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News :: Education : Gender : GLBT/Queer : Globalization : Media : Organizing : Politics : Race
SDS Takes Over Evergreen State College with Style
02 Jun 2008
It has been twelve days since the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) took over the fourth floor of an administration building in Evergreen State College (TESC) in Olympia, Washington, to protest the unilateral decision of the Vice President for Student Affairs, Art Costantino, of taking away their student group status. The sit-in was originally organized “to draw attention to the diminishing rights of students at TESC and to regain SDS’ status as a student organization” but it quickly evolved into a mobilization of wits against the establishment. Since the takeover, students have organized political concerts, speeches, and radical workshops that range from queer theory to direct action and economic alternatives to neoliberalism. They have also re-named the building where they're staging the sit-in, the People's University.
Writing dispatches of their actions on Seattle Indymedia, the students have made it clear that the sit-in is more than just about having SDS reinstated into the student body. “If anything, this sit-in is turning the theory of participatory democracy into practice,” reads a dispatch, “in an effort to create an educational environment where liberation and democracy are the primary objective.”

On Wednesday, May 21st, SDS and other student groups organized a rally on campus to protest what they saw as the administration's attempt to silence speech on campus. As discussion with the administration ended in a standstill and a threat of possible arrests, the students decided to stage the sit-in on the fourth floor of Seminar 1 (SEM 1).

SDS lost its student group status when they decided to challenge a “concert moratorium” implemented by the school's administration after a concert by Dead Prez on campus ended in violence and the arrest of several students on February 14. SDS members say their group's suspension was politically motivated and part of a “recent trend of silencing political dissent on campus.” They also feel this process is part of an intimidation process that has been going on at Evergreen and Olympia after the Port of Olympia demonstrations of November 2007. Law enforcement started an investigation on Students for a Democratic Society, as well as other prominent anti-war activists, after last fall several road blocks were effective in delaying the transport of military cargoes via the port.

But the students are unwilling to be intimidated and so the concerts and lectures have continued. On Memorial Day, 100 hours after the building's takeover, the People’s University was officially in session, holding free classes and student-run workshops. Lessons started with an appearance of Ed Mead and Mark Cook from the Walla Walla Black Panther Party on organizing within prison and their experience in the George Jackson Brigade, "an armed revolutionary organization operating within the Pacific Northwest in the 1970s. Free food and, as always, fun and games will be provided for children,” read a dispatch.

By Day 8 of the sit-in, workshops included “the protest tactic of using lockboxes, a workshop on prisoner support, a workshop on GI Resistance and a protest health and safety training put on by members of the Olympia Street Medics Collective.” Ten days later, on June 1st, musicians David Rovics & Danny Kelly and Mark Eckert of Heliotroupe made their appearance and held a concert in solidarity with the students dubbed “A Night of Musical Acoustic Insurgency.”

Negotiations between SDS and the administration started Monday as the sit-in gained momentum and the students received strong support from Evergreen's alumni. Kimya Dawson, a well-known musician and former Evergreen student, is expected to perform this week in support as well. The students have asked that as part of the negotiation, the administration respect their decision making processes of consensus and not force them to make any decisions at the negotiating table.

The students are also asking that one of their members, Kelly Beckham, is offered her job back at the Parking Office and compensated for time lost after she was fired by the campus Police Department for participating in the sit-in.

Differentiating itself from the SDS of the 60s, the students of today seem to be turning the table by staging a cultural revolution right on campus. “We are a group that it's dedicated to end all sorts of political repression, and we do that in many different ways, we have many different schools of thought in our organization. We are non-hierarchical and we work on consensus,” said KteeO Olejnik, on an interview with WMBR last week. People's University, therefore, was created to show people that SDS at Evergreen State College is not an isolated self-culture but rather that it embodies the involvement of an entire community.

For the students who are participating in these weeks' takeover, rest assured that this experience in participatory democracy will transform them in more ways than their educational institution ever thought possible.
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