Syracuse Students Lead A National Movement To End Oppressive Campus Environments

| Podcast

For a long time, students and faculty of predominately-white universities across the country have been experiencing oppressive environments where racism and homophobia are tolerated. This academic year, a group of Syracuse University students who call themselves Not Again SU has taken strong actions to confront this environment. They garnered significant attention last fall when they occupied the Barnes Center and issued 19 demands to the university. The administration agreed to address many of the demands but months later not much has been done and hate incidents continue to occur without consequences to deter them. They are currently occupying the administrative building to press for more action. This time the university responded aggressively by suspending students, denying them access to food and other necessities and unleashing a violent police force against them. We speak with one of the student organizers about what is happening on campus and how their actions have sparked a nationwide movement.

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Transcript

Margaret Flowers (MF): You’re listening to Clearing The FOG, speaking truth to expose the Forces Of Greed with Margaret Flowers…
Kevin Zeese (KZ): And Kevin Zeese.
MF: Clearing The FOG is a project of PopularResistance.org. You can subscribe to us on iTunes, SoundCloud, Mixcloud Stitcher and Google Play. You can also find us at PopularResistance.org, and while you’re there check out our store where you can get Clearing The GOT gear, like bumper stickers, t-shirts, water bottles and tote bags. So this week we interviewed a student from Syracuse University.
KZ: That’s right. Right there fighting an ongoing battle against racism and . . .
MF: homophobia . . .
KZ: transphobia… You pick the issues in this regressive Administration. They fought this battle back in November December, thought they resolved it, and now they’re back at it again. They’ve been in the administration building now with all sorts of conflicts with the police, but they’re hanging strong and doing an incredible job of raising these important issues.
MF: When you say conflicts with the police, it’s not *them* causing a conflict. They’re peacefully occupying the administration building. But the police have been very aggressive towards them, as has the administration. So the update on that is they are currently in negotiations with the administration. That’s expected to be Monday and Tuesday of this week. And we’ll see what happens after that. But their action has really sparked a nationwide movement Against Racism and oppressive environments on campuses. And so it’s exciting to see where this will go.
So before we get to that interview, why don’t we talk about some things that are in the news. Of course many people are thinking about and talking about the coronavirus now that it has come to the United States, and this week in our newsletter we wrote about the Coronavirus and how the United States is really not prepared to handle it.
KZ: it. That’s right. In PopularResistance.org we examined the mistakes the US government has made, not just the Trump Administration… although he has added to those mistakes significantly, but successive administrations, and not really focusing on these epidemic health problems the way we need to focus on them.
MF: For example in China where they have a centralized system and they took very swift action to contain the virus, they’re actually seeing a sharp decline in the number of new cases. But now the coronavirus has spread around the world. More than 60 countries are reporting it. It has come to the United States and there’s a number of problems. I mean one is that there’s been cuts to the grants for states and local areas to deal with situations like this. That didn’t start under Trump. That started before Trump. And also there’s really a lack of communication amongst the various agencies and entities that would be involved in coordinating a response to the epidemic. And without that communication, it makes it really hard for the right information to get where it needs to be.
KZ: And on top of that Trump has added to the problems by his mistaken comments about the virus, calling it a hoax, a democratic plot to an election year, almost treating like a RussiaGate type story when it’s really an epidemic. This really is happening. I think it’s an epidemic becoming a pandemic, meaning a global health catastrophe.
But also big, long-term mistakes made by both parties are going to be highlighted by this virus. For example, the lack of universal healthcare right now. There are so many barriers, financial barriers, for people going to the hospital, going to their doctor to get checked if they have symptoms, that people will not get checked. We’re talking about a thousand dollar cost for these tests after insurance, and for the 27 million people without insurance and the tens of millions more without adequate insurance, it’s just not possible to go to the doctor to get checked up when you show some of the signs of this virus. If we had a national, improved Medicare-For-All system where people had access to healthcare without financial barriers, then we can see those kind of checkups,. Those kind of checkups would mean less spreading of the illness. What we’re going to see is a big increase in people with the virus in the United States, because so many are out there who already have the virus, have not been tested and containing the virus that’s going to be the big problem. Medicare-for-all would have solved that problem, plus it would ensure that people who do get ill can get treatment.
That’s just one. Another example of policies that are mistaken in the United States is the lack of sick leave. Most countries have it. There was a study done by the center for economic and policy research of 22 countries. Every developed country in the world has policies allowing for sick leave, paid sick leave. The United States does not have that. People are afraid to take off work. Which means they go to work with the symptoms of the virus, maybe not knowing they have it, and they are infecting their co-workers, infecting people they work with, and customers. If they’re in the service industry, people they serve food to, people they meet or come in contact with on transit, on their way to work as they commute. I mean, so it just spreads the virus by people not being able to take sick leave when they have a cold or have the symptoms that lead to this virus. So these long-term mistakes of US policies are really making a dangerous situation for how the US response is to this epidemic
MF: And just so people have good information about this. Of course, you can go to cdc.gov… that’s the Centers for Disease Control, to get up-to-date information about the coronavirus and how to protect yourself from it. But people should know that this is a respiratory virus that causes, in most people, kind of a cold symptom, but in some people it can cause pneumonia, and particularly for people who are older or have poor health. They’re at higher risk of dying from this. This virus is spread by droplets. That means that if someone who has the virus sneezes or coughs, the droplets that come out of that sneeze or cough will land on a surface, and then if someone touches that surface and touches their own mouth or eyes or nose, they can infect themselves. It has been found that the virus can survive for up to nine days on surfaces. So it’s good to be cleaning surfaces regularly with a disinfectant.
