Interviews with students who conducted sit-ins in the Spring of 1999.

Compiled by Penn Students Against Sweatshops, February of 2000

Contents:

Duke University

University of Michigan

University of Madison at Wisconsin

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

University of Arizona

 

Duke University: January 28th-29th, first sit-in (3 days after USAS national day of action)

What was the situation with the administration beforehand?

We had a 100 person rally in December and the president said, 'I agree with you that public disclosure is important but we just can't have it now because the licensees don't want it. None of the other universities want it. I promise you we'll keep working in these committees…' The demands were convoluted - at first we said, 'reject the CLC code until it includes disclosure' then later we switched it to 'get disclosure no matter what.' In December, the rally was about the CLC code, when we went into the sit=in , we changed it to just be for disclosure. At that point no one had disclosure, not a single U had it, the licensees claimed they'd sue schools with it. When Georgetown sat-in, disclosure was their demand too to give it legitimacy.

How did you prepare?

We arranged the NY Times story 2 days ahead of time, we knew it would be written about. The fact that the story was being written helped in negotiations a lot.

We didn't do a good job of outreach to unions. But five or ten students from UNC Chapel Hill came.

 

What was the situation with your group before the sit in?

We had been around for awhile, there were 10 to 15 who really knew all the issues well and who were always there and then another 20 who followed along but were more passive and weren't contributing to strategy discussion.

What was the beginning of the sit in like? How many were there? Time of day entered? How was it like? Process of entry? Administration response?

We went into the president's office in the morning of the first day - she addressed us and said Duke wouldn't require public disclosure and we said we will stay until you change your mind. When we were done talking, we told the New York Times and he called the administration for comment. They flipped out because they realized there would be a story in the New York Times.

When we entered the building , we had over 100. Before we went in, we had a rally outside, and drew about 150. It was in front of the Duke Chapel. It hadn't been announced yet that we were doing a sit-in - only 35 people knew. We announced that we were marching to the president's office and going to sit=in. About 100 came in. And the 100 stayed for about five or six hours. The thirty five people who agreed beforehand stayed.

We just walked into the building through the main entrance and walked up the stairs to the president's office, and occupied the lobby of the office. It was about 10 am.

How did it go? What was the university response? What was the administration response? Food? Logistics?

We didn't make it public until we announced it at the rally. We knew we would have those 35 who said they would say. But, of the 35 , 15 had decided that they were willing to be arrested. When we got in, she wasn't there…the campus police came and we did programming for awhile - we read essays and poems to keep people entertained and then declared it 'study time.' Two hours later, she showed up, we had our debate in front of all the local news cameras. (during the study time, people were being interviewed) So we had a half-hour debate about whether or not duke had the power to demand disclosure. After the debate, she left and the police came around and asked what we were doing. We said we were staying until she changes her mind and we are willing to be arrested. They said, 'the building closes at 5'. We said, 'we'll stay longer.' They didn't want to arrest us, so they brought in officers to sit with us. Here's the thing: there is a sit-in where you can come and go, and there is a sit=in where if you leave, you can't come back and that's what we had. That was what the administration said. The police locked us in and said ' anyone is free to leave, but you can't come back.'

We brought in all kinds of food and there were windows on the second floor. We lowered down a bucket and people outside (it is really important to have people outside - to get press releases out. We would lower down disks and they would print them for us) and the people outside had a barbecue for us.

The rest of the first night, we wrapped up the NY Times article, hung out, the next morning we started drafting proposals and discussing how we were going to resolve things. Our proposal was that duke would immediately notify licensees that they had to disclose in a year or lose their contract. We finished this around noon and called the executive vice president and said, 'we want to have a meeting at 5 pm with the president, you, the deans and the media.' The media had been locked out. Another good reason to have people outside - to talk to the media if they are locked out. So the admins agreed to let the media in to hear our proposal at the meeting. They said, 'we need to think about this,' called the lawyers, we got them to say they would take it to court if needed - if they were sued. Later that night, they accepted the demands.

Was there any disciplinary action or threat?

No. There would have been the whole arrest issue, but because we said to the police , 'you will have to arrest 15 of us to get us out, that was taken off the table.'

Since you were the first sit=in, what made you decide to take this course of action?

