student takeover enters sixth day (en)

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Sat, 8 Mar 1997 08:36:44 GMT


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Students at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the flagship of the UMass system, held a demonstration and staged a building takeover on Mon. March 3. The group of occupying students entered the Goodell Building and sat-in at the Controller's Office at around 10:30 AM Monday; the building remained open until Tuesday at 5 PM, at which time the police force (not a campus security group, but a full-fledged police dept.) under the UMass administration locked the building down, only allowing exit from the building. Phones were cut off at about the same time.

The protesters presented the University admin. with a list of approx. 40 demands and subdemands, called the "Living Document." The demands center around issues of minority access, financial aid and access, and child care, among other things. There have been a number of protests against the admin. in recent weeks, including demos over proposed parking fee increases (fees will in most cases double (to nearly $160) and the increases apply to workers as well as students) and stalled contract negotiations (the Graduate Employee Organization is the union for TAs and has been working since June 1996 without a contract.) Many of the demands in the Living Document reiterate positions in the ALANA (Asian, Latin, African, and Native American student) agreements of 1992, which followed weeks of campus turmoil including another occupation. The U.S. Department of Justice mediated the ALANA agreements of 1992 and they are legally binding on the University. The current protesters state that these demands ahve not been met, and a representative of the US Commission on Civil Rights has indicated concern and that she is investigating the possibility of Civil Rights violations on the part of the University.

Yesterday (Thurs march 6) the student negotiating team presented the administration with a stripped down list of nine basic demands which they insisted the University unequivocally accept as a show of good faith before negotiations could continue. The administration, after a six hour delay, rejected a number of these demands, especially those involving financial expense. Throughout the negotiations, the administration responses have shown a focus on the estimated cost of the demands in dollar terms.

Support for the student occupation force, numbering right around 200, has been intense. A constant presence of around fifty protesters has been maintained in the front of Goodell, and a number of tents have remained in place since students began cmaping over on Tuesday night. During the days, rallies have drawn as much as 1200 students. Statements of support have been received from the SGAs of numerous other universities, students from the Amherst Regional High School, Amherst College, Smith College, Hampshire College, and Mt Holyoke College have boycotted classes and come to show solidarity and support. The UMass Amherst Service Workers local, representing 900 workers, has issued a statemet of support, as well as the WEB DuBois Club CPUSA, POWER in LA, CA, the UMass Women's Studies Department, and a large number of other organizations and individuals, including renowned radical academic Cornel West. Morale inside the building is said to be high, and news reports on Friday night on local TV indicated an end to the occupation is perhaps within sight.

The Chancellor of UMass Amherst is currently out of the country, reportedly in either Scotland or Mexico, and has as of yet (5 days) issued no statemtn either publicly or to the students in Goodell through his Deputy. The disregard and lack of respect with which the administration has approached the subject is cited by many students, faculty, and supporters as appalling and a good idea of why the takeover is justified.

Anyone wishing for the most well-informed and extensive coverage is encouraged to visit the UMass daily newspaper (the Collegian) website, at www.umass.edu/rso/colegian (intentional misspelling.) News articles have been promised throughout the weekend, and the paper is the only news source with a reporter who sits in on negotiations (Lisa Chiu.) Full copies of the student demands and admin. responses can also be seen heer. The story has also been picked up by regional MA papers, tv, and radio, the NY Times, CNN, the Associated Press, and UPI. Many of them have called the Collegian for information. The Collegian Ed/Op pages have also been active, with a number of pieces by students inside Goodell as well as numerous letters on the issue. The Collegian website links to the Takeover Website, www-vms.oit.umass.edu/gss

This protest has so far exemplified an incredible spirit of unity and joy, as well as demonstrated the power of direct action. While many may not support some of the specific demands made by the occupying students, certainly all anarchists can support the unity and direct action that this occupation has brought about, the incredible connections across racial and cultural boundaries, and the labor issues involved.

Students, faculty, and workers are dancing together, teaching each other, and living communally because of this protest! Letters of support can be mailed to: gss@oitvms.oit.umass.edu (letters to the Collegian editor) letters@oitvms.oit.umass.edu and come if you can! There will be a huge rally taking place Saturday March 8 at 11 am.

Dan B.

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