Also, people should not be touching their eyes, nose or mouth. And people should be washing their hands frequently. Do that. Use lots of soap soap for at least 20 seconds. Rinse well, and then dry with a clean towel. Now, there are lots of pictures of people wearing face masks. If you’re healthy, there’s no need for you to wear a face mask. But if you have any symptoms of a cold, if you’re coughing or sneezing or anything like that, then you need to wear a face mask so that you don’t spread it to other people. And ideally, if you have any cold symptoms, you should be staying home as much as possible. Certainly not going into areas where there are lots of people. Stay home from work if you’re able to do that.
So it’s important that people know what the facts are, how to protect themselves. And the reason this virus is a very concerning… one is it’s a brand new virus. So people don’t have immunity to it, but it’s been found that it’s highly infectious so it can spread quickly and easily to lots of people. And the mortality rate, the death rate, from it is about twenty times higher than the death rate from the flu. This season in the United States there have been already 14,000 deaths from the flu.
KZ: Just a couple more things about US policies that are worth mentioning that are problematic. Pharmaceuticals should not be a for-profit industry. Pharmaceutical research is funded in large part by the government. The government funds the research and then the profit here goes to Big big Pharma. They take the profits, and the Secretary of HHS says that he can’t guarantee that if there is a vaccine for the coronavirus that’ll be affordable. That’s absurd. The US Is going to spend a billion dollars to create a vaccine and then people can’t afford it. That’s a real flaw in a for-profit healthcare system, and really nationalizing Big Pharma is something that should be starting to become part of a dialogue in this country, part of a political agenda in this country, because Big Pharma is ripping off us consumers. It’s one of the reasons why healthcare is so expensive and needs to be confronted.
Another problem in the United States is that we’ve Industrialized. We depend on China for medicines. We depend on China for health devices, for items we will need to treat this virus. Decades of corporate trade agreements that have allowed corporations in the United States to push their production overseas have left us vulnerable. That vulnerability is shown now with this coronavirus. So a series of mistakes from healthcare to employment to trade have resulted in leaving our country insecure and really unable to handle this kind of an epidemic.
MF: And there have been reports prior to this that have warned that the United States is not prepared to handle an epidemic, for one thing. We don’t have that many hospital beds considering the size of our population. We don’t have sufficient hospital beds. Hospitals have been closing, particularly in low-income and rural areas. So that’s going to make those populations very vulnerable. It’s also concerning when you look at this task force that the Trump Administration has put together, led by vice president Pence, who basically is going out and and reassuring people that the markets are okay, and praising the President. And this is somebody who doesn’t believe in science, and doesn’t have the experience and the skills to lead a task force to stop the coronavirus. If you look at the people who are on the task force, many of them have ties to the pharmaceutical and other healthcare profiteering sectors.
If we actually wanted to create a response to the coronavirus, the very first step would be public education. You would be seeing everywhere public education. You would see hand sanitizer being put out everywhere. You would see clinics being set up in all kinds of communities across the country and hotlines were people who develop respiratory symptoms could call or go to the clinic and get free evaluations and free testing. That’s how we would actually take action to control the coronavirus, but we’re not seeing any of that happening, and so I think it’s important for people in their communities to be asking their local governments these questions, and local health departments. What are you doing to make sure that every single person can get the care that they need? And be identified as someone who may have coronavirus?
KZ: And the really interesting surprise from this is the impact on the financial markets. Six trillion dollars in wealth was lost in a week because of this coronavirus. Major major loss of resources. Now, of course we we’re due for a recession anyway. There are lots of signs of a recession coming. This may be the event that triggered it, but there are signs all over the world of a shaky financial system. And this coronavirus seems to be putting it over the edge. Stock prices go down. People see opportunities to buy, so they’ll be days when it goes up. But the overall economy is not the fundamental… You know, they always say the fundamentals are sound. Well, it’s quite the opposite. The fundamentals actually are not sound. That’s right. And as a result, we’re going to see that the economic impact from this recession is more likely [and more severe]. And it was already coming. And so this coronavirus is having health, economic and political impacts that are pretty significant.
MF: And so people can expect to see, as you said, volatility in the market. That doesn’t mean if you see it going up that it’s actually recovering. The fundamentals are very poor. And if we go into another recession, we’re going to be in worse footing than we were last time in 2008, because the amount of debt is higher than the debt was in 2008. And people’s level of financial Security is much worse than it was prior to the 2008 crash. So this is going to be a much more serious situation.
KZ: The FED will take some action to reduce interest rates, which are already very low. So there’s not a lot of room for flexibility there, but they’ll do something to reduce interest rates to kind of pump things up again, but they really can’t solve the coronavirus. They can’t solve the reality of China’s economy being slowed by people staying home from work to prevent the virus from spreading. They can’t solve the globalized structure of the economy. They can do a little bit of a spur with an interest rate drop that will help for a short time. But in the long run that’s not a solution.
MF: Let’s move on to some other stories. And actually this one is related. The people’s Water Board in Detroit, a group of social justice organizations, wrote to the Michigan Governor. They’re asking for the governor to use her executive power to place a moratorium on water shutoffs. Also, restore water to people who have had their water shut off, and move to income-based billing so that everybody can afford to have water. Now the reason that this is so important is what they’re highlighting is with the coronavirus epidemic, people need to have access to water so they can practice hygiene, wash their hands and other things like that. Also, water is just necessary for general hygiene and preventing all kinds of diseases. And so they’re really using this opportunity to highlight that everybody in the United States should have access to water.
