Thursday, April 20, 2006

Students set up hunger strike camp outside Ashe

The following description of yesterday's events is taken from a post at

Around 1 PM yesterday afternoon, striking UNICCO janitors at UMiami blocked traffic at highway intersections near campus as 12 students (including 4 hunger strikers) attempted to occupy the admissions office. After President Shalala ignored janitors and students on hunger strike, students had no choice but to disrupt the university's business to force Shalala to listen. Just as the students entered the office, police officers in plain clothes violently pushed and dragged the students outside without any warning and without even identifying themselves as police officers. One student was knocked over by police, possibly breaking her hand (she went to the hospital but the diagnosis is unknown as of now).

Once pushed outside, the 12 students linked arms and stood blocking the entrance doors to the building (where admissions and administrators' offices are). They were quickly joined by more students, and soon a crowd of over 30 students sat with linked arms and tape across their mouths to symbolize UM's squelching of students' free speech.
Repeatedly, throughout the day, university administrators threatened students with disciplinary action including arrest and expulsion for peacefully demonstrating in support of janitors. This was only the latest in a series of administrators' tactics to intimidate students. They have already revoked the student-labor group STAND's ability to hold events on campus. But before police could arrest students Charles Steele, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s organization), arrived on campus for a scheduled press conference and announced that if any students were arrested he would get arrested with them. With Steele's support, along with the presence of media and religious leaders, the UMiami administrators backed off.

Right now, students are continuing to sit directly outside the doors of the administration building, causing security to lock all the doors. Students will stay there until President Shalala forces the contractor UNICCO to allow janitors to unionize by the method of their choice. The students' portion of "Freedom City," the tent city set up just outside of campus two weeks ago, has been moved right in front of the administration building as well.

Here's the text of an e-mail by Liza Alwes, one of the residents of the new suburb of Freedom Village:

this is the campaign i'm doing. at this very moment (oh, the wonders of technology) i'm sitting in one of the tents we've pitched outside the ashe administration building, getting soaked by rain coming in sideways through the screen bits of the tent. soaked by rain sideways? is this some crazy florida storm? no, it's just that the sprinklers have been turned on for the last almost 24 hours in an attempt to drive us out. what a smart and adult use of water! i'm glad that we have the Everglades right here, and that no one is damaging their ability to refilter this lovely water by draining them and putting up condos.

sleeping on her soaked blanket next to me is my friend jess, whose whole forearm has to be in a brace for at least the next two weeks since those people [plainclothes police who did not identify themselves] threw her on the ground in our peaceful, if a little frantic, attempt to get into the admissions office...

if you think it's late in the semester to be trying to win, i have some great news: President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Charles Steele is on our side now. He's coming back on monday to raise hell with us and he says he'll bring a lot of support. he's obviously a high profile guy, so i think we still have a chance...

with love to all,

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