We'd been doing all the smaller stuff for a long, long time. We had a million letters to the editor, rallies already, we felt like we had done enough campus education, had support from the student-government, covered all the basis showing that students in general were in favor and that if they still didn't agree, the only thing we could do was take direct action. We originally wanted to do it in December but it didn't happen..

Advice you would give? Difficulties you experienced?

One thing - after the fact - you want to be careful with how it is portrayed. After our sit-in, the campus paper wrote an editorial comparing it to a slumber party. We tried to keep it serious - but be careful about this, don't have people goof around. But, you don't want the sit=in to be too boring because people will leave, but it has to convey seriousness. Obviously, cell phones and lap tops are very important. I think the make or break thing for us, was the New York times article - I would try and arrange something before hand.

 

 

 

University of Wisconsin, Madison :February 7th, 1999 3rd USAS Sit-in (followed Georgetown)

What was the situation with the administration beforehand?

I wasn't much involved in the planning of it, this is when I got involved. I think what happened was the anti-sweatshop group had rallies and had tried to negotiate with the administration about a code and the admins hadn't done anything. The big thing that sparked it and made people want to do a sit-in was a public forum which had happened. A lot of students and community members were talking to an administrator about the whole thing (at the public forum. ) Seeing how much support and interest there was , people decided a sit-in was a good thing. Very few people planned the sit-in, it was very hush hush.

The administration just wasn't paying much attention. The demands were for full disclosure, for implementation of living wage when it could be determined - those were the two main ones and then we spent some time debating whether to include women's rights into that and we decided to.

How did you prepare?

I think what people did was - there was a smaller planning committee for the sit-in, and they were leaking the information slowly to people so that a large percentage of people would know, but it wouldn't get out. They had a rally at 5 pm on the 7th of February and tried to get a big crowd. The people who planned the sit-in said, 'does everyone want to go home or to go inside the building?' Everyone went in and sat down inside the rotunda and we started talking about what was happening. They pulled people into the sit=in by surprise. Some people left when they talked about a sit-in, but a lot stayed who probably wouldn't have come if they hadn't gotten pulled into it.

What was the situation with MASC before that first week in Feb?

MASC was about 10 people, but there were others who were working on it. I had heard that it was going to happen about a week in advance and kept trying to figure out what was going on. I didn't help plan it at all.

What was the beginning of the sit in like? How many were there? Time of day entered? How was it like? Process of entry? Administration response?

Basically, the rally was at 5:00 pm, there were some speakers and at the end when eveyrone was pretty pumped up, one person went up to the mike and said, "hey , do we want to go inside?" It was dark at that point. Right away, people went in and there was probably about 50 people and they elected facilitators for the rest of what was going to be happening. They started discussing what was going to happen and the process and what people were feeling, what the demands were going to be. Everyone got in there and figured how everything worked and went at it.

A strange thing about the sit=in was we never went into an administrative office. We were inside the building where the office was , camped out outside of the office. It worked well because people were leaving for classes and coming back, going to work , etc. During the day sometimes we had as few as 20 people and on the last night it got up to 100.

There wasn't anyone in the office when we went in. we were unsure what was going to happen with the university security and they basically decided that they weren't going to do anything if we weren't going to try to get into the office - they just let us sit there, they said they wouldn't pull us out unless we attempted to go into the office.

How did it go? What was the university response? What was the administration response? Food? Logistics?

People had let some people know about food needs because we got tons of food donations within the first two hours - the grad student union sent us pizza one night. We got pizza donated by pizza places, other food donated, community members helped out buying food and bringing it in. People also just left, bought food, brought it back. There had been organizing to get food before.

As far as the U community response - it was fairly good. We had a lot of community members at the rally, people from some locals, we had a couple professors in and out, people were generally supportive, I think.

The administration's response was to ignore it until we harassed them for a meeting. We kept calling them on the phone. Then the chancellor said 'we're not in disagreement, I think we both want to see the end of sweatshops., but I'm not gonna be signing anything.' He tried to control the discussion and we said, 'it's our discussion, you can't call on people to talk, we'll facilitate it'. A couple of meetings later, he said the same thing, was being really patronizing. When we were trying to discuss with the administration, instead of having a committee to talk to them, we said that they had to talk to all of us. It frustrated them but gave us more power.