KZ: This is another failed policy. Water has become privatized in many cities. Water has become a commodity rather than a public good. You need to return to a position where water is a public good that all people have access to. It’s essential for life and should not be a profit center for private business, or even for the government.
MF: It’s another one of those things where you cut off your nose to spite your face. It’s when people don’t have access to water that the cost to society is so much higher in many ways, including what impact it has on families. And families being separated because water is being turned off in their home. It just makes so much sense that everybody has access to water in their homes.
KZ: This coronaviruses is bringing out so many faulty policies from healthcare to the globalized economy to worker rights to basic necessities, like water. It just shows a lot of mistakes being made in this neoliberal, capitalist economy that’s strangling the people.
MF: Meanwhile we’re not spending on things like water and basic health infrastructure. Many people will be surprised to know that right now the United States is gearing up for the largest military exercise that we’ve ever held in the European Union in 25 years. This is called Defender 2020, and it’s going to involve 37 thousand soldiers. The US is sending 20,000 soldiers from 15 states over to Europe to join about eight or nine thousand soldiers who are already there. And basically they’re going to be practicing war with Russia. Why are they practicing war with Russia? Because the United States needs to have an enemy in order to justify its war budget.
KZ: Our war budget is a mint. It’s more than a trillion dollars a year and includes multiple agencies in addition to the Pentagon. And these war games are not only bad as they are with 37 thousand troops involved targeting Russia… They’re including nuclear weapons in the war games. So this is an escalation to the point that we’re talking about practicing the use of nuclear weapons on Russia, a nuclear-armed country. That is insanity!
MF: It certainly is and people may be aware that the United States practices war games all the time. We do them in the Pacific area. We do them in South Korea, regularly targeting North Korea. And you know, there is a huge amount of money that’s spent on this. It has a huge environmental impact, as all of these planes are flying and they’re dropping ammunition and things like that. So it’s outrageous. Why is the US spending so much money on these war games that are antagonizing other countries? Imagine how we would respond if other countries, say Russia and China, decided to do massive war games along our coasts. The United States would freak out.
KZ: It’s absurd. And some good news with the coronavirus is that the war games that were scheduled with South Korea… the United States against North Korea… were put to a stop because of coronavirus. One benefit of the coronavirus. One set of War Games was stopped.
MF: [The people of] South Korea has been wanting the United States and North Korea to stop the war games, but the US refuses to stop them. Let’s talk about a new report that came out back in October of 2019. There was a presidential election in Bolivia. Evo Morales won that election fair and square, but immediately after the election the Organization of American States put out a statement claiming that the election was fraudulent, that there were all of these irregularities. That was partly used to justify a coup that the US is involved in, that put in place a very violent quote-unquote government right now. Well, a new report from MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that there are no significant irregularities in that election.
KZ: It’s important to remember the OAS really is a tool of US domination. The US funds it. US controls it. They manipulate the rules. You do remember they recognized Juan Guaido as a president of Venezuela by changing the rules because it could not get the two thirds vote required. They made it a simple majority and by a magic wand Guaido became the president. Under the OAS he’s President.
MF: We know he’s not really the President.
KZ: Of course. He’s nowhere near the President. He never even spent a day in the Presidential Palace. He’s not the president. He’s not even the president of the National Assembly anymore. But I don’t want to get off the point of it. Bolivia is about to have another round of Elections. These other elections, the OAS is helping to make sure there’s democracy and Bolivia.
MF: Quote-unquote helping. Quote-unquote democracy.
KZ: And USAID is helping as well. Evo Morales had kicked USAID out of Bolivia because of its interference with their Internal Affairs. And so these US-controlled institutions are helping to bring “democracy” to Bolivia by replacing the elected president, Evo Morales, who we know won the first election. We’re very interested to see what this second election is like if the indigenous populations are allowed to vote. They make 60 or 70% of the of the voters in Bolivia. Then they would win. So we’ll have to see how this plays out, but it’s not been a very positive sign so far.
MF: When you say “they” would when you’re talking about Evo Morales’s party and movement towards socialism, but unfortunately this coup that has taken over Bolivia is an extremely violent one. They are one that could easily be called fascist, extremely right-wing, and they have been clamping down on members of the movement towards socialism in a variety ways. They wouldn’t allow Evo Morales to run for the Senate, and so it’s hard to believe given the way that they’ve been behaving, that we are going to have a fair election in Bolivia.
KZ: I’d be surprised if we do. The movement for socialism parties put forward a very strong slate of candidates and they are treating the election like a legitimate election, whether the coup government will allow it to be a legitimate election, whether the OAS observing this election will allow it to be legitimate. That remains to be seen. It’s highly doubtful.
MF: Let’s talk about what continues to go on in Chicago. Speaking of state violence, as people may know, for decades there has been police torture of people, primarily black and brown people, in Chicago. And we understand that they actually are getting reports of three to five new torture claims every week, and between 2004 and 2016 the city of Chicago spent 662 million dollars on police misconduct [cases].
