning and said good morning. Ann Rhodes just walked through, no comment.

More later,
Laura


05
Apr 00

Bulletin No. 3

Day 2, nearly Day 3, 5:49 am

It is much closer to dawn than I want to think about right now, even given daylight savings time and all, but this may be the only time I really have to write here, and I want to get some impressions down.

Heidi, Daniel, and I just got back from the computer center [aka Weeg] a little while ago; Heidi was making a flyer for tomorrow; I was starting my local media bombardment campaign, and Daniel was along for moral support. The door prop had been moved when we got back, and we pounded like you wouldn’t believe, thinking that everyone was fast asleep and dreaming of a brave new world, but it turned out they were just scared we were the cops. Ned finally ran up to the third floor, saw it was us, and let us in.

Now everyone is asleep–as asleep as you can get in this place. It’s hot in here–I almost think that maybe they’re trying to sweat us out. And there’s some huge machine behind the walls, part of the circulation system or the heat or what, I don’t know, but it makes a throbbing, pulsing noise that you can feel in your breastbone, almost as if it were the heart of the building. But it’s not: we are.

While we were at Weeg, we ran through Heidi’s e-mail accumulated over the past day, almost all of it from the USAS listserv. It’s not just us and Purdue, it’s all over–and spreading like wildfire. Kentucky, Tulane, Michigan, Oregon, Yale, Wesleyan–they’re all holding buidlings or camping out or hunger striking or something, and I know there are schools I’m forgetting. This movement is national, and though the national media haven’t picked up on it yet, we know it (thanks to the wonders of modern technology). But sitting there, reading all those posts from all over–somebody compiled all the letters asking for support and sent them out in one mass e-mail–we felt it. All over America right now people are sleeping, but some of those people–a critical mass of those people–are college students and supporters, camping out on lawns and in libraries, in hallways and on doorsteps, demanding change, demanding a voice, demanding a better world.

I’ve been reading a lot of history about student movements of the 1960s lately, partly to refresh my memory, partly for inspiration, partly for what they might have to teach me. I know these weren’t the only student movements ever, though–I was talking to a grad student here today who told me about stuff going on in the ’30s, fascinating stuff, stuff like leaving a campus to form your own. And that’s what we’ve done here: formed our own university, digitally linked to our comrades all across America. It’s pretty fucking amazing.

But the other thing that all this history has made me think about is how this current movement will play out in history. I’ve gotten a lot of slack from people about ’60s idealism run amok, and how do we think we’re going to be any different, and if we were older and wiser we’d know better, which I can only translate as, Get off our floor; you’re in the way; go back to your room. Yeesh.

I don’t know what the end result of this struggle will be. I hope it will be victorious. But there’s one thing I do know: this movement, this sit-in, will affect the history of each and every individual here tonight. What we did, how we felt, and what we thought during these days will be a part of the story which each of us forms about our life. I suspect it will be a signficant part of those stories. It certainly will be in mine. What we’re accomplishing here is not just an end to collegiate affiliation with sweatshop labor or a challenge to the still-paternalistic authority of the university system and the accountability of the administration: we’re learning from this. We’re learning about what it means to work together and fight together, what it means to try to educate people and mobilize people. We’re learning how to make it happen.

You can’t buy the kind of energy that’s fueling this movement, not if you combined the salaries of every administrator involved, plus all the outrageously exaggerated salaries of the coaches here at the Big 10 schools. If we win this fight, we’ll know that we CAN change the world. And what else, I ask you, do you want to teach your children, if not that?

In her book Heretic’s Heart, Margot Adler (now New York Bureau Chief for NPR) talks about her involvement in the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in 1964–the movement that established the right of students to organize on campus and to be treated as adults. It’s an astounding story, full of impassioned speeches and vivid pictures. But what is perhaps even more astounding is the story Adler tells about its 25th reunion–about men and women still flush with that victory of decades ago, still full of the energy and power that come from knowing you do have a voice and that you can change the world. These people, said Adler, were not the burnt-out radicals you so often hear about–they were good people still doing good work for the world, confident that their lives did matter and did make a difference.

