umnsolidarity

University of Minnesota Solidarity Network

Mission Statement for UMN Solidarity

UMN Solidarity is a network of students, workers, and community members dedicated to fostering democratic control of work, community, education, and all University resources.

We organize under the following pillars:

Dialogue
Learning from groups, individuals, and each other about our struggles and how we can support one another.

Education
Connecting with people in the University and surrounding communities, cultivating awareness of these issues and struggles, and emphasizing how they are inter-related.

Action
Mobilizing our network toward well-planned direct action in order to win victories with and for our allies.

We organize together to make changes in our everyday lives.  Join us!

Reflections on an Open Occupation for Movement-Building

Within, against, and beyond the U of Minnesota

by RENE G. – umnsolidarity@gmail.com

Finding Each Other

Wisconsin students called for a nationwide student walkout on March 11th, 2011, at 2pm, to stand in solidarity with their teachers and other workers who are under attack, being stripped of their collective bargaining rights.  Finding their call through a facebook event, and inspired also by the ongoing revolutions in the Middle East, a few organizers in the neighboring state of Minnesota decided to make it happen.  The day before, we plastered the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis with posters for a walkout and general assembly.  The turnout was decent for only a day’s notice with a generally apathetic student body: about a hundred people attended, with about thirty sticking around through the end of the assembly (see video at The UpTake). Speakers from the Industrial Workers of the World talked about the insufficiency of the currently dominant strategy of trying to recall the Republican senators in Wisconsin—because it was not as if back in November before the vote, the working conditions were all that great—and, instead, why a general strike was necessary.  Meanwhile, on long sheets of butcher paper, participants wrote their grievances, visions for a better world, and strategies for how to get there.  The facilitators of the assembly drew out these reflections and—recognizing that they had so much potential power gathered together—the participants were inspired to commit to some plan of action, and through some debate they settled on occupying a University building. Read more of this post

UK Interview with the Occupiers, Pre-eviction

Check out this “UK Exclusive Interview: UMN Solidarity Occupation” from The New Current.  It was conducted in the midst of the occupation, just before the occupiers were evicted on Thursday night.

Post-eviction, we are continuing to develop our movement, building on the many relationships formed during the occupation.  To learn more, show your support, or get involved, stop by the Social Sciences building, 1st floor, from 1pm-5pm Mon-Fri, to chat with us.

Reflection: An Empowering, Educational, and Fun Experience.

The occupation empowered me in ways I have never felt before, helped me meet and befriend many radical/progressive minded people I may have never seen before, and helped me learn many skills to use in future struggles and organizing.  Like what Hallie said on Wednesday, “I had always thought the University was full of apathetic people, it is great to see so many people who are working together for something like this.”  I had no idea that there were this many people who were willing to drop everything, in order to help keep the occupation going.

The occupation of the Social Science was a roller coaster of a ride, full of great experiences, learning, and people.

The occupation helped give me a space where I could test out my ability to teach.  On Thursday I facilitated a yoga session and an introduction to organizing workshop.  These were the first times I taught a group yoga or about organizing, and the occupation was a safe and great space to do it in.  The occupation helped to create an open, democratic space for education and learning, a model that I hope the University of Minnesota will someday adopt.  I met a lot of like-minded, great people.  The networking and community the occupation helped build were priceless.

Of course, not everything was positive.  We were too unorganized for my liking, possibly because many of us couldn’t be around all the time due work and school.  This led to many people not knowing what has been done, or what to do, and what was decided at previous meetings.  The importance of organizing and planning were clearly brought to the front of my mind, and can be a big lesson for us to learn from.

I am very proud with how the group was able to come together after the University sent 8 armed police officers to kick us out.  We were able to get back on our feet, and now focus our energy on helping other groups as an action solidarity network.  The experience itself has been a great learning experience for me, and I assume many others.  I am very excited, and confident about the future of UMN Solidarity.

 

~Z

Seizing Power from Below – My Reflections on the SocSci Occupation

What a full week! I wish something like the occupation of the Social Sciences Tower, and all the accompanying organizing, had happened a few years ago when I was a student at the U of M. Some would say that after two years I dropped out, but I say I rose out of the university, freeing myself from what was for me a chokehold over my longing for liberation placed by increasingly corporate and centralized authority. Just beginning to understand the ideas behind collective organizing against oppression, I never ended up finding a way I felt capable of plugging into social justice struggles at the U. But I believe the past week accomplished that for others.