KZ: There are hundreds of of people who have been tortured in Chicago. Many of those people still remain incarcerated. There are campaigns going on to get those people released and to bring accountability to the Chicago Police Department. This is an incredible story of intense torture routine, torture by Chicago Police, and there are connections between these torturers and US military torturers. For example, one of the police officers involved in the torture in Chicago, Richard —, has been a Guantanamo torturer for 10 years, and then he went to Chicago and continues the practice. And he had this attitude of, “they’re all bad guys anyway. It doesn’t matter whether they’re guilty of the crime. Those who are arrested, they’re all bad guys anyway, so it’s okay to torture.” That was his attitude and that’s kind of the attitude we see in our military, and in our police, our militarized police. It’s an attitude that needs to be weeded out of both the military and the police. And the first step is releasing the people who’ve been tortured, and hold those accountable who conducted the torture.
MF: There’s a video going around on Twitter right now that shows a military commander talking to his troops and saying there is no place for racism within the military. We can’t tolerate this type of behavior within the military, but what strikes me when I see that is that people don’t recognize that the military as an institution is a racist institution, because soldiers are trained to see other people, primarily black and brown people in other countries, as something less than human. They use all kinds of pejorative nicknames towards them. They dehumanize them and they have to do this in order to make it acceptable for soldiers to kill other people in countries like Iraq or Afghanistan, or in Somalia or wherever we have military involvement. It seems so hypocritical that commanders within the military are saying “don’t be racist towards each other, towards people in the United States,” but it’s okay to be racist towards people in other countries.
Let’s move on to some good news. A group of defendants that are involved with Extinction rebellion in Portland, Oregon were part of an action against a company called Zenith Energy, which stores fossil fuels, and these defendants, when they went to trial, they used a defense. It’s a type of necessity defense called “choice of evils” and they actually had a hung jury and so they were not convicted.
KZ: Necessity has been around for a very long time as a defense. It requires the defendants to be able to show, first, that the conduct was necessary to avoid a threatened injury, and that injury needs to be imminent and was reasonable for the people to believe that avoiding that injury was of greater importance that obeying the law. And I think it’s getting more and more clear with the climate catastrophe hitting us, and the impacts of forest fires and storms and floods and droughts, that so many major impacts are happening that it is imminent. It’s happening now and so for people to take action, and raise this necessity defense is a very positive step. It’s not an easy defense. I don’t want people to, you know, run out and think they can get involved in aggressive acts of civil disobedience or civil resistance and think that they will be able to use a necessity defense. It is a very difficult defense to raise. There are people who work on this defense, who can provide assistance if you’ve go down that path, but I think for now it’s becoming so clear that the climate crisis is upon us that the necessity defense has greater and greater legitimacy and this Oregon case is a first step.
MF: Now there’s a larger group of defendants facing trial, and these 65 people in New Hampshire who did an action last September, they were charged with trespassing and they were part of a bucket by bucket action where they went to the Merrimac coal station, which is the largest coal station in New England, that doesn’t have a shutdown date, and they put on protective gear and they started taking the coal away from the station bucket by bucket.
KZ: And then are facing prosecution. Well, maybe they’ll raise a necessity defense. Time will tell. It’s a good question, but it’s certainly becoming a reality now that in this era that civil disobedience and civil resistance actions are becoming essential, because it’s obvious our government, especially in the Trump Administration, refuses to even acknowledge that climate change exists. Even when Obama recognized climate change, he put in place a lot of oil and gas infrastructure, made the US a major producer of oil and gas, and so even though he said he recognized climate change, his actions undermined the effort to prevent climate change. So it becomes more and more on the people to do all they can, and that requires civil disobedience and civil resistance.
MF: Right. And the people who are targeting the Merrimac coal station, actually some of them returned to do other actions there, even though they had been arrested as part of this first group. And they’re saying their goal is to shut down the Merrimac coal station, and we’re going to keep taking action to do that. That’s the kind of dedication and courage that we need to have if we’re going to truly confront these institutions. I mean we can do all the things that we personally can do and it’s still not going to stop the climate crisis. It’s important that we lower our use of energy. It’s important that we lower our greenhouse gas emissions. But there are these large facilities out there, industries that are causing so much of the greenhouse gases. We’re not going to solve the problem if we don’t shut them down and change to something different now. There’s a report that also came out recently that’s found that they estimate that by the end of the century 13.1 million people in the United States who live on the coastal areas will need to move because of sea level rise. Now, that’s what they’re estimating for the end of the century. But in fact if we look at how these studies have been going on in recent years around the climate crisis, every time they’ve made a prediction they’ve found out that it’s happening sooner. It’s happening, worse than they predicted. So I think that we should look at this 13 million and this level of sea level rise as probably a conservative estimate.
KZ: 13 million definitely sounds low, and this was an interesting study because it looked at movements of people after hurricanes like Katrina, and then projected what would happen as these kinds of floods and hurricanes and coastal problems developed. What kind of impact would they basically have? Every county in the United States will be impacted by the climate crisis because people will be moving. Millions of people moving from the coasts inward, and that’s going to cause disruptions in housing and communities prices. And and so they’re saying this is not just a coastal problem. This is a problem for the entire country because it’s going to affect every county in the United States.
MF: Right. And again, it’s a problem that needs real central leadership, so that we can address this ,make sure that people are able to afford housing, able to find jobs, where they’re moving. If we had a sensible policies we would be making plans for what Dr. Michael Mann calls a “planned retreat” from areas that will be very impacted by the climate crisis.
