Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Protest movement spans generations

A renaissance of resistance?

Since Sept. 11, the UW-Madison campus has seen a rebirth of activism, loosely reminiscent of the anti-war protests of the late ’60s and anti-sweatshop protests of 1999-2000. The perhaps overbroad label for America’s war on terrorism, “The New War” is not inappropriate in this light. Protesters are not necessarily directly affected by the United States bombing targets in Afghanistan, while the draft instatement in the Vietnam War hit home for nearly every UW student. Experts say student activists now work toward broad and complex issues like anti-globalization, rather than targeting specific policy objections seeking precise changes. Today, students are coming out in forceful numbers at pro-peace or pro-America rallies, in addition to the expected anti-war or anti-violence protests. And any remnants of violent protests of 1970 have been fully replaced by peaceful initiatives, like candlelight vigils and teach-ins.

Will the fragmentation of a historical protest movement weaken protests’ effectiveness, or will the wide spectrum of protesters’ goals heighten campus and community activism? Just as the future of the new war is uncertain, the future of this emerging protest movement is yet to be determined.

Current protest efforts are predominantly controlled by a blanket anti-violence organization, Madison Area Peace Coalition, which started up in response to post-Sept. 11 media coverage and closed-minded public reactions. Campus and community groups, such as Mad at the Bank, are active in MAPC efforts. Gene Marshall, a Mad at the Bank member, said the group’s efforts, which have been refocused as a “pro-peace” rather than their original anti-globalization aims, were strong in the first two weeks after the terrorist attacks, but have been faltering lately.

“Unfortunately, Madison has been pretty quiet for the last few weeks,” Marshall said. “The bombing started and everyone was pretty surprised by that.”

He said some of the expected campus activism has been stifled recently because “people think [anti-war] protesters are criticizing the U.S. itself, which is a sore point.”

Matt Rothschild, editor of the Progressive, a Madison-based magazine that devotes several pages in each issue to activism, said UW’s history of valuing freedom of expression overcame the tendency to restrict voices of resistance during government conflicts.

“I was worried that the shock and the horror at the events of Sept. 11 would have paralyzed people who instinctively understand that war is not an answer to our problems, but people are still brave enough to protest when they believe that their government is wrong” Rothschild said.

But UW’s rich history of student activism may be more accepting of the variety of protests that have emerged in the past two months than other universities across the country. For example, though UC-Berkeley freshman Bret Manley said the university’s history of effective student protests typically “harbors political activism,” he said the campus’ liberal nature stifles his group’s support for the United States’ anti-terrorist efforts. He said he was genuinely surprised that a couple of the flags his new student organization, United Students for America, hung around the campus had not been torn down by the more dominant anti-war activists on campus.

Such drastic opposition within protest movements has not been seen on UW’s campus as of yet. Rather, groups unite under a “pro-peace” banner or hold “pro-America” rallies that do not advocate specific military action, to draw as broad a support base as possible. The MAPC’s goal is to attract as many students to their rallies as they can.

“The idea is definitely that enough people will hear the sentiment that a rally on Library Mall that would originally draw 1,000 will draw 10,000, and then we’re talking the kind of success the ’60s anti-war movement and civil rights movement had that actually effected a change,” Marshall said.

Constructing activism: How to build a successful protest

Sheer numbers are not the only factor of a good protest, according to experienced activists like retired UW associate vice chancellor for student affairs Roger Howard, who has been on campus since 1968.

“[The success of protests] hasn’t just depended on numbers, because the only thing that can draw a crowd these days is a football game,” Howard said.

He narrowed down the critical aspects of a protest movement to three: 1) Protestors must be fully educated on the issue being protested. 2) Protestors must also address the issue from multiple fronts, including public protest and silent negotiation. This includes outlining thoughts in position papers or meeting with opposition leaders to educate them. 3) Protestors must also have the patience to work on the issue for an extended time frame of at least several years. “Do not expect your demands to be met right away,” Howard said.

Although his list may seem overly formulaic, Howard said recent anti-war and pro-peace protesters are sophisticated and educated not only on the issues they stand for, but on strategic protest methodology.

“In recent years, some of the student protesters have had a much more sophisticated direction to them,” Howard said. “Some of the student organizers have taught themselves the essential elements of protesting or have been taught.”

Rothschild compared the new student protest movement to successful campus-organization-based protests of the past.

“There is continuity with today’s protesters ? like the anti-sweatshop movement, they have spontaneous energy and broad support,” Rothschild said.

