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

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

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.

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.

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