It's okay to cut class at the University of Wisconsin main campus at Madison if you "participate in actions regarding the war," and that includes students who are absent as part of an organized demonstration.
So said the UW-Madison Teaching Assistants' Association. It gave a green light to several campus groups and to students who attended a one-day student strike on campus March 5. But the jury (university officials) is still out on that one.Strikers said the event would bring1960s-style student activism back to University of Wisconsin's Bascom Hill, but Madison police estimated that only about 2,000 people "of all ages" turned out to show dissent for the Bush Administration's stance on a possible invasion of Iraq, disappointing the organizers.
The so-called "Books Not Bombs!" event was organized by the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition "to protest what these groups and individuals argue are the indefensible priorities of the Bush Administration regarding potential war with Iraq and American education." This was the UW version.
Waving signs that read, "War will not bring peace," and "Drop Bush not bombs," strikers – some of whom were actually students – chanted "One, two, three, four, we don't want this racist war! Five, six, seven, eight, we will not cooperate!"
But a group of about 25 students attended the rally in support of U.S. military action in Iraq. Holding signs that said "Support our president, not theirs," these students said they wanted to show that not all students agree with the strike's message.
"Most students on our side are in class right now, working hard, getting an education," UW College Republican Chair Tim Rash said.
Aiming to support the strikers, the TAA had passed a resolution to urging that class-cutting strikers not be held accountable for cutting class and missed work. Strike participants will ask TAs and professors for a chance to make up work that they missed while participating in the strike, including exams, quizzes, class participation and any other graded assignments.
Strikes and other forms of political protest can only be effective when the public can see that participants have voluntarily chosen to take actions and accept the adverse consequences that may follow, some students said.
But the "Books Not Bombs" protesters, who claim to be passionate about the strike's cause, are unwilling to "pay the price" and make any personal sacrifice in the form of a lowered class grade, they said. In so doing, said the critics, they rob the strike of any credence. Strikers abandoned the books they support in their slogan, calling into question the clear thinking capacity of the strikers.
Said one critic of the strike, the slogan should be amended to read "Books Not Bombs -- as long as my grade doesn't suffer!"
In support of the strikers, the UW-Madison TAA passed the following resolution: "Be it finally resolved that TAA members will refrain from penalizing students who participate in actions regarding the war, including students who are absent as part of an organized demonstration."
But that resolution wasn't inspired by the March 5 strike. It has a long history. Last October, a body of the American Federation of Teachers, with which the TAA is affiliated, adopted a version of an earlier resolution by the California Federation of Teachers.
The resolution called on the AFT and its affiliates to adopt similar resolutions. The following day, the South Central Federation of Labor, the local AFL-CIO body of which the TAA is a member, adopted a resolution against war. The following week, the Wisconsin Federation of Teachers adopted an anti-war resolution based directly on the California Federation of Teachers' resolution. Again, the resolution urged affiliates to adopt similar resolutions. This TAA policy predates plans for the March 5 UW strike on campus.
Critics suggested that student protestors who truly believe in the strike's cause should adopt the mantra "I took a zero for peace!" Save that empty blue book dated March 5, 2003 with your name and the red "F" emblazoned across the front, and show it to your grandchildren many years from now when you recall stories about how you did your part to stop the war. To date, not such incident has surfaced.
Critics also pointed out that it was impossible to tell which class-cutters were supporting the strike's message, and which are simply looking for a free day off. Casual observers could be forced to draw cynical conclusions about "student activists who stand up, march out of class, and head to State Street to grab a meal, buy a new CD, or down a cup of coffee."
TAA members were asked to make reasonable accommodations to hold students harmless for their participation in the March 5 student strike.
But even some TAs who support the strike said they should hold their students accountable for any class work on that day. A student who misses class to participate in the strike should fail that day's assignment, whatever it may be.
Said one: I can hear the cries in TA offices already. "What? You mean I don't get to re-take the midterm? You're going to give me a zero on the quiz? I fail my class presentation that is due that day? But that's not fair!"
Wrote Matt Modell, a Badger Herald columnist: "(This) was the big protest day in Madison…a day when students were supposed to skip class to protest and stand up for 'books not bombs.' The crowd on Bascom Hill was a decent size -- but 95 percent of students went on with their life and ignored the hypocrisies the far left trumpeted through their bullhorns.
"The war supporters and antiwar protesters were facing off at the Capitol," he said. "The most noticeable difference between the two sides was that the war supporters carried American Flags and were proud of their country and America's actions. The antiwar protesters had flags from Palestine and Libya and blamed the United States for everything wrong with the world. It was disturbing that they would carry these flags, since both of these governments actively support terrorism."
Meanwhile, in another part of the campus, another group of protesters were supposed to close down a "refugee camp" on UW's Library Mall, though an effort to extend it is underway.
The camp was erected by a collaboration of groups and individuals opposed to war in Iraq, including Students Against War, Madison Area Peace Coalition, Stop the War and AmVets. Protesters have been camping out under tents of tarp and metal poles.
Protester Ivan Higginbotham, a permanent resident of Southern Illinois who has been camping out with the UW students, said an average of 20 people were staying in the tents overnight, but the group is rarely the same make up, as the protesters switch places to meet personal needs.
"This thing is mushrooming, lots of people are feeling our cause," Higginbotham said. Others thought 20 people was a very small mushroom.
The camp caused concern amongst Madison fire and police departments early in the week. Officials were particularly concerned with the tents' flammability.
But some Madison residents weren't persuaded to join the camp. They said the protest camp stems from ill-informed people.
"These protesters should be protesting what Saddam Hussein is doing to his people -- making human shields of his citizens. They need to understand the United States is going in to help the Iraqi people," Wisconsin College Republican Chair Nick Cekosh said.
Said one imitation refugee: "We are suffering in the cold to show that the refugees must not be ignored!"
Tents and edifices are erected with conveniently purchased supplies, whose inhabitants enjoy the comforts with thermal sleeping bags, Coleman tents, fresh food and breaks when desired.
No mention was made of the thousands of Kurds, innumerable tortured political dissidents and millions of Iraqi women who have been held as chattel and stripped of the last pieces of human dignity were ignored for the past 12 years.
The mock "refugee camp" was only expecting to legally reside in Library Mall until Feb. 26 when the City Council would vote on a permit for the camp. However, after being informed of the camp's illegal squatting, Mayor Sue Bauman bumped up the permit proceedings to early last week. The camp was given a dwelling permit by the city of Madison valid from Feb. 21 through March 5.
A group of protesters said Bauman was supportive, but that she declined to sign their petition to stop the war against Iraq.
Higginbotham said the "refugee camp" occupants will pursue another permit to remain in that location. "If this has to go longer than that, we'll do what it takes," Higginbotham said. He failed to add: ”All 20 of us.