KZ: It’s important to know that in this study, they said that in 2001 a third of the planet’s urban land was vulnerable to floods. That’s in 2000. A third of the planets urban land. Well now we’re talking about this being 40%, 50%. That’s going to keep on rising, and so urban communities, often in coastal areas, are going to be areas that are subject to floods, and damage from the climate crisis.
MF: Right. So that’s all the news we have for right now. Why don’t we take a short musical break and we’ll come back with our interview with the student from Syracuse University.
Musical Break:
And now we turn to our guests, who is a student organizer with the Not Again SU campaign at Syracuse University in New York. Thank you for taking time to join us today.
SU Student (SU): Thank you for having me.
MF: So if you could maybe start out… I know there’s a lot to talk about what’s been happening at Syracuse University, but maybe you can start out by talking about where you are, and how long you’ve been there, and what’s happening there.
SU: So I’m currently at — Hall. This is the home of admissions, enrollment and all the senior administration at Syracuse University. This building is very symbolic of the deeply rooted issues at this University, of the complacency with the different oppressive systems, especially white supremacy and anti-blackness, but also queer phobia, xenophobia and a lot of the other things that are rooted not just at Syracuse University but in America. And so we are on, currently, our eleventh day of our occupation of this building. So basically we came in a couple Monday’s ago trying to pass a new set of demands after our November action. And so when we came into this building, we wanted to hold the administration accountable. This was the first time out of the recent history of protest on Syracuse University, where it was not reactionary. And so what our goal was, was to attack the Institution in ways of its complacency and it’s inadequacy in facing the problems that people of oppressed identities face every single day on this campus. And so having that in mind, I think the university reacted in a way that was extremely violent, and it’s reflective of those oppressive systems. And so during the first day of the occupation at around 8 o’clock, [they’ve been telling us] throughout the day, kind of stating that we would get suspended if we stay here, but they fully threatened us 8 o’clock, and by 8:30, they closed the doors, even though they stated that the building was closing at nine, so more people couldn’t get in. And for the 31 people that were in the building, they’ve got a blanket statement letter saying that they were interim suspended. Interim suspension states that you are an act of violence on this campus and a threat to safety for the student population, and it’s very hard to get an interim suspension. And so they saw us as the direct threat, and a direct drive to campus safety when we’re trying to create systemic change. And from that day on from Monday to Wednesday, there are very adamant of denying any food, medical necessities, basic hygiene products… and it became as if these basic human necessities were treated as if they were contraband. And so it acted as a very militant State, very much like a prison, in which there are guards at every door. Nobody was being led end. I remember one time on Monday I was saying, “oh if you’re not going to let people in at least let me ask if I can have a Department of Public Safety Officer in, or if my friend can get me food from the outside, because they’re trying to let food in, and then give it to me.” They said that was not possible. There are moments when they would look into bags and they finally let medical necessities in. And on Tuesday they threw all the food on the ground. There was a moment where the DPS officers switched shifts. Instead of the side or that they usually use, they went through the main entrance where most protesters were, shoving their way and kind of enacting violence with the students and blaming it on them, as if they were inciting violence. And students were not even trying to mosh in. There were so scared for *our* safety and for *us* being starved that they started throwing food in over their heads. And there was one moment where pizza dropped on the ground and the DPS officer looked at the students and said, “now you get all can eat shit.” And so there’s been a lot of tension. There was a moment when the deputy chief grabbed his holster when dealing with protests, as if he was grabbing a firearm, and saying that he was just doing the protocol. And so with all those things happening within 3 days, it was very dystopian, very violent and very scary for the students both inside and outside.
There are people maybe eight ten twelve hours at a time waiting outside constantly because they’re so scared of what the administration can do next. And eventually on Wednesday, they were slowly allowing food and different things back into the building because they realized the act of violence that they had [done]. And by Thursday the building was open again from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. But there’s still been a lot of different actions and a lot of frustrations. Now, they’re trying to do a lot of pre-negotiation meetings before the meetings. I think they’re trying to do at least three or so, and it’s like, why do we have to sit in these meetings and drain us out before we actually have a real meeting with Administration? That’s ridiculous. And we were supposed to have a negotiation meeting yesterday on Wednesday at 4 p.m. with a list of people that we invited there, that that we want to hold accountable, and also trusted faculty, our legal counsel… but they did not show up and said that they never agreed on a time, even though they said that they were working on our accommodations and they did agree to the time. And so basically what happened yesterday was that we blocked one of the main intersections at our University, blocking buses coming into campus and kind of leading chants and holding the administration accountable, because if they’re not going to come to us we have to make ways and combat different ways, and try to shut the institution down so that they start recognizing us and actually having real negotiations in good faith that they’ve been stating that they are having. And so at this point trying to hold the ministration accountable.
KZ: Excellent. Well you guys are doing amazing work. Let’s back up a little bit to explain to our listeners what this is about. As I recall back in November, December, when you did your first campaign, the issue was racially prejudiced activities going on on the campus. Can you describe… what started this protest? what’s the race issues that are rearing their heads there?
SU: I would say the start of this particular movement kind of goes further. But if you’re talking specifically about what happens in November, that starts with the instances that occurred on November 17th, if I remember the dates correctly. Basically there was racist graffiti targeted black students, and also racist graffiti targeting Asian international students. And so that kind of stimulated a lot of anger because there was never a formal note or email sent out. Basically the only way students found out about it was through social media because DPS officers and the administration said that they were not allowed to spread these videos. And that created a lot of outrage because in my three years at Syracuse I’ve faced a lot of violence consistently, and also there’s always been a major movement every single year I’ve been here. And so hat that kind of led to a sit-in at the Barn Center, which was the newly renovated gym. So we occupied that space for ten days, and kind of held the administration accountable, having a new list of demands stating clearly what we wanted.