I participated in the rally on March 28 outside Coffman Union and the march across the Washington Avenue bridge, then helped facilitate the subsequent meeting at the SocSci building at which the group decided to begin a soft occupation. Some of the rally organizers had already indicated their support for this idea (in fact, the flyer for the rally said “Rally! March! Occupy!”). So although the discussion at this meeting did genuinely support the idea of an occupation at least in theory, it seemed somewhat of a foregone conclusion that this would be the chosen strategy. Nonetheless, many crucial elements weren’t already in place to make the occupation all it could be. Certainly, a lesson to be learned is that if possible, having legal support, a media team, cameras, needed supplies, task bottomliners, and more set up ahead of time is essential to undertaking an action on the magnitude of an occupation!

As the 11pm building closing time drew near on Monday, another hastily convened meeting was held to decide what to do. I felt tense and frustrated trying to help bring the group to a decision about the various possible scenarios, as two people negotiated with police elsewhere in the building. We came to an agreement that nobody was willing to risk arrest by staying put after an order to vacate was given – being arrested would have no benefit, we felt, given that the occupation was small, not drawing much attention, and wasn’t called in response to an immediate issue like the imminent passage of Wisconsin’s anti-union bill spurred occupations there. At almost 11pm, a negotiator returned and announced the plan to have 12 people stay in an upper floor of the building along with a faculty member. After agreeing to the plan for the night, the meeting participants burst into activity before the chance to discuss next steps as a group could be had.

I wasn’t among those staying the night over the course of the week, and my body wasn’t up for coming back right away at 7am, either. I can easily imagine it feeling demoralizing, though, for those who stayed the night and then saw folks trickle back very slowly in the morning, without the energy of the previous night. After a height of, at my estimate, 50 people or so on Monday night, throughout the week at times 25-40 people were present (usually during meetings), though at other times the number sank dangerously low to a mere three or four. Usually, while I was there, it was around 10. Most of these people did not take active part in organizing. Although these numbers seem small, on a personal scale, I made many new friends; others made dozens of new friends, and if nothing else, for this the action was clearly worthwhile – in my experience, the types of relationships built in struggle such as this tend to serve very well later on down the road to revolution.

On Tuesday, I facilitated a small workshop of “power games” using theatre of the oppressed techniques to play with the concepts of “power over,” “power from within,” and “power from below”. The 10 or so participants and I had a blast. We arranged players and objects to show various models of power, at one point leading to a pile of chairs on top of an activist laying in the middle of the floor, lorded over by another activist sitting in a chair on top of a table! The looks on people’s faces walking by were priceless, and some even joined in – next time, we need to do that one outside where more people can see!

My lesson learned from that workshop, and from helping facilitate meetings throughout the week, was of the importance of energy and fun in decision-making and action groups. Most people seek pleasurable feelings in stressful times – a good facilitator or a good leader will encourage the display of those feelings to move the group forward, even if she isn’t feeling great herself at the time.

On Wednesday and Thursday, I had other important commitments and was unable to participate in the occupation, needing to to push it out of my brain temporarily. That changed when I got a text message about the eviction late on Thursday night.

As I biked to the U on Friday morning, I felt righteously angry, composing speeches and statements in my brain. At that point, if we were actually in a position to be able to escalate, there would have been plenty of ways to do so – any of which I would have liked to see. Small, decentralized actions spread out over campus; rolling occupations of different locations; straight-up defiance of the order to vacate, or some good old fashioned fucking shit up all were appealing options as my wheels turned faster and faster. (And certainly, at a University where the top 10 salaries total 5.7 million dollars, where fewer and fewer people can afford to attend, and where corporate contracts take priority over human needs, some shit needs to be fucked up and there is no shortage of good places to do so.)

But several factors made these options not feasible, nor smart for collective action at the time. Participants in the occupation had already indicated an unwillingness and in some cases, inability to be arrested. Besides a simple lack of passion (all concerns being equal, it’s easier to risk when something heartfelt and immediate is on the line) the group frequently noted a lack of clear goals–what exactly were we fighting for besides the general notion of a better world from the ashes of the old? Well, one answer is that many participants in the occupation already fight every single day for lots of things. Jimmy John’s workers are being fired for organizing; other union members are under attack as well; activists present at the occupation came from a wide variety of struggles ranging from immigrant rights to gender justice to the anarchist movement to more; and of course we all have to put food on the table and pay the bills for ourselves and our families at the same time. For many of us, our other important projects and needs were put on hold because of the energy devoted to holding space that was always going to be temporary.

Besides those internal considerations, the group also discussed how our actions would be seen externally. Without the capacity to escalate actions immediately, would continuing to focus on holding space, in the SocSci tower or elsewhere, benefit our struggle? Taking a cost/benefit analysis, it wasn’t clear to us that devoting the amount of energy necessary to hold space–assuming we could somehow increase our numbers to make a police action difficult–would be worth it. Considering the other groups engaging in struggle at the U of M, such as the Coffman second floor communities and Whose University, the possible venues for active struggle are many.

