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brief reflections on the walk-out, demonstration and occupation at UWM on February 17th

Much of what we know about the events today is either experienced by us or is hearsay.

Today we witnessed the largest walkout and demonstration at UWM since at least the height of the anti-Iraq war era and if not more than that then since the Vietnam war spilled over into Cambodia, spreading a wave of occupations and rage filled demonstrations across the US. Throughout the demonstration thousands of people came with hand made signs, stayed to hang out, or passed through, but the mass of people that seemed to slightly exceed the protest ritual of the past in Spaights Plaza, that has been so easy to ignore, became a sight of interest in itself. Much of what was being said on a stage could not be heard over the crowd’s noise. People found friends or talked to strangers, gawking at the crowd and sometimes feeling power – this curious sensation that with this many people we could do pretty much anything we want. And when this passes, we also sense the frustration of squandering this moment.

The space of Spaights Plaza seems to contain within it a memory and ritual that informs the repetition of a specific form of political activity, which produces different quantities of the same. Organizers stand on a stage and talk at people. People who are close listen or sometimes chant along. Some hold signs. All the while the activity maintains a strict division between different levels of a hierarchy of organizers and organized participants. This goes on until it loses steam and people go back to work, class or home. One should ask, what is the function of the reproduction of this continual defeat? We ask this, not to merely cut down our political adversaries, but to ask how it can become more.

According to friends, many teachers were giving lectures or short speeches about the cuts and new proposed legislation, then told their students they were walking out and that they should follow. Across Milwaukee, Madison, Racine and other places today and yesterday thousands of teachers have called in sick in public schools. Combined with seemingly spontaneous walkouts by students many schools and some districts have been completely shut down. It’s unclear what is happening with other state employees on the campus other than our individual experiences and conversations with a few people. Some janitors of the dorms were apparently planning on taking part in the walk out and were threatened with immediate termination. After this they asked why a security camera has been put in their break room, to which their managers responded “you don’t have a break room.” There were rumors and passing remarks of workers throughout the city who wanted to walk out or call in, but were threatened and frightened into isolation.

As we were walking home a friend called us and told us Bolton 150, a large lecture hall, had been occupied. Exactly what was going on was unclear. We turned back around and headed toward campus. On our way, we hear a march of students that looked too young to be students attending the University. They were a group of a couple hundred Rufus King high school students who had walked out and had been walking for miles chanting. We ran across the street and informed them that an occupation had just started on campus, that they should come join it, and we were astounded by the joy and lack of deliberation that responded to our suggestion. They entered the Bolton Hall still shouting and were met with cheering and applause. This went on for a bit, then a discussion resumed, among people who had already been present, about capitalism and its connection to eduction. Appeals were made to shut down the Campus, but the discourse prevailed. The occupation had a planned deadline for 5pm, though it wasn’t clear why or how this was being decided. Some people had planned to join the thousands maintaining the occupation of the Capitol building in Madison and perhaps spreading it further in Milwaukee seemed less important in this moment.


2 Comments so far
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much love for rufus king

Comment by ohyouknow

Those kids were awesome. I wish I would have had time to talk to them more about their day. They had to walk miles to get to UWM and then after coming to show support for the occupation just kept walking around the city chanting.

Comment by toutniquer

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