And even though they replied often to those demands, the responses, even though we listed expansions after expansions, were not adequately dealt with. They said things were finished and we’re no longer in progress, when they weren’t. For example, we asked for multicultural learning communities be placed on every single door. We understand systemic change takes time, but when there was only one and now there’s two, on the smallest floor plans on the University dorms, that is not substantially completed. And so things like that, where they say that they keep on finishing. There’s numerous examples. It’s obviously clear that they haven’t, and to hold them accountable is what led to this protest. But there’s been numerous protests in the past. I would say within recent history. It starts in 2014 with the general body that led an 18-day occupation when Kent Subaru came on campus and eradicated a lot of the funding for marginalized identities, also taking away the Advocacy Center, which was looking at adding nuance and ways to help aid sexual assault advisors ,and also then there was the hashtag RecognizeUs movement that was in reaction to the Theta Tau videos. And then after that there was the Acumeni Sol Madrid, which where a professor said the n word, and that kind of created a lot of outrage and kind of stemming to what Not Again SU is now.
MF: I mean, it sounds like what’s happening is a continuation of a long time culture on the campus, but would you say under the current head, it sounds like things have worsened under him? Is that correct?
SU: That is completely cracked. I mean Nancy Cantor, who is now the dean of Rutgers, was a lot better dealing with a lot of things. I know what basically happened is that she got ousted from the Board of Trustees, because from what we know she wasn’t raising enough money, or if she was raising enough money, that money was being funneled to programs to increase relationships with the city in a way that was helping the city, instead of the parasitic relationship that Syracuse University has had for 150 years. She did a lot of programming for marginalized identities as well, and they kind of saw that as taking too much money into those programs. And so when Kent Suru came in office. they wanted him to be that major fundraiser, having that one 1.4 billion dollar endowment, creating this system where it’s an R1 institution, but taking funding away from a lot of diversity offices, like the office of Multicultural Affairs, LGBT Resource Center, the Center for International students. All those things were cut when he came into office, and so he specifically, and the Board of Trustees backing him, created this University environment where those of marginalized identities never had that experience, and continue to never have that experience, and it’s getting worse with him in office.
KZ: To me it’s just amazing that the university, which is trying to raise all this money, doesn’t recognize that having this kind of racism and prejudice on campus, undermines their goal of creating a wealthy University. This this can’t be good for them. Why can’t they just confront this issue? It’s not… Describe your demands. They don’t sound very outrageous. Describe your demands.
SU: Yeah, I mean the new ones I know are little bit more controversial, such as like DPS disarmament, which I think a lot of us would all agree on. They’ve been enacting violence, or tuition fees, because of the increasing monetary restraint that harms a lot of students of color. But also simple things like the Learning Community that I stated, updating the violence-related incidents logs every 48 hours so that students are notified of what’s happening. Or like increasing housing surrounding, and focused on, students with disabilities. Things like that I don’t think are irrational at all. They’re actually things that would make the campus better. And I think that if the administration would want to take this seriously and want to actually do their jobs and create a system of change, that would mean we would be able to go home. And they would actually be doing something good for this University.
MF: Can you talk Little bit about some of the solidarity that you’ve been receiving. How have alumni, faculty, other students… How wave they been responding to what you’re doing?
SU: I think the biggest Act of solidarity is from the grad students. There are some grad students that have been a part of this movement consistently, but what they’ve done is gone a labor strike. They’re withholding all their labor, over 100 plus grad students have done so and have signed that. And so I think that’s the biggest act of solidarity I’ve seen so far. And now they‘re creating a faculty Action Coalition stating that if the resignations of certain people, a list of people more expensive than the ones that we have, are not met then they will do increased action. And so those are I would say the major solidarity coalitions that are happening so far. But there’s been a lot of great solidarity throughout the university, a lot of people wanting to help us. But there’s also been a lot of solidarity in other places. I mean there’s a sit-in that just started in Georgetown and we’re in contact with them, or in Oklahoma State University. What we understand is that this is a national movement. This is not just something that happens at Syracuse University, because it is an issue that happens at a lot of predominantly white institutions. And so creating that solidarity between universities within the United States, but even outside of that, has been great. And seeing that how much coverage we got has enacted, and has empowered students to fight for their own rights, has been amazing this
MF: Remember we were doing an event I think a month or so ago in Northampton, Massachusetts, and we met after the event with a graduate student who is Jewish and she’s very active in pro-palestinian activities, and there was white nationalists on campus who were threatening her. And so the University’s response was not to do anything to these white nationalist but to tell her not to come into her Department anymore because it was becoming a threat for everybody else in that department. And so she has to do everything from home.
SU:It’s ridiculous.
KZ: It’s ridiculous. And it’s you’re right. This is a national problem. So you mentioned that one of the things that really started this was the racist graffiti. What does the University say about that? Are they doing anything to try to prevent or deter or prosecute people involved in that kind of activity?
