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Milwaukee students sit in to demand a meeting with Chancellor Mone over divestment from Israel

By Patricia Fish

Milwaukee students demand divestment from apartheid Israel.  | Fight Back! News/Sabine Wolter

Milwaukee, WI – On Friday, February 9, students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee staged a sit-in at the UWM administrative building, Chapman Hall.

Led by Students for a Democratic Society, the event began with a rally in front of the Zionist-named Golda Meir Library, followed by a march to Chapman Hall, where students entered the building and occupied it for six hours.

Protesters rallied behind SDS’s campaign to divest from Israel, end all study abroad trips to the occupation, and to change the name of the Golda Meir Library. Furthermore, the students demanded that the Chancellor, Mark Mone, meet with them, after months of him evading requests.

“Our chancellor talks about diversity and integrity. Claiming to be there for students’ needs, to listen to our concerns, yet he avoids us at every turn. We have tried time and time again to secure a meeting, to make our voices heard and we are met with nothing but avoidance, and we will not stand quietly,” said Sania Syed, a member of Un-Pac, during a rally before the sit-in.

Around 45 protesters gathered in front of the university library, among them were students, community and elected officials. Frustration was clear as protesters chanted, “Chancellor Mone, you can’t hide, end the ties with genocide” during the short march to Chapman Hall.

Once at the administrative building, Robby Knapp of SDS gave a call to students to sit in: “Mone likes to hide from his students, and not do his job, and because of this, we have decided there is only one way in which he will listen to our demands to meet with him! In line with SDS’ motto of ‘Dare to struggle! Dare to win!’ we will be staging a sit-in on Chancellor Mone’s office until he talks to us and listens to our demands!”

After calls for the sit-in, it was discovered that the doors to the building were locked during open hours. Regardless, an SDS member found a side entrance to the hall and opened the doors. More than three dozen protesters entered Chapman Hall and occupied the top floor. Chants of “meet with us” echoed throughout the building.

Police immediately escalated after taking position at all entrances. They denied students access to bathrooms, physically prevented students from returning to the group if they tried to leave the occupied area, and threatened to arrest students if they did not leave the building. Despite threats, protesters remained put and occupied Chapman Hall for approximately six hours.

Kayla Patterson of SDS and the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression said, “We aren’t the first to protest this, and if this continues, we won’t be the last. This change is inevitable, and it’s high time for UWM to stop skirting around and pick a side. This campus prides itself on inclusion and progressive values. We have a lounge named after Martin Luther King Jr., an Electa Quinney Institute for Indigenous Studies, and a Roberto Hernandez Center for Spanish-Speaking outreach that was founded after student-led protests – all nothing short of hypocrisy to recognize these people in name without recognizing their respective struggles against the same oppressive systems that UWM upholds.”

In response to students demanding a meeting with their school’s chancellor, ten different police departments appeared: UWM University Police and Marquette University Police, along with police departments from Milwaukee, Shorewood, Fox Point, Cudahy, River Hills, Whitefish Bay, Saint Francis, and the Wisconsin State Fair Park Police.

Partway through the sit-in, a student was left bruised after being violently restrained and removed from the building by an officer.

During the sit-in, Audari Tamayo of SDS and Freedom Road Socialist Organization gave an inspirational speech: “Us as students, young people, and people with a conscience within the belly of the beast have an utmost duty to fight for change,” Tamayo said. “After all, it is this government that is giving the settler army the green light for genocide. Without the billions of dollars and the illegal arms the U.S. gives Israel to enact U.S. foreign policy, Israel would crumble. It is not a secret that Israel exists on stolen land borrowed time.”

Around 20 protesters remained after the building officially closed at 5 p.m. when police were given the order to remove the remaining students. Four protesters were restrained, with one student being thrown to the ground and kneed in the back by two officers simultaneously.

The restrained protesters were released at around 6 p.m. after being processed. Each one left in high spirits and chanting things like “Dare to struggle, dare to win!” to the cheers of the community outside of the building.

The occupation of Chapman Hall was a historic moment at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee of student power, resilience and bravery. As the university administration ignores student calls to end funding and ties to the Israeli occupation and genocide of Palestinians, students are taking matters into their own hands and taking up militant actions to demand change be made now.

The events were organized by Students for a Democratic Society and endorsed by the Muslim Student Association, Students for Justice in Palestine, Un-Pac, Wisconsin Coalition for Justice in Palestine, Milwaukee Anti-War Committee, Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, United States Palestinian Community Network-Milwaukee, Reproductive Justice Action-Milwaukee, and Freedom Road Socialist Organization. It coincided with the National Week of Action for Palestine called for by the National Students for a Democratic Society, National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, and United States Palestinian Community Network.

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