Despite the many things that could have been done better–a comrade’s metaphor of a beautiful ship having to return to port due to constantly taking on water seems apt–I found this experience generally positive. I found it a very large teaching moment, an amazing outreach tool, and a worthwhile action purely on its own.

Among the lessons I learned, I learned that in some form or another, nearly all of us are looking for leadership. Those of us versed in collective organizing cannot assume that anybody will dive in and autonomously organize, sign up to lead a workshop, or take on a difficult task simply because they think it is politically the best thing to do. To create a world in which everybody and nobody is a leader, we must be courageous models of effective leadership ourselves, cultivating power, as we undertake collective projects.

Relatedly, I also learned that outreach through creative action works to build strength. Activists at the occupation had productive conversations with students, faculty, janitors, security, even cops that would never have happened through a simple protest or media event. I helped occupied a building of learning because I am sick of being told to “learn” only by depositing the knowledge of bosses, authorities and professors. I think we learn much better by doing – and this week, WE DID SOMETHING, together!

But most of all, for most of the three days I was at the occupation, despite being super tired at the end of each day, I had a lot of fun. The U of M administration was half right when it argued we were not using the SocSci building for its intended purpose. Because university policies pay lip service to student and community needs, we truthfully argued that our usage of the space was in accordance with policy. But we also knew that among the real purposes of the power-over University of Minnesota are to 1) mold a particular set of people into proper servants for another set of people, 2) maintain a social order in which some profit greatly while others who do more of the work have little to show for it, and 3) teach that nonviolent petition and protest is grand–so long as it doesn’t get in the way of private property or any other concerns of the rich.

Instead, we manifested a power-from-below University of Minnesota, in which together we seized power for ourselves, exercised it, and have no plans of giving it up anytime soon. Many participants found their power-from-within for the first time, and saw that this is a type of power Bob Bruininks, Eric Kaler, the UMPD and other so-called authorities don’t want us to have.

Looking at the information table before we packed it all up, it was clear there’s no shortage of events and organizing continuing on. The bigger events include Monday, April 4′s AFLCIO “March for the Middle Class” (hey union bureaucrats: can we march for poor people like me, too?), the Whose University Day of Education on April 20, and the immigrant-led May 1 International Workers Day march in St. Paul.

Personally, I probably won’t be deeply involved with the ongoing struggles specific to the U, but I’ll be continuing to organize in many ways, including with the MARS Collective (http://marscollective.org), a group working to build an autonomous social center in south Minneapolis: they need support, especially of the financial variety, which you can provide through their website. (Did you like being at the SocSci occupation? Imagine if we had a space like that everyday, without having to replace the gender-neutral bathroom signs every few hours!)

And I’ll continue to dream and scheme, hopefully with many of you, so that when it’s called for, we can do it all again, bigger and better.

–jaime

Statement of Solidarity with Public Workers of Wisconsin

We, the members of University of Minnesota Solidarity, extend our solidarity to the public workers of Wisconsin.  We support the protests that you have done, and the protests that are to come against pending legislation attacking the collective bargaining agreements of public workers in all areas except for wages.  Currently, the bill has been rejected by a Wisconsin Judge for the second time, and the struggle continues.  We support organized labor, and therefore believe there are better methods for saving tax money than exploiting public workers.  Attacks on the working class are occurring all over the United States and World, and we must stand together.

 

Reflections on the Eviction from an Occupier

I was out running errands with other occupiers when the building officially closed at 11, and was not planning to return until after midnight. The cops had come at the usual time to take our ID, and had given no indication that they would kick us out, so I thought I would be staying another night. As they told us later, they were already planning to evict us, but decided not to tell us until an hour after the building closed (they did not explain why they did this, except to say that it allowed them to get their forces together). So we were away and unconcerned when, probably around midnight, we got a call from an occupier telling us that something was happening with the police. Shortly afterward, we learned that the occupation was being evicted.

We immediately began calling around to see if we could find a legal observer, knowing that we wouldn’t be back for maybe half an hour. However, we had difficulty finding anyone at midnight on short notice; this also prohibited any kind of solidarity action outside the building.

We arrived probably after 12:30; people were finishing the removal of our things. Many people had left belongings there, and some things (like the food) belonged to the whole group. Eight or so police officers and four security guards were supervising us and hurrying us along. Two of the security guards were videotaping everything; afterward they told us that this was in case anything went wrong, e.g., if we resisted or the police treated us badly. We gathered outside and tried to gather as much information as we could, including the badge numbers of all officers present; however, some of the officers drove off in cars without stopping for us, even though we clearly wanted to speak to them, and we had to plan on trying to get the information later. We received some other relevant information: the police gave us a statement from the administration, which was posted on our blog, and we learned a little about the circumstances under which the order was given. After this we retreated to the Terrace Room in Middlebrook Hall to de-stress and plan for tomorrow.