SU: Well, as of right now, we have 30 plus reported hate crimes… what with the university likes to describe as isolated instances, that have occurred on campus since November 17th. And only the perpetrator of three of those crimes have been caught. And so when they’re interimly suspending peaceful student protesters, but not spending and allocating resources to actually find those people, what does that mean? And what systems are they upholding when they are enacting violence on peaceful student protesters who are trying to create systemic, but not actually do anything about the white nationalist ideology that is continuing to circulate around our University. It makes no sense. I mean, I think right now there’s been eight plus incidences that have occurred since we came back from winter break, and so it shows that nothing has changed. It shows that the administration has been inadequate about finding those people. Because at the University across the street from us, the USF school of Forestry, they had one racist graffiti and the first thing they did within I want to say 24 hours… They found that person, and they suspended that person publicly, but none of that has happened at Syracuse. Even with those three perpetrators, we don’t even know what has happened to them. Yeah, it’s never it’s never been made public. We don’t know if they’ve been suspended. But the first thing the university did to us was suspend us and make that public.
KZ: It seems like a public suspension of those people would be a deterrence. It’s amazing they haven’t taken those kinds of actions. What do people who have gone to this University… What do alumni say? Is this a new problem or is this a long-term problem at the University?
SU: I think it definitely is a long-term problem. I mean, of course, like everything else there is a history, and you can’t just pinpoint a history to one event, because history goes back longer than that. I mean this university has been enacted in protests throughout its time here. I mean, I think I can think of like the Black Panther protests, that have happened here or protests regarding Vietnam, or there was also one regarding like a Denny’s, where students were being physically assaulted outside of a Denny’s. They were students of color. And so with all that history that we have, and the current history they have to switch before protesters enacted in Syracuse University and change, because the administration through all those years have never done anything without protests. And so this is a long-drawn issue and alumni have been greatly supportive, retweeting our tweets, saying things that they are supportive of us. I mean professors who used to teach here, a lot of great people have been in support, stating that that their experiences of Syracuse University are reflective of our experiences. And so they’re supporting us greatly, especially the black and other POC alumni, but also white alumni as well. And so I think that’s nice to see that there are people supporting us and understanding the deep-rooted problems of the university for the past perspective and seeing how we’re trying to push that to be better in the
MF: future. It’s not an easy thing to do it all. Let’s talk a little Little bit about how the university has responded, because I think it’s instructive for people to understand this, because it’s typical of how oppressive institutions treat people. Starting with the Department of Public Safety or the police on campus… we saw through the social media when you were first staying in crouse-hinds Hall how repressive they were and then you all put out a kind of a list of the actions that the police had done and now they’re claiming that that they’re the Victims of, you know, not you particularly but of the students portraying them in a negative way. Can you talk a little bit about that?
SU: Yeah. So I mean talking about the violence that has occurred… Numerous times there’s been numerous altercations where DPS officers who are supposed to be peace officer, who are opposed to create an environment where students feel comfortable on this campus, physically they were pushing students, putting their knees through students legs. There’s been a lot of scary things that have happened on this campus continuously. I mean, I’ve had I’ve seen so many of my friends being pushed and shoved by DPS officers and being so helpless because I’m trapped basically in this building and not knowing what else to do but cry or just look at them in the eyes and just hope that it will stop, and scared of my own safety being here with them 24 hours everyday. Them policing me, and I think that’s the really scary thing. And them using their body cams, which the university would like to state that we refuse to give them our IDs, for the interim suspensions, but basically them alluding to having facial recognition programs, where they look at the body cams for DPS, and they look at the surveillance and buildings and match student protesters’ ID card pictures with what they see on footage, and saying that they did it manually, which of course with 22 thousand students, that’s lie. And there’s been a lot of real profiling that has occurred. I mean for students who were wrongly for suspended, one was a black woman, one was a Latina woman. And so it shows the deeply rooted problems within this University. And so there’s been acts of violence in numerous ways. I mean the chancellor himself still hasn’t gave up apology to the students, not even saying that we were starved, or were withheld of those basic necessities, and kind of creating this smear campaign on a PR standpoint, kind of staining that we’re lying or we could have left at any moment, or eat at the dining hall, which is greatly insulting to us who have faced that violence for three whole days, and continue to do so as we occupy this building. And so I think it’s a very scary time at Syracuse University. There’s so much that has happened and we would also like to state that these acts of violence have not just happened within these 11 days or so, but has happened consistently for students of color on campus. I mean we talk about the Aukerman assault, where e person, I think a white woman and two other white men, came to a party and pistol-whipped a couple people and called them the n-word, and then DPS telling students that they don’t need medical attention. I mean, there are so many of these incidences where time and time again DPS shows who they protext, and it’s clearly not students of color or students of marginalized identities.
MF: Correct me if I’m wrong that DPS is put out a letter saying that you know, they were ordered to behave this way by the administration. It’s not their fault.
SU: Yeah, and I think that letter is is very interesting, because they state that we are the ones that verbally assault them, and that they’re doing all these things on protocol. And also admitting that protocol to them, even when an acting with student protesters or demonstrators, is to grip a holster or to grab a firearm, which is extremely violent. And also saying that we verbally abuse them when they were the ones who were never allowing us to get food or basic necessities. I mean when people at a state where they’re hungry, when they are depressed ,when they are deprived of the things that they need, they are going to lash out. But at the same time, when they consistently enact violence on our friends and we see them shove them, and they want to play the victims as if they have never done harm. And then they were on, and then say that they have only done so because of the administration, and also say that they only do so because their chief told them to do so… I mean that’s not fair to us, and it goes around this like circle where the administration points at DPS and DPS points at the administration, but no ways actually taking accountability for what happened during the 11 days we’ve been here. And also because this letter is going out after our demonstration yesterday where we block the intersection. They’re stating that now they want to arrest us, and that we are the ones that are militant, and we are the ones that have enacted all this violence on campus, when we were just here as radical but peaceful student protesters.