That’s a pretty great story to be able to tell yourself.

In addition to the story of the group, however, there was the story of each individual. For Adler, the Free Speech Movement was a part of the work of her heritage–her parents were activists and she had grown up in a climate of radicalism and liberalism. (Oh, those isms). For others, however, it was quite different. For many, their involvement in the FSM became the story of how they broke from their parents, how they realized that complacency was not something they could tolerate, even in the affluent society. For all, however, it was a part of the story of how they grew up, how they became women and men.

I wonder about the bodies sleeping around me tonight. What will their stories be? At Weeg, Heidi was sending out e-mail and, inadvertantly, sent one to her father indicating that she was in fact a part of the sit-in. “Oh my God, my father knows I’m sitting in,” she said. Her father knows of her involvement in the movement, knows how much this means to her, but this sit-in will, it seems, be the acid test. My mother knows I’m here–in fact, she’s getting this update. She asked tonight if I knew all the people I could call if I needed bail or legal help while she was out of town. (Go Mom!) But nonetheless, my presence here tonight, the words which I’m speaking and writing, they all mark a transition for me, a moment of breaking away, or rather, of claiming something which was mine all along, which my heritage and my upbringing, from my father teaching me the Greek alphabet when I was little to my mom showing me the union label in my new school clothes and telling me what it meant, have given me.

It’s pretty damn amazing, I gotta say.

Well, it’s really time for me to grab a few hours’ sleep now. I’ll try to get this out as soon as I can.

Solidarity forever,
Laura


05
Apr 00

Welcome to the Occupation: Bulletin 2

Author’s Note: These notes are basically as I wrote them, though I’ve tried to fix some of the typos. If you note occasional departures from my usual air of studied calm and rationality, I ask you to excuse them on the basis of adrenaline and time of day. (Some of ’em are also really random).

–Laura

Day 2, shortly after 1 am

I’ve moved in! Things are pretty mellow about now–guitar music, grading papers, friendly conversation.

Heidi has passed out, and people are bestowing gifts beside her, sort of like offerings to the dead, except that of course she’s not dead (she’s WAY too cool for that). But she’s got cigarettes and cookies now, so she’ll be a happy girl when she wakes up.

We’re singing songs, a verse or two here, a verse or two there, from what we can remember of “The Circle Game” or “Joe Hill” or what have you.

Are baby carrots really baby carrots? Some maintain that they are actually huge carrots that have been wheedled down to baby carrot size. More corporate attempts to fob shit off on us. But we like baby carrots anyway.

Head count: 14, plus I think some in the tents.
Guitar count: 2.
Computer count: Not sure–3 I think.

“Buildings and Bridges” (with a bridge, of course, to get it in the right key and mood). Everybody’s singing along, at least on the dadadada parts. It’s so amazing–I have so many of these CDs here, and we’ve got the CD player, but fuck it, we’ve got a guitarist and voices, too, and that’s so much better. I swear, this whole thing is playing into my whole notion that this is a model for a better society. Sixties idealist windbag bullshit, you might say, and I would say, at times, but really. Really. Everyone who comes here will remember this. Even the people who just come in for a teach-in class, or just poke their heads in to visit their friends–I hope that they can see this.

“Can you change the words to ‘Have you lost your faith in Heidi?'” Ned asks Dave. Heidi’s woken up, accidentally bumped into by the guitar. “Yeah, I think that could manage that, actually.” He does. “I think that it’s easier to believe in Heidi Sabers, to believe in Heidi Sabers. . . .” Now we’re talking an SAS album. Ned’s commissioned his own theme song, to the tune of $100.

We’re discussing a new sign for the front door. Something indicating our occupation of the building. I want it to say “SAS Occupation of Jessup: Day 2.” I believe that we should restart the year, the way you do when you have a revolution. This is the second day of the new society, or at least the new university. Ned agrees with me, providing that all the philosophy doesn’t have to fit on the sign.