We had another rally two days later…no progress inside. We kept a few people inside and all went outside for a rally …just a few steps outside, still there wasn't much progress and so the last day of the sit=in, Friday, we had a big rally (another one) - with about 200 people outside the building and we decided to march to the back of the building and went through the back door - 200 people chanting inside the building, chanting through the administrative walls, stomping on the ground and went back to our base location in the building and for 15 minutes we all were stomping and dancing and yelling and banging on the walls. We did that for 15 minutes - it was crazy, the most energy that anyone had seen in a long time. None of us had any voice left at the end. We got a call an hour later from the chancellor saying he'd meet with us again for 20 minutes.

He came by and we were all sitting around the room. He said , 'what do you want?' We facitlitated the discussion - he brought underlings with him (he hadn't brought them till now) We had a 2 hour conversation in which we talked about the demands. By the end he said, 'Now I understand, we'll sign it.' The demands were still disclosure, living wage, women's rights. The only thing we didn't get exactly what we wanted was the timeline - longer than we wanted. The disclosure and living wage demands were for the CLC - they had to implement that for us to stay in the CLC. We also got the living wage symposium. Within 3 months of determining a wage for a certain area, the CLC had to implement payment of that for us to continue to contract with them.

 

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor 4th sit in. March 17-19, 1999

What was the situation with the administration beforehand?

After Madison had sat in , our organization had took Wisconsin’s agreement and asked the university to endorse that in addition to the CLC code. Our administration told us in mid Feb that it would need 8 months to approve a code. ON a Friday morning, two days later, 20 of us went into the admin building and demanded the prez receive our letter of ultimatum which gave him 3 weeks to adopt a code that provided women’s rights, living wage, disclosure, ind monitoring and a commitment NOT to join the FLA. WE were the first sit-in post FLA. It was difficult because not many people knew what it was. WE knew disclosure wouldn’t be a big issue because we had an athletic director advocating this. Living wage was a different story. After spring break (late feb) we received the general counsel’s proposal which included some of the Madison wording and the week we came back from school, we gave counter proposals.

The second week, we had the second meeting that took place after spring break where we talked about wording about wage compensation, how to word the living wage section. WE had planned a rally that took place on March 12th that drew 400 people. The day before that we had a bargaining session with the general counsel going back and forth on wording. The point of contention was that the U would say it ‘thinks’ paying a living wage was a good thing, but wouldn’t commit itself to a ‘wage not yet determined’ or something that wasn’t defined. It was coming to the point where we felt the U was not committed to the principles which it said it was committed to. So we had the 400 person rally – very loud, yet peaceful, chalked the administration building, That was Friday afternoon.. That evening about 8 or 9 decided to celebrate the rally because we knew we weren’t going to sit-in that day. The admin thought we were going to and they had a lot of police around and had locked up the building. They wanted to talk – we didn’t because we didn’t wanted to hear their crap. So that night we had a few beers and started to talk about what we were going to plan, we talked about our final offer to the general counsel. About 11:30 on Friday night we came up w/ very clear wording for the University to sign and sent it off of e-mail sat morning. On Monday or Tuesday we heard back from the general counsel saying that they couldn’t accept that. We said that was our final e-mail. AT that point we had built up so much pressure and public support that it was a matter of whether or not the leadership wanted to organize a sit-in. The university was already offering us a lot – everything accept a mandate for living wage. WE decided there was a difference between principle and implementation and they weren’t going for implementation.

How did you prepare?

