Protesters stage sit-in at U tower

Activists are protesting a wide range of issues, like tuition hikes.

by Luke Feuerherm

For two days a peaceful group of protesters has occupied the West Bank, settling into the lounge in the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Social Sciences Building.
The group decided to occupy the space Monday after rallying outside Coffman Union in support of students and faculty and voted Tuesday to remain in the building as they work on reaching out to other organizations on campus.
The so-called UMN Solidarity Occupation is made up of dozens of students from various on-campus groups as well as concerned community members who began organizing the rally two weeks ago. TheyâÄôre objecting to tuition rises at the University and what they see as exorbitant administrative salaries. Protests in Wisconsin and across the globe inspired the sit-in, according to organizers.
University student Scott Matthews compared the protest to the University of Wisconsin-MilwaukeeâÄôs solidarity sit-in that was sparked by the bill stripping the stateâÄôs teachers union of their collective bargaining rights. On Tuesday, a Wisconsin judge ruled that the state must put the law on hold while she considers its legality.
While things arenâÄôt nearly as explosive on the University of Minnesota campus, organizers hope their sit-in will help generate a larger discussion about the priority of education.
âÄúWe want this to be a place for other activist communities to build from,âÄù organizer Elliot Hughes said. âÄúWe intend to stay down here as long as we can.âÄù
On Tuesday the group rolled out its list of lofty demands.
The list begins with modest requests like âÄúthe right to peacefully occupy space at our UniversityâÄù and âÄúreasonable access to University resources.âÄù
But it also includes broad demands of the University, such as: respect of workersâÄô rights to organize and earn a living wage, tuition and fee reductions and the democratic election of the Board of Regents by the âÄúUniversity community.âÄù It also asks for a guarantee that student groups on the second floor of Coffman could keep their spaces.
âÄúIf our demands are met that would be amazing,âÄù Hughes said. âÄúI think our demands could be easily met with budget reforms.âÄù
The group hasnâÄôt reached out to University administration but did quickly mobilize food efforts, even receiving pizza donations from people in Iowa and Fargo, N.D., who were sympathetic to their cause, and set out a schedule of dinners, movies and crafts.
The mounds of food and posters lining the loungeâÄôs wall illustrate the groupâÄôs long-term intentions.
TheyâÄôve also established a myriad of commissions, including a logistics team, a fun committee and legal support/police liaisons group.
The police liaisons were put to work Monday night when University police stopped by and asked the group to vacate the building for the night.
After speaking with protesters, police agreed to let them spend the night, University police Deputy Chief Chuck Miner said, but limited the number camping out to 12. Miner said there were about 30 people in the lounge at the time.
Protesters said that they have received warm greetings from faculty who have offices in the floors above. Some professors have dropped by to take a look at the layout and have even urged the group to keep it up.