We’re all singing “Bye Bye Love” now–it’s a crazy time, I tell you. Now it’s “Walk Up, Little Suzy.” “Can you do a quick Logan Porter in his underwear song?” asks Ned, as Logan emerges from the tent wondering if the music could quiet down just a bit, since he was trying to sleep. We all have to get up early ’cause of the administration coming in, damn it.

There’s so much to say, so much to tell. Like the funniest thing that’s happened so far: today Ned was meeting with Mary Sue and the legal counsel guy, whatever his name is–he’s sort of a tall, vague looking man with hair of no color. Anyway, there they were, having this whole discussion, terribly serious, and then all of a sudden–a poster appears in the window–the one of the Devil spanking Mary Sue. Ned said he just lost it. Legal Counsel was not amused. Neither was Mary Sue, needless to say. I think Ned explained that we might be getting a little rowdy. Not exactly the best tactical move on our part, but it really was fucking funny as hell.

[Note to self: Why am I forgetting everyone’s name? What’s the first sign of early onset Alzheimer’s again?]

Greg Brown on the stereo now.

Yesterday, after she’d been carried out, Deb was almost ghostlike, her face a study.


04
Apr 00

Word From the Front: Bulletin 1

3 [or really 4] April 2000, sometime after midnight

[NB If you are confused or annoyed about why you’re getting this, explanations/justifications/appropriate channels for protest can be found at the bottom of this bulletin.]

Well, I really shouldn’t say from the front, because actually as I write this, I’m still in my (relatively) well-appointed study, listening to old protest songs to keep the adrenaline flowing and occasionally trying to give a few moments’ attention to the cats. (By the way, someone really ought to do a study on the relationship between adrenaline levels and typos. I’m pretty sure I know what the findings would be, and I apologize for the many which this may contain–last night’s was kind of a doozy, I realize).

As soon as I finish this, though, I’ll be moving into Jessup Hall, home to the University of Iowa administration, now under the occupation (though not, I hasten to add, sole possession, like SDS propping their feet up on the desk of Columbia’s president and smoking cigars) of UI Students Against Sweatshops. Wow.

I’m going to be moving in for a variety of reasons, and I’m not going to be sitting in in the absolute sense, since I like to have my fingers in as many pies as possible, so I’ll be venturing out into the world for classes, teaching, and so on. But I do want to be in there, and I’d like to send out a few words from the unconventional press, namely me.

I promise that these bulletins will be both as accurate and as subjective as possible, which will strike a lot of you as a total contradiction but which seems to me the only way I can proceed. I strive for accuracy in numbers, in quotation, in quantifiable fact. But as for impressions, opinions, connotations–those are all my own–and most of you, I suspect, know where I stand.

So–on to the report:

Jessup Hall today was one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen. Oh, yeah, sure, there was the festive “we’re taking over the building!” part. But there was so much more.

Picture in your mind a class–and I’m sure you’ve all had them–the kind where everyone just kind of sits there, staring into space. No one ever talks, no one seems even to have heard of the reading. It’s not even necessarily because the material or the teacher or the students are bad–there’s just something missing. Whatever that thing was was present in abudance in Jessup today. Classes visited throughout the day, from frosh rhetoric classes to graduate women’s studies seminars. I watched one class. People sat on the hall way floor, amid the sleeping bags and tents and signs and art projects and guitars and media. The SAS members who sat in President (or CEO, as we like to call her) Coleman’s office yesterday described the event, how it was planned and coordinated, the logistics of civil disobedience (having a legal observer and counsel, making sure everyone knows the plan, etc.). And students had the kind of looks on their faces that one longs for. They looked baffled, some of them, but baffled in the way of people who have just realized that there are questions to be asked, and that they’re allowed to ask them. And they did.

Reporters aplenty were there, too. I talked to a guy from KCRG for about half an hour, all about administrative accountability and the purpose and meaning of education–all that stuff I touched on in yesterday’s e-mail–and how I felt that what we’d created here was a university, a society, all to itself–a model of what a university could be. I mean, I’ve always regarded education the way some people regard psychedelic drugs, as a way of expanding your mind, experiencing things which lie beyond you–in short, as truly psychedelic, which (and hey, Timothy Leary did get an education at some point, though you may well (and I do) kind of question what he did with it) literally means “clear mind” or “clear soul.” (“I’m just trying to get my soul free,” etc., etc.)