I had been talking to our advisor a lot about this and we decided that it was really important that everyone felt their participation was really important to the sit-in. During the rally, we went around with clipboards getting names and asking people if they were willing to participate in direct action. Then we gave those people information about where the meetings were going to be. From Sunday to Tuesday we had meetings every day. WE had 15 people come on Sunday, 20 on Monday, 30 on Tuesday. WE were very concerned about e-mail security – didn’t use the word ‘sit-in’ in e-mail at all and assumed the worst, that we were being spied on. The few days before were less about logistics and more about – though we were making lists about what we needed like cell phones, laptops, food – but really making people who were on the border line feel that their participation was necessary. WE didn’t want people who were uncomfortable to do something they didn’t want to do, but more moving those who wanted to to do it. WE brought law students in to talk to students about their rights, what to do if they were under threat of arrest. 15 out of the 30 said that they were willing to be arrested, but no one was under any pressure. So it was really just building up a lot of confidence. The day before we had a plan of action meeting – the strategy of how to get in. WE had someone who worked inside the building who gave us critical information about how and when. WE got a week long commitment from everyone who was going in . We said ‘we need 30 people and we need a commitment for at least a week.’ One of the important things too is that we had a meeting of people willing to be inside and a meeting for those who had to be outside. WE got those people together to talk about what to do. WE had 15 outside people. For about three weeks, I was speaking almost on a daily basis with the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, the student news, Time magazine, etc. the point was for us to have press as safety and as leverage. The NYT knew when we would strike so that we would have photographers there. We knew it would be protection – when we got up there the administration asked who had the cameras and we said, "Jim West, he works for the New York Times" and that helped us a lot. WE also had a group – United Press International ready to send the story out to all the tv stations for us.

Of all these people, how many were Sole members beforehand?

In january we had 10 people, in March we sat in. A lot of progressives come out of the closet when something like this happens.

 

How was the Beginning of Sit-in? What time of day did you enter? How was it like? What was the administration response? How many of you were there?

30 of us were there, the office was only occupied by secretaries. They were surprised, but sort of expecting it. WE arrived at 9:30 am because we thought it would be good to start during the day so that there could be a rally that day (which they did at 2:00- 100 people came) also, we thought it could make the afternoon news. Also, we just felt like they’d be less prepared. We were going through a dorm to get there to come out the other side of the dorm and sprint in and we assumed not everyone would be in the building. WE ran out of a dorm and charged up , across the street, across a side of the building – we had people assigned to hold the doors, I was assigned to the last door at the top – we had run up a flight of stairs, ran in and said, ‘hi we’re here’ , everyone ran in, sat down and started cheering. We had a backup plan that if the doors were locked, we would run out, disperse, act as if we were stopped, meet back at a specific time and storm a dean’s office instead – in an academic building, so they wouldn’t have been able to stop us.

How did it go? What was the university response? What did you do for food? Could you leave?

WE had brought in 300 dollars worth of food – carbohydrates, a few hundred bagels. They said we could leave, but if we left we couldn’t come back. They shut down the building and had plain clothes officers there. They told us the prez wasn’t there, but they would get him. They gave us word that the president would only meet w/ 2 students. We said that was unacceptable. We said, no, we want to meet with all of you. They said, no, we compromised and brought down seven. We went down in the evening.

A lot of people came in to say hi to us, but we really wanted a trustful environment with people we knew, so we had limited it to the 30 originals.

WE took over half of a floor. The first day people continued to go to work even though we were cheering the whole time. The second day , when they came back , we lay down in front of the doors and cheered until they left.

The next morning we received a revised statement from the prez and there was a lot of progress on the living wage clause and we felt it was almost good enough, but nothing major. The president was very cognizant of the fact that there was major press about the sit-in. About 2:30 pm , we heard from the press that the U had released a code and intended to join the FLA. We were really pissed off Four of us were picked to talk to the president and we said, ‘this is ridiculous’. The president said he had to release something because he was under pressure. He said, ‘you can sit here another week, I don’t care .’ He said he had to finish the regents meeting, we brought the rest of the people who had been bargaining down (students) and had another meeting with him. He came with the provost and the general counsel – there was not much to talk about. I believed they weren’t going to change the policy statement and the changes we would have made were so marginal that it was unreasonable for us to continue. BUT, the FLA thing hadn’t been resolved. WE convinced them not to join the FLA even though they publicly had said they would join. They said they had to think it over.

Was there any disciplinary action?

No. President Bollinger read to the regents that he would not penalize us for excercising our free speech and respected our right to be in his office.

Is there anything else we should prepare for, expect?

I would expect the worst in terms of the legal manipulations that they will make. Don’t let them make a policy statement, that’s not legally binding – make sure they make an agreement. You should go in with legal counsel because they have the best lawyers in the country who know how to find loopholes and get out of stuff later. Be prepared for anything that they might do, but probably they will treat you fine. Make sure that everyone on campus knows there is the possibility for a sit-in…build that tension.

 

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC): April, 2000

What was the situation with the administration beforehand?

