Daily Egyptian

May 2 Strike Committee: Let’s Stand Against Racism Monday

By Sam Beard, @BeardJournalism

Sam Beard, a former Daily Egyptian reporter and media liaison for the committee, relays one final message. The names of committee members have altered in response to pressure from police.

How did the May 2 Strike Committee start?

The idea for a student strike at SIU on May 2 spawned from a conversation among friends.

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“A couple weeks ago I read that students in Puerto Rico shut down their university to resist austerity, in Ohio they were occupying a university building and in France they shut down entire cities in response to a law reducing workers rights,” said Pyotr, an alumni with a master’s degree. “And I thought: things are so terrible here, but no one is doing anything. It’s as if we don’t believe we have any power.”

The friends spoke without using their real names because they did not want the movement to be about them, but rather the issues at hand. Moreover, they feared retribution.

Early one March morning, Pyotr and a friend came to the conclusion that nothing will change unless people learn how change their lives together.

They decided to spend the next few weeks organizing a student strike, or walk-out, to remind students of the collective power they hold — something people understand in many other parts of the world.

The first meeting, in late March, was 25 people angry with the state of things talking about what May 2 might look like. The second meeting, one week later, had twice as many people and the movement showed no signs of slowing down.

“We started with dozens of people down with the idea of shutting down SIU for a day to change the conversation. We decided to do it off the Internet, which was fun and gave it some secret energy,” Pyotr said. “There were discussions about whether there should be one demand, many demands or no demands.”

The group came up with the idea of a broad framework that included grievances including the construction of “useless” buildings; immediate demands, such as capping administrative pay at the median salary of faculty and staff; and structural demands, such as the abolition of student debt nationwide.

Then the graffiti happened.

“Suddenly we had to go public earlier than we’d wanted to. Those of us on the media team — the people publishing under May 2 Strike Committee — thought the riot graffiti was a mistake,” Pyotr said. “We don’t know who did it, and we feel it was the wrong choice because we weren’t planning a riot — that’s the last thing we want. But, it opened up some space, so we thought, ‘let’s do this thing.'”

Who is in the committee and why are they a part of it?

Four individuals in the committee, the bulk of the members, consented to an interview. 

Assata, who asked to be identified as “queer, gender non-conforming,” is a former SIU student of color and moved to Carbondale to pursue higher education, but called it quits one semester before graduation because of a lack of funds.

Assata said they have been a direct and indirect victim of racism from the moment they were born.

“I can no longer envision a future for myself not riddled with debt, anxiety and violence perpetrated by the state,” Assata said. “It is for this reason that I feel the need to assist, for one day, in disrupting the status-quo, to tell my story, to hear others and to envision a future where most of us are not condemned to suffer amassing profit for a few.”

Felix, a 32-year-old alumni, said he watched as the administration took no concrete action against racial slurs being written across campus.

“It was not until I saw the administration’s completely incongruous, aggressive response to the graffiti — publishing photographs and urging people to snitch when no such action was taken against the racist hate-speech — that I decided to fully commit myself to organizing a strike,” he said.

In a press conference Monday, university officials declined to answer specifics about the recent allegations of racism on campus citing an open investigation and said investigators have not yet concluded if the allegations are substantiated.

Emma, another SIU alumna and single mother of two, resides in Carbondale and said the city is a microcosm of global issues like poverty, rape culture, violent masculinity and rampant environmental destruction.

“The sheer horror of raising my kids in this climate is why I became involved in the strike,” Emma said. “Our home is facing the destruction of higher education and our clean water source. The city continues to uphold the slumlords’ monopoly on housing.” 

Emma was referring to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and plans to extract large amounts of water from Jackson County to use in fracking operations in other regions of southern Illinois.

She invited students, faculty, staff and community members to walk-out and join each other in the strike, which is slated to begin at 10 a.m. May 2 at the fountain east of Faner Hall.

She said the motives for the strike extend far beyond Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s induced budget crisis.

“I have watched creative, passionate people from SIU and universities across the planet become crippled by the crushing weight of capitalism, white supremacy and heteronormative patriarchal sexism,” Assata said.

What will happen on May 2?

No one knows, but Thursday the committee called for the focus of the day to be against the prevalent racism on campus. 

The committee’s stated aim has always been to only promote the idea of a strike on May 2.

The members agreed they never expected white supremacists to co-opt the day to push their ideologies through a racist video posted anonymously under the handle ATO AZO. The president of SIU’s ATO said no one in his fraternity made the video.

“The question is whether students, staff and faculty think the racism and other issues on campus are enough to warrant some kind of action,” Pyotr said.

He said said nothing will change unless American students rediscover their collective power and learn to disobey together.

“[The committee] was never supposed to be the strike. We have had no desire to ‘lead’ it and we don’t really think that’s necessary,” Pyotr said. “We’ve been asking for groups of friends and organizations to plan actions of their own, and it seems that some folks have taken us up on that.”

According to the committee’s blog, may2strike.noblogs.org, anything will fly on May 2, except for violence.

The committee encourages anyone who wants to participate in the walk-out to do it. However, they are now specifically calling for the focus of the day to be on combating the white supremacy on campus. 

Additionally, the committee caught wind there are organizations on campus planning actions against racism for May 2. Pyotr said the committee now stands behind these organizations and urges participants to take their lead on Monday as long as it is peaceful. 

“After this interview, we will cease to exist,” Assata said. 

Sam Beard, strike sympathizer and media liaison for the May 2 Strike Committee, can be reached at [email protected]

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