I was rereading one of my favorite novels, Goodbye Without Leaving, by Laurie Colwin, recently, and there’s a moment when the narrator says that there are few moments in life when you get to be effortlessly yourself. I haven’t been around for that long, but I’d say she’s right. I had a number of moments like that today, though. I was standing there, explaining to this reporter what I think about education and idealism and accountability and my heritage and how it influences me, and suddenly I thought maybe the feminists and Witches had something going with that whole “power-from-within” notion. I’ve always thought that was a particularly hokey phrase–but there’s something about being able to speak and realizing that everything–the things you’ve learned and the things you believe and the things you’ve always wanted to believe and the way you’ve always wanted to be–is converging–it’s pretty damn amazing.

I’ve got to pack up, but I’ll be sending more whenever I have the chance and can hijack a phone line.

Keep on rocking,
Laura

as promised. . .
WHY YOU’RE GETTING THIS

  1. You’re on the New Rambler mailing list. One of the reasons The New Rambler exists, aside from my being bored and frustrated after I got out of college, is that I wanted a place I could say whatever I wanted, beholden to no one–that whole freedom of the press belongs only to she who owns her own thing. I don’t charge a subscription (unless you want hardcopy, in which case I charge a little for printing and shipping costs), and you don’t have to subscribe, and that, for me, gives me the freedom to do whatever I want. (I should mention that I’m writing this paper right now–at least in theory–called “What is an Audience?”, so I’ve been thinking about the question even more than I normally do, which tends to make me paranoid, which is why I’m providing these possibly extraneous explanations. . . .) Now, I know that Sam Johnson said only fools wrote for free, but I don’t agree with him in every single one of his peculiarities; I just stole the name of his periodical.
  2. I thought you might be interested.
  3. I write for your paper and feel I should explain my recent preoccupations.
  4. I’m taking a class from you, and I felt I should tell you about all the wonderful education that I’m getting outside the classroom, if yours is one of the classes I’ve missed recently.

If you hate this and never want to see my name in print again, just tell me (politely is nice, but not essential), and I’ll knock you from the list. If you want to get the regular New Rambler but not this stuff, that is also possible. If you know someone else who might appreciate these, send ’em on, or send me the e-mail address and I’ll add them to the list. If you are an infiltrator–well, hey, welcome aboard. I’ve always suspected that privacy was basically a myth, anyway. If you have anything else you want to complain about, you can send that along, too, and there’s a chance I’ll listen. I think that about covers it.


03
Apr 00

A New Rambler Call to Action

Dear Friends,

As some of you know, in recent weeks I have become actively involved in the University of Iowa’s chapter of Students Against Sweatshops, a nationwide organization which is calling for colleges and universities to adopt strict codes of conduct for the factories which make clothing which bears their label, and which is demanding that these institutions drop out of the group known as the “Fair Labor Association” (FLA), which purports to be a sweatshop monitoring group but which has yet to do anything (and, since it is made up mostly of the corporations which profit from sweatshop labor, is unlikely to do much more) and join instead the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC), a group which advocates third-party monitoring and full disclosure and the rights of workers to things (like, oh, say, clean working conditions, a living wage, workdays that extend to 14 and 16 hours, bathrooms and the opportunity to use them, and other such trifles which most Americans take forgranted–though the “living wage” part of that might be up for debate–but that’s for another time).

The administrations of a few schools, after months of debate and student activism, and 54 studenst being arrested at the University of Wisconson, have begun to comply with the recommendations of Students Against Sweatshops. Currently, however, 6 students at Purdue are on their 8th day of a hunger strike, to no avail, and 15 students here at the University of Iowa have taken over the administration building, planning to sit in for as long as it takes.