Marshall said he has learned countless protest strategies from even the most distant history of activism, but one of the most important facets of a successful protest in 2001 is creativity.

“It’s so important to learn from history, but we can’t reinvent the wheel,” Marshall said. “There are so many influential people to learn from, but today we have rapid technology and e-mail, which makes one of the most important aspects of protests is creativity, whether this means websites or live music at an event.”


Drawing from an Activist History

European students took to the streets in 1789 during the French revolution, but campus protests took longer to gain relevance in the United States. When protests sparked on university campuses during World War I, Wisconsin had just been founded, but UW was already instrumentally activist. Sen. Robert M. La Follette began Madison’s history of asking “tough political questions” in 1917 by taking the state’s criticism of military involvement to Washington, D.C., said John Nichols, editor of Madison’s Capital Times and longtime Madison resident.

“The roots of today’s protests can be seen going back to at least the WWI era when students raised questions,” Nichols said. “Next, we saw anti-Korean involvement protests, certainly anti-Vietnam, anti-Grenada and then many anti-Persian Gulf demonstrations ? so there is a long, well-rooted tradition here, which has continued to the present.”

Although UW’s history of student activism is over a century long, anti-war and anti-draft protests from the late ’60s stand out in the conceptual timeline. Demonstrations in 1969 brought together more students and community activists than ever before, and drew attention from the state police force and National Guard when Sterling Hall was bombed and general protests became associated with violence.

Reginald Zelnik, UC-Berkeley history professor, said any protests on campus at UW descend from a movement with roots in the late ’60s, because they included such large numbers of students.
“UW was one of the leading universities in the ’60s and had a fairly radical contingency in the faculty, just like Michigan and Berkeley did,” Zelnik said. “Ivy league schools have good students, too, but are generally less diverse, smaller, and are more isolated from big cities. On certain campuses, people can feel the pulse in the air of past protests that makes it more likely that under certain circumstances, campus issues will catch fire and spark protests.”

But experts are careful to qualify modern protests as having a completely different backdrop as their predecessors. Liberal students today are protesting for human rights, against globalization and for peace ? large issues that do not necessarily have any implications to their immediate lives.

“This is a different war, this is a different time, and students are protesting for a different reason, which is far more conscious of how a war will fit into the concepts of economic and social justice than even students in the ’60s,” Nichols said.

Former Madison mayor Paul Soglin was actively involved in the student protest movement while on campus in the ’60s. He said that most protesters had a simple statement: that U.S. military involvement in Vietnam was wrong. A select group of students saw the war as something fundamentally wrong with capitalism, but Soglin said these broader fundamentally based protests did not gain prominence on campus until the anti-sweatshop protests of the late ’90s. Sweatshop protesters have made a mark on UW’s history by effectively negotiating with university officials and the Board of Regents, both intellectually and through concentrated protest efforts, like a Feb. 2000 Bascom Hall sit-in. The effort was successful under Howard’s system of analysis. Although a small group of students worked on the issue, they were well organized, focused, educated and engaged in both intellectual and physical protest efforts. With the advent of more ethically and less issue-based goals beginning with the anti-sweatshop protesters, a new consciousness of the effects of protest efforts has emerged.

Soglin said the move away from issue-based protests and toward ideological movements is wise, and will lead to a successful and nonviolent protest movement.

“It is far less likely for violence to occur today, because the violence that occurred in the context of the ’60s was counterproductive and harmful to everyone involved and I think the lesson was learned.”

Where the movement goes from now depends entirely on the path U.S. military involvement in Asia and the Middle East takes within the next few months, said Nichols.

“If the war lasts a long time and does not appear to be successful, you will see more protests, for the same reason you will hear more protests in Congress,” Nichols said.

The MAPC plans to hold a pro-peace/anti-globalization campus teach-in, protest and march for Nov. 10 when the World Trade Organization is set to meet in Qatar. The MAPC is trying to book a big-name speaker like Ralph Nader for the event. The MAPC is flying in a Pakistani and an Afghan woman to speak alongside UW professors about the effects of U.S. violence against Afghanistan Nov. 6 and 7. Another community-wide peach march/protest is scheduled for Nov. 17. Even if the renaissance of resistance cannot solidify under a unified cause, UW’s history of political activism is being perpetuated by any organized protest activity students participate in today.

“It’s a good thing to see people stirring it up, raising their banners,” Nichols said. “That’s why we have a democracy ? to challenge viewpoints. It’s happening now, and I suspect that if you look at the university in 100 years, you will see the movement continuing.”

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