KZ: Occupying a space is not easy to do. We’ve done it a few times. And it’s especially hard when the police are aligned against you and are intentionally trying to make it uncomfortable, but it’s very interesting that the police are blaming their chief and blaming the administration. I think that’s an opportunity, I think, for division among those who you are protesting. Do you see any divisions in the administration or in the Board of Trustees? Are there any fissures developing that you’re aware of?
SU: I mean, I think it’s clear within the administration that the people who are now being scapegoated, as if they were only the ones that have been, had been able to starve us, or to deny those basic necessities… I think they’re starting to get angry. They’re upset with administration because they’re getting scapegoated while the senior Administration or saying it that had nothing to do with them, kind of painting can Ken Suru, as if he is this white savior that lifted our suspension, even though they’re still not expunged from my record, or things like that, or saying he’s the one that oh, I had no idea that food was being denied. But clearly he had his hands in what was happening here. As well, they’re kind of saying that it was their chief’s fault. But also the deputy chief is son of a racist police chief known victoriously at Syracuse, who was the the chief of police in Syracuse City, and he was extremely violent against black bodies. And so with that history in mind, it’s interesting that they’re scapegoating the chief of police, Bobby Maldonado, even though we still call for his resignation. We recognize that John Salvino has deep ties with the police, and the city, and so it’s interesting who the university is choosing to scapegoat and who they’re not.
MF: So let’s talk a little bit about the demands that you have. You put forth a List of demands back in December. Can you talk about how the university responded to those, then how those demands have changed, and where you are in the process right now?
SU: I think right now, with our first demands, they were really inadequate. We rushed and they were not done fairly. We never said we need the university to do these with and a day or within a month or was even within a year, but to do them thoroughly, and to look at our expansions and do them in a way that is aligning with our message. And so when we came back in here, we came in with the new set of demands and addendums to their responses, because for example, when we stated that after 40 hours from initial event, that they need to put it on the violence-related incident log, and to do so adequately, that has been time and time again dismissed. I mean, we have footage or clips that we’ve gotten about people stating what has happened at certain incidences, but they don’t update it for a month. How is that substantially finished, when they continue to dismiss what we stated and what they find too? And so with the progress of the new demands, it’s very unclear if they will actually do them adequately, because it showed for our old demands it was not done. And so I think this time we’re demanding that board of trustee members either start refining and our negotiation, because we know that there are the people with real power. If these people, these senior administrators even Chancellor Suru, signs off on these demands, continue to dismiss them and not done them in a way that’s thorough, then what is the point of us protesting? That’s why we’re kind of advocating and demanding that the Board of Trustees be here and actually look at the demands, because when they have the power to do curriculum changes, funding changes, like institutional changes, we need those people at the seat of the table and actually read through demands and not have them be read through lower Administration [officials[ and be told to them or have that be related to them, because obviously that’s not been adequately done.
KZ: It seems your demands are reasonable and actually would be improvement for this school. And so it seems… it’s absurd that they’re fighting you so aggressively on this. I would think that if alumni, faculty, others who are associating with the university, would start to contact some of the investors and funders, that would really get the attention of the Board of Trustees and the administration. Is anyone working on outreach to try to get those who are investing to speak to the administration and push them to put in place these very reasonable demands that would actually improve the school.
SU: Yeah, I mean, I think we’ve been trying to do as much outreach as we can, and pushing for things like that like you said, but also keep in mind that a lot of the people who are investing want their names on buildings, and their names on certain things, and where that endowment comes from… specifically wanting to build like the Carrier Dome roofs, so somebody can have their name on it instead of actually donating and creating systemic change on this university. And so we’re trying to be cognizant of that as well. But how do we destruct systems and talk to donors and talk to investors to enact change in how to create this University? I think that’s a great point and something that we’re continuously working on.
MF: What would you like our listeners to know. wWhat are ways that they can support your efforts there at Syracuse University?
SU: I think spreading our message, going on social media if you’re not physically present and cannot physically be here. Continuously posting is giving us to media attention. I think that would greatly benefit, because especially with how more radical this occupation has been compared to our occupation in the Barn Center, major news outlets have not been as receptive to picking up or stories. Also donating to a GoFundMe, because we’re currently using our GoFundMe for donations for legal counsel, as well as family expenses, because especially during this great time of turmoil and trauma, needing to be with loved ones has been a really great struggle. And also wanting legal counsel to be there for us when we’re having these negotiations, and onwards so that we actually know what is legal from the University and so that they can’t lie to us. And I think those are the best two ways. Also coalition-building. Messaging us on our social media and asking what you can do for your communities. If you go to a university and want to create your own occupation, organizers are more than happy to help with that, and coalition building that way is good, because we see this as a national fight, and so creating change not just at Syracuse University, but the entire nation is extremely important to us.
KZ: What is the social media that people should follow on Twitter, Facebook or wherever else that you think they should follow?
SU: At Instagram we’re at NotAgain.SU. And on Twitter we’re at NotAgain_SU. And so those are our main two social media channels where you can keep up with what is currently happening, and make sure that you’re in the loop.
KZ: Fantastic. Well, we really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us an d our audience, and we hope that this is resolved in a peaceful and successful way for students at SU. So keep up the great work.
SU: Thank you so much and thank you again for having me, and thank you for giving us this platform to speak to your listeners.