You may well feel that these actions are extreme, that we are youthful and uncompromising and that we have much to learn about negotiating and common sense and the way the world works. You may be right; I don’t know. But I do know that these actions have come only after months–nearly 10 months here–of meetings and forums and discussions with the administration, after letter-writing and reasoning and being nice. These actions have come, at the University of Iowa, after the UI’s own Human Rights Commission Charter Committee on Human Rights, appointed by President Mary Sue Coleman to look into the matter, recommended exactly what SAS advocates, and Coleman (who holds the power over these decisions) decided not to comply.

I think we’ve been patient long enough.

Now I could give you all sorts of further details on the FLA and the WRC and why one is flawed and one is right, and why we can’t belong to both at the same time, and exactly the sorts of things that go on in sweatshops around the world and what corporations do to deny it, but I think that’s information that you already know, or which you can gain elsewhere. (If you want to hear more, do ask, or visit the UISAS website, www.uiowa.edu/~uisas).

I want to explain why it is that I have returned to activism, and to this particular issue, after some years of silence.

Recently I reviewed a collection of essays called Wild Child: Girlhoods in the Counterculture, edited by Chelsea Cain. In her introduction, Cain states that “There is just no way that you can escape being influenced by a childhood designed specifically to influence you.” My parents (as some of you know all too well) were certainly not hippies, but the sentiment rings true to me nonetheless.

I was raised to believe that education was just about the most important thing in the world. I was raised to believe that you read books and studied and talked to people not to get better SAT scores or get into college so you could get a better job so you could make more money. You read and studied and talked because this was how you formed yourself–by encountering what Socrates or John Milton or Thomas Jefferson or Henry David Thoreau (a lot of dead white men, I know, but worthwile ones) said, you could converse with some of the greatest minds history has known and thus shape your values not only from your own experience but also through the greater experience of a whole world history.

(I know; I sound hopelessly dated and idealistic. But I think this stuff’s important, so bear with me.)

I believed that universities, being the centers of such learning, were to the public conscience what Pericles says Athens is to Greece: a model and an education for the world. The university to me was not an ivory tower which barred others from entering but rather a beacon on a hill which beckoned them to come.

I have found, recently, that quite the reverse is true. The University of Iowa is not being run to be an education to the world (unless, of course, it wishes to educate the world to value profit over and above human life). It is being run as a corporation, a “knowledge factory,” as the said of Berkeley in the 1960s. As Mario Savio told members of the Berkely Free Speech Movement in 1964, and as I quoted to members of the sit in today,

if this is a firm, and if the Board of Regents are the board of directors, and if President Kerr (or Beering, at Purdue, or Coleman, here at the UI) in fact is the manager, then I’ll tell you something: the faculty are a bunch of employees, and we’re the raw material! But we’re a bunch of raw materials that don’t mean to have any process put upon us, don’t mean to be made into any product, don’t mean to end up being bought by some clients of the University; be they government, be they industry, be they organized labor, be they anyone! We’re human beings!

In her first book, the memoir Dharma Girl, Chelsea Cain talks about how her mother, who had been raised in a conservative military family, ended up in the counterculture. “Her identity had been closely wed to what it meant to be an American and when what it meant to be an American suddenly included napalm and mortar fire, her self-concept began to unravel.”

My identity has long been tied to being a student, to being a scholar, to reading and writing and thinking and conversing and through all of these things trying to figure out the best way to live in the world. But if to be a student, to be a member of a university, means to study Charles Dickens and the Triangle Shirtwaist factory and yet ignore the very same abuses when they serve to produce the clothes on our backs, if it means to live in a supposedly democratic society but be subject to the decisions of a university administration which is not elected but appointed, and who serve the interests of profit above those of human rights–well, I’m not sure I can be a student anymore. I know that I cannot keep silent.

Mario Savio’s speech continues:

There comes a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even tacitly take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

I have reached that time. I ask you all to consider if you have, as well, and, if you wish, to call/fax/e-mail Presidents Beering and Coleman in the next days to let them know what you think. If you’re in Iowa City, stop by Jessup Hall tomorrow; teach-ins will be going on all day in conjunction with the sit-in. Additionally, there is a march as part of the National Student-Labor Day of Action, in memory of the 32nd anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s death (as you may know, he was working with the labor movent in Memphis when he was shot). The march starts at 4 pm at Upper City Park and ends up at the IMU where, at 6:30, there will be a Student-Labor Forum to discuss sweatshops, the UI’s stance on them, and whatever else comes up.