We had had our demands for awhile: Code of Conduct with living wage, disclosure and independent monitoring. We pushed that. We had people sign cranes – goal was to make 1000 cranes with the demands on it. We had people sign and fold them. We got a huge amount and strung them….We had a labor advisory committee and Marion and Todd and Lori were part of that. They were meeting with the committee which had faculty members as well and one of the key things was we were working with them, working with them, and they agreed to the principles but wouldn’t sign! The chancellor was the same way. The chancellor said he agreed in principle, "keep up the good work" but didn’t sign. And then it got to a stage where it was "we do the sit-in now or we lose the momentum" because it was getting to the summer. We were sitting around on Monday night I have to admit – I was totally stressed out by it. I didn’t know if we had the numbers or energy. It’s their ball game – if we go on their property, they choose what to do and we have to react, so that makes it scary. But we decided to it...This was an interim chancellor and it was his second week at school when we did this. We thought, ‘can we expect this guy to accept these demands?’ but it had to happen, it was time.

How did you prepare?

I want to emphasize: we did a lot of outreach work to every other campus org beforehand, so that they’d be there. Be there in terms of signing onto our demands. We would present to organizations beforehand at meetings, would present what they were working on, explain the FLA, make sure groups knew what was going on, show that they wanted to work together, hinting toward ‘ we want to do a big action and we want your support.’

Another key thing: made sure that we were chummy with the paper, keeping in communication, we had a writer that stayed with us at the sit-in, experienced it with us, we had great editorials that they wrote in support of us.

Another thing: community support. Good to make sure you have talked to community residents that might be supportive, buy a pizza and bring it to the sit-in.

WE scouted out the building before hand – maybe it got them used to students going in.

How was the Beginning of Sit-in? What time of day did you enter? How was it like? What was the administration response? How many of you were there?

It was Tuesday, we didn’t want to start on a Friday. WE wanted to start early in the week so that we could have more students come in. Students aren’t around on a weekend. 20 of us had backpacks, some had sleeping bags and we walked in around noon, or 1:00. We go to the secretary and ask to see the chancellor. We had to keep in mind our goal : his signature to committ to full disclosure, ind monitoring and living wage. To kkeep clean we had to keep that in mind and give him the chance to sign it there and avoid the sit-in. But he wasn’t there. So we said, ‘we’re going to wait for him there". WE came in single file, didn’t cause any ruckus. It was kind of intimidating because the secretary was really strong, but it passed. We put our bags down and said we wanted to meet with him. The 20 of us agreed we were going to stay until they gave in.

How did it go? What was the university response? What did you do for food? Could you leave?

Our sit-in was pretty slack, we could go to class and go back in. Think about the commitment, who can be on the outside. We took over the whole building pretty much – we took over the lobby for sleep and meeting. From the 20 we grew to 50 and that required us to have people sleeping downstairs, in the halls. You want a core group : you always want people there. But you want to show that you are dedicated to this cause. If you are in class and going on with your life it isn’t a sit-in commitment as much. If people need to go to class, they need to go. But, you should consider how it makes you look in front of the reporter who comes to the sit-in and sees only 3 people. Think about that. So you do a rotating schedule and only have a few going out at the same time. Everyone was still performing their jobs while we were there. There was a point near the end of the sit-in – at one point we had a couple of classes come and we spoke to them about why we were sitting in, we had groups that we would talk to. We had a meeting on Wednesday. It was a select group around a table, but everyone was in the room and some were out of the room too – a hundred people. The chancellor claimed he needed more time. He said ‘you can’t be pushy on this.’ HE wanted to call the trustees, go through negotiations with them. WE start chanting like crazy in his face – it was amazing. On Thursday we raised the ante a little bit – by being louder, using instruments and drumming, chanting really loud and taking the megaphone in the building and using them inside. They couldn’t work in the offices anymore and they called the police. We didn’t know. Then a class came in and we were presenting. When the police showed up, all we were doing was talking to a class! Every police person is a person and they are just doing their job and we need to carry that with us and remember when we are doing a sit-in. Show them that you know that they are a fellow person. You can shoot the breeze with them. That’s a facet you can bring into a sit-in: be nice to police. You might have to consider taking it to the level of having arrests.