Statement of Solidarity with Public Workers of Ohio

We, the members of University of Minnesota Solidarity, extend our solidarity to the public workers Ohio.  We support the protests that you have done, and the protests that are to come against pending legislation attacking the collective bargaining agreements of public workers in all areas except for wages.  Yesterday, the legislation was signed and enacted by the governor of  Ohio.  It is important to note, that in Ohio the bill will cut collective bargaining agreements for police officers and firefighters as well as the rest of the public work sector.  We support organized labor, and therefore believe there are better methods for saving tax money than exploiting public workers.  We look forward to the protests, action, and coalitions ahead in fighting against the current work on students.

Information about the bill on the AFL-CIO website here:  http://www.ohaflcio.org/notosb5.html

Update: The struggle evolves

After meeting Friday afternoon, here’s what’s up with UMN Solidarity.

We’ve chosen to continue to build and to organize, but not to stay around the clock at the Social Sciences tower.  We do plan to be at the social sciences tower in the afternoons next week.  This will include an information table, organizing meetings at 3:30pm on Tuesday and 1:30pm on Friday, and any other events as they are called for.

There’s no shortage of upcoming events we encourage participation in, too.  On Monday, the MN AFL-CIO will lead a rally for jobs, a fair budget and workers rights starting at 5pm from the St. Paul Cathedral and marching to the Capitol.   On Tuesday, the Coffman Second Floor Coalition will hold an assembly to advance their struggle, beginning at 4:30 at the AISCC space in Coffman.  Our friends in the Public Education Justice Alliance of MN, Committee to Stop FBI Repression and other folks will also be holding events next week.

Please keep joining us as we transition into the next phase of the struggle.  Check this site and our facebook page for more reflections and announcements soon.  Solidarity forever!

UMPD kicks us out (for now), threatens arrests and confiscation of belongings

Statement Regarding Demonstration in Social Sciences Building

March 31,2011

The University acknowledges and reaffirms your right to petition, peacefully, and in an orderly manner, all levels of the University. But the University also affirms that the functions of the facilities and business in the Social Sciences Building must remain free from disturbance or delay.

This statement is to inform you about the restrictions on your permissible presence in the Social Sciences Building in order to protect the free and proper use of the Social Sciences Building in order to protect the free and proper use of the Social Sciences Building. The Social Sciences Building is closed and locked from 11:00 pm to 6:00 am on weekdays and closed and locked on the weekends. You may not be present in the building during those closed hours. Persons with access to the building during closed hours (for example, persons with offices in the building ***but the police tonight admitted to deactivating the entry card of faculty involved in the occupation, effectively preventing them from participating in neccessary work for the benefit of their students***) may not use their access privileges for non-work-related purposes or to allow others into the building.

You will be allowed to continue your demonstration in the common areas of the Social Sciences Building during normal building hours so long as the demonstration does not interfere with the transaction of public business, impede access or egress to areas in the building, unreasonably deprive others of use of common areas, involve altering or interfering with the intended use of the facilities, including study spaces and restrooms ***this refers to the gender-neutral signs that we placed over the “men” and “women” signs on restrooms in order to make the space welcoming to all people, regardless of gender, which apparently the university feels is “distruptive”***, or violate any applicable law.

If you are present in the building without authorization during closed building hours, your presence will be unlawful and you will be subject to arrest for trespass. If your presence during open building hours does not comply with the conditions described in this statement, you will be asked to leave, and if you refuse, your presence will  be unlawful and you will be subject to arrest for trespass. Failure to comply with the conditions described in this statement, you will be asked to leave, and if you refuse, your presence will be unlawful and you will be subject to arrest for trespass. Failure to comply with restrictions described in this statement also may be grounds for action under the Student Conduct Code for students, or under University employment rules for employees. If you are not a student, staff or faculty member you will be issued a one-year Trespass Warning from the University in addition to being subject to arrest for trespass. The Warning will explain that if you return prior to the expiration of the Warning you will be immediately subject to arrest or citation for trespass.

##

Alright everyone, we are still going to be back in the Social Sciences building tomorrow at 6 am, 4 hours from now. All event scheduled tomorrow will still continue as planned. General meeting is at 12 pm, if you can be there, be there. We obviously have some important things to discuss. Other than that, there is a Transgender 101 workshop at 5 pm, breakfast at 10 and lunch right before the meeting at noon. See you all tomorrow. We are not gone, and this is not over. It has just begun.

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