May 01, 2012

Montclair State University SDS Occupies Campus

At Montclair State University, Students for a Democratic Society worked with New Jersey United Students (NJUS) and students from Rutgers New Brunswick to organize Montclair's own incarnation of Tent State University, which celebrated its 10th anniversary on the Rutgers' campus where it originated. This "Universe-City" transpired in the Student Center Quad at Montclair State in the form of tents, teach-ins, free food, literature, conversation, music (not enough but we'll do better next year!) and all the signs of a thriving alternative educational community. We even had an extremely smackable Sallie Mae piƱata!
Occupiers would awaken at 6 or 7 in the morning, prepare breakfast for the day, and then proceed to maintain the thousand details of this small nonconformist colony, all while attending classes and meetings. Daily guest speakers such as student activism historian Angus Johnston and Socialist candidate for US Senate Greg Pason spoke at length about the current state of education and miseducation, while student speakers highlighted such issues as sexism in the Occupy movement, the current state of the anti-war movement, and how to beat someone up with a pen (well, the instructor chickened out. Maybe next year.)
Arrangements with the administration, while allowable, were unfair and restrictive. For example, we weren't "legally" allowed to sleep in the tents between 11:00 pm and 6:00 am unless we paid $2,000 for security. Put differently: we were being asked to pay two Gs to occupy land that we already pay for in order to pay police that we pay for already to protect us which is kinda already their job. This was clearly a tactic intended to deter potential campers like us. But we said we'd sleep outside of the tents, just to get this done. And at first, we did so, until we started sleeping in them anyway. The police drove around the quad, shining spotlights at us like we potential escapees from prison....But they were putting on a show. None of them hassled us.
At one point, during a teach-in, a cop car swung around the Quad, pulled up beside our area, and idled. A cop came out, walked towards us, hand on radio. We continued our teach-in, which was on sexism. The cop, built like a brick shithouse, stood beside us and proceeded to stare at us for 30 to 60 seconds until someone said, "Is there something wrong, officer?" He didn't stop staring; after five or six menacing seconds, he just said, "Nah, you're good. I support you guys. Keep it up, for real." Then he turned around and left. It was sweet.
Through the five days, we got 500 signatures on an anti-tuition hike petition, a bunch on an animal rights petition, lots of contact info, gave away over 200 buttons and gosh knows how much literature, and made headlines in 2 daily newspapers, 3 weeklies, the school newspaper, a bunch of e-news outlets, and 2 or 3 TV news channels. We met a million people. When it was all over, the tents came down on time, but the message was spread, having resonated within that Quad like no other student event in recent history. And it was SDS that put it there.