President Mary Sue Coleman, University of Iowa
fax: (319) 335-0807
phone: (319) 335-3549
e-mail: marysue-coleman@uiowa.edu

President Steven Beering, Purdue
phone: (765)-494-9708
e-mail: room206@purdue.edu

You can also call Diane Nicks tomorrow (April 4th) at the University of Wisconson and ask her to drop all charges against the 54 students arrested there, who face heavy fines.

With thanks and in solidarity,
Laura E. Crossett


17
Mar 00

Playing at Prostitution

Awhile ago (like back in December, I think), I was reading an article in some glossy magazine about actresses who had played prostitutes and how they felt about their roles. Almost everyone said that playing a prostitute had been one of the best roles of her life.

On one level, that totally makes sense–I mean, one would guess that Elisabeth Shue found her role in Leaving Las Vegas a lot more fascinating than, say, her role in Adventures in Babysitting. On the other hand, though, there’s at least one other level on which this is really, really disturbing–because I’ve never, ever heard of anyone who went into prostitution by choice. If all the world really is a stage, it’s not a role anyone wants to play.

Currently, I’m taking this class which I have to take to get a teaching certificate called Human Relations for the Classroom Teacher. I had thought this was probably a newspeak way of saying How Not to Get Sued, but it turns out it’s a way of saying Multiculturalism for the Classroom Teacher without using any of those icky words like diversity or liberal or feminist or affirmative action. Anyway, every week we all go to a big lecture, and twice a week I show up for a discussion section which is made up of about fifteen terribly earnest young women, a couple guys who never talk, one guy who relates practically everything to WWII, and me. (It’s a barrel full of laughs at 9:30 am, let me tell you).

The other day, we were talking about Asian Americans and Stereotypes. Pretty blah. Then someone asked the rather intelligent question of why it was that gender had been such a big issue when we were discussing other groups, but not this one. A respectful pause for consideration follows (this is called wait time). Then some other people repeat the question, with slight rephrasings (this is called discussion). The WWII guy tells us that there’s only ever been one Asian model in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue and only four Playboy centerfolds have been Asian. (The other guys, hearing “swimsuit issue” and “Playboy”, perk up slightly).

“Great,” says one of the women. “That’s really the field that I want women to be advancing in.” Others are quick to assent. I even nod in with an affirmative, because this is how I have been trained. Playboy=bad. Swimsuit isssue=exploitation. Advertising=killing us softly. Objectification of women, blah blah blah.

A bit later, though, I was thinking about it again, and I think there’s a valid argument to be made that if Playboy is a part of our culture (which it totally is–I mean, who could live without the articles?), and if you want to be represented fully in the culture, then, hell yes, you’d want to be represented in Playboy centerfolds.

I don’t know that anyone’s career goal has ever been to be a Playboy centerfold (though I would guess they get paid fairly well–like that commercial with the swimsuit model and the sportswriter, when she says to him, “Yeah, well, who sells more issues–scintillating sportswriting or fishnet bikinis?”), just as I don’t think anybody starts life thinking, “Wow, when I grow up I really want to be a prostitute!” On the other hand, who am I to say, Sorry, only white women can be pin-up girls; no others need apply. The idea of a sex symbol is, I think, much too culturally entrenched to go away (nor would I want it to; I love Marilyn Monroe and Sophia Loren–and James Dean, for that matter). That being the case, it ought to be open to all races.

So how does this all tie back to my origial question–why would anyone want to play a prostitute, when in real life the role is not one you’d choose? Well, the key word there is play. If you’re playing a prostitute, or modeling a swimsuit, or posing nude for Playboy, at the end of the day you get to put your clothes back on and go back to your normal life, and for your next role, you can play a district attorney or the vice-president (Glenn Close has broken in that far; Hollywood still hasn’t given a woman the top office in the country, damn them). A real hooker, I think, doesn’t have those options–but she should.