On Friday, that was the victory day. He called another meeting while we were doing that crazy chanting – arranged the meeting (on Thursday) So we told the campus that at 12 noon we would have a huge rally: either a victory rally or a call for him to sign. Since we could go in and out, we chalked up the whole campus, we chanted together, made sure that as much as campus knew that this is the time for them to come. It was the talk of campus. Friday at 11 we had the meeting, it was a victory and it was time to celebrate and we had a big victory rally. A lot of people in the town came.

Was there any disciplinary action aside from the police?

No, there never was. That was nice. But there is a possibility…

Is there anything else we should prepare for, expect?

Be chummy with your professors and they might be there to support. One of mine brought a couple of pizzas and extended my paper deadline. Let them know – talk to them.

Let me just say real quick about Duke. We came to the beginning of duke’s sit-in. One note is: let other schools know, get that regional solidarity flowing. That’s important. They started with a rally – we just walked in. those are two ways of doing it, I’m sure there’s more…

They (duke) weren’t allowed to leave. They had ropes and were bringing food in from outside and would pull it up. People would give them food and they were playing a radio in support outside. They were planning a big dance outside of the admin building sat night. Creativity is a must and is awesome. We also had 2 or 3 people in the community who weren’t students but were young. The university didn’t know they weren’t students. That can help with numbers but there are issues with that as well…You want to make friends with technology ridden teenagers. We had laptops hooked up with a web-cam so people could watch us.

 

University of Arizona: 6th sit-in April of 1999

1) What was the situation with the administration beforehand?

We had started talking with our president in the summer of 98. By the spring of 99 the issues we were fighting for were getting full public disclosure and leaving the FLA. We drafted a resolution with 4 demands: full public disclosure, independent monitoring, living wage, and women’s rights. Our position was that U.A. had to adopt the

resolution or leave the FLA and the CLC.

2) How did you prepare?

We had three demonstration during the spring, publicizing our resolution. We then held a demonstration at noon on the day we wanted to start our sit-in.

3) What was the situation with your group before the sit in?

We had 6-8 core members around Jan. or Feb. of 99. We put some effort into getting our floating members to become more consistent with their participation.

4) What was the beginning of the sit in like? How many were there? Time of day entered? How was it like? Process of entry? Administration response?

Around 12:30 the demonstration ended. We all marched into the presidents building and upstairs into his lobby, where we sat down. At this point we had about 75 people. A lot of new faces showed up- activists of different groups. The president was out to lunch at the time. When he came back, he immediately tried to co-opt the situation. He sat down with us and said I agree with you on principle, but not implementation. Sound familiar?

5) How did it go? What was the university response? What was the administration response? Food? Logistics?

The first night our numbers dropped from the initial 75 to 35. As part of the presidents friendly approach he let us go in and out to class. This also meant that we could bring in food easily. We even got to use a kitchen. For the 1st few days we chanted sign the resolution and had minimal interaction with the administration. After a few days negotiations started. The president gave us a counter proposal for him to sign, but it was just a statement of purpose without and specific requirements.

Drafts went back and forth. When he made legitimate counter points we conceded. Our 1st victory was getting him to agree to specific deadlines. The draft process became tedious and we decided to talk face to face. Eight of us would meet with him and his assistant. We would feel like wed gotten somewhere, and then he would backtrack after talking with his team. This made him out to be the good guy, as he would

say things like I'd love to agree with you on this point, but my specialists tell me I cant. Anyone smell bullshit?

After time went by he did less backtracking. By the second to last day it was clear we would reach an agreement. The last two days consisted of polishing up the agreement we'd come to.

Over the course of the sit-in we did some TV and radio interviews. Our campus paper covered us and actually gave us some bad coverage. They said that the president had met our demands and we were now creating new ones.

6) Was there any disciplinary action or threat?

We were never directly threatened with disciplinary action, though they did play some games- probably to make us waste time discussing the possibility of being punished.

7) Any specific advice?

Campus support during the sit-in was important. We did tabling outside to let the students know what we were up to. Don’t get caught in time traps. Stick to your agenda. Don’t go backwards just to get things going. We had a sort of entertainer guy with us who played the banjo. Don’t be afraid of having a good time while you’re in there. Make sure reporters know both your message and the specifics of the issue.