Banning SDS In Olympia—Politically Charged Suspension Of Student Group By College Administration
Recently, the Evergreen State College branch of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) was suspended by the college administration from the campus in
Filemón Bohmer-Tapia and Courtney Franz are students at the Evergreen State College and members of SDS. Filemon is also involved MEChA de Evergreen.and is a community organizer in the immigrant rights and anti-war movements. Courtney is a sophomore at Evergreen State College, where she is studying Political Economy, Social Sciences, and writing. I recently contacted them and asked a few questions regarding the situation at the college. They emphasized that they spoke as members of SDS, not for SDS.
Hi. I hope things are going okay. Can you explain the series of events that led up to the suspension of
Filemon: First, I want to thank Dead Prez and Umi for coming out to
In actuality, members of an unofficial security team, which had no visible identifiable labels, abused their power and started a fight in the crowd. Some fought back in self-defense and an African- American man, Kaylen Williams, attempted to break up the fight. After the scuffle was over members of the security team, uninjured and primarily white, ran to the police (and a couple of them) pointed out Mr. Williams, who was then immediately and unjustly arrested by an Evergreen State College police officer. As the officer was arresting him, members of the crowd and even other members of the security team told the officer that she had the wrong person and that he was only trying to break up the fight. The officer refused to listen and took Mr. Williams out of the concert in handcuffs. Many people began to question the officer’s decision and demanded that she release him. The officer refused and placed Mr. Williams in the back of the police car directly outside of the concert exit. As the concert ended, people began leaving the concert venue and saw that there was a black man under arrest and a growing number of people demanding his release. The police car was surrounded by this time and the crowd of about 300 was chanting “Let Him Go!”
Whether or not people agree with the destruction of the police car, it is important to realize the context in which it happened. There was an unjust and what many would call a racist arrest, and police violence against a peaceful crowd before any there was any property damage. That night, the
Courtney: The chain of events was fairly long and complex. Shortly after the "riot," Evergreen President Les Purce and Vice President of Student Affairs Art Constantino met with representatives from the four jurisdictions of police who were directly involved (Evergreen State College Police, Thurston County Sherriff's Department, Olympia Police Department, and Washington State Patrol). We learned from a reliable source that when the police asked them to point to likely suspects, the administrators told them to investigate students involved in the port protests, especially members of SDS.
Opinions within SDS vary on the specific tactics protesters used, but everyone understands their motivation; antiracism is in our mission statement. It is vital to remember that a group of students started a spontaneous uprising in response to police actions. It is ludicrous to imply, as the administration has, that SDS or any other student group planned or instigated these actions.
After the melee and subsequent sensationalist coverage of the event in the local media, the
Courtney: The Evergreen State College administration did not ban public events per se - they issued a (so-called) "moratorium on student-sponsored concerts and other events that involve substantial safety and security considerations until processes are improved" through a review committee. Students and the public found out about this through this press release and subsequent articles in (the local daily)The Olympian, the Cooper Point Journal (the campus newspaper), and other media. It was never an official written policy. There was substantial confusion about this among students. The administration either reserved the right to review events on a case-by-case basis, simply ignored other musical events following the concert (including one with over 300 attendees), or selectively applied these different standards.
The administration claimed, then, that the problem was safety procedures. From what I understand, some people on the safety review committee have tried to bring up the fundamentally unsafe police violence and racism that instigated the events. It appears that the committee has not yet come to a conclusion; a separate campus police review committee found no racism in the arrest. The attached report details their inadequate response.
Radical views have long been a target for the administration, but SDS knew that the situation would worsen after the concert. We had been planning the
Filemon: The Evergreen administration’s reason for the ban on concerts, called the concert moratorium, was to prevent any future ‘violence’ at future events. Many students, staff, and faculty were outraged with this decision, made solely by the President, Vice President, and the Dean of Student Services. The Evergreen administration has been aggressively cooperative with local police in the investigation that has five people facing felony charges as a result of the events after the Dead Prez concert. Olympia SDS officially criticized both the police actions on the night of the Dead Prez event and the concert moratorium. The concert ban was never actually put into effect though, because the week after it was announced, a musical performance was held at Evergreen with the administration’s knowledge and without any interference. (my italics-Ron)
When the members of the
Filemon: (Regarding the banned event) SDS went ahead with promoting a panel discussion that had been planned for months with the San Francisco 8, former Black Panthers who had been tortured by U.S. Government agencies and were victims of the COINTELPRO campaign (now on trial for charges related to the murder of a police officer in 1971-charges that were thrown out in 1975 in part because confessions were extracted under police torture-Ron). We were also promoting an acoustic performance by David Rovics, Danny Kelly and Mark Eckert that would serve as a benefit for anti-war activist Carlos Arredondo, whose son was killed in
I saw in the Indymedia article regarding
Many Evergreen student groups including MEChA de Evergreen as well as various other
Courtney: There is a petition, but the following would be more helpful, especially for those outside the community. We are always looking for like-minded people to work with, and this campaign is not just about us or our community; it is about free speech rights everywhere, especially on campuses.
a.) Contact the administration directly! Calling can be especially effective. (360) 867-6100
b.) Spread the word! Email people, post it on your website or write an editorial...
c.) Donate money either to SDS for events after its budget was frozen (contact firstname.lastname@example.org) or to our legal defense fund for those arrested post-uprising (www.evergreenlegaldefense.org or email@example.com). The defense fund site also describes other ways to get involved in our legal defense campaign (e.g. calling the prosecutor).
d.) People in the
Do you anticipate that the college administration will back down and reinstate SDS as a campus club or do you think that the struggle to get reinstated has just begun?
Filemon: Whether or not the administration backs down from this ridiculous suspension, support for SDS has grown tremendously as a result. We appealed the suspension and we continue to meet regularly and organize events, only now without any school funding.
Courtney: We don't know what will happen! We have spoken to many people who have been involved with Student Activities over the years, and none of them remembers any precedent of student organizations being suspended. There is no way to tell the future, but it will be most beneficial to everyone involved if the administration acts in favor of free speech.
Readers know that Olympia is on the forefront of direct actions against the US occupations and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, including several attempts to prevent military shipments at the port there and Tacoma. Is there anything else SDS and other groups in
Courtney: There are many, many activist groups in
Anything else you all want to add?
Filemon: I want to call on all people to build solidarity with the Immigrant Rights movement, a struggle for dignity and human rights. As people are unjustly detained and deported everyday, private concentration facilities are being constructed to contain innocent people who are only trying to support their families. 30 miles north of Olympia in Tacoma, WA, is the GEO Group owned Northwest Detention Center, the regional Immigration prison where people are denied legal counsel and have been subjected to food poisoning multiple times.
Everyday children are being separated from their parents by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and are denied decent healthcare and access to financial aid for education. People in
(For folks in the Northwest-Ron) There will be a rally and march to the
Courtney: Many thanks to everyone who's been supportive! This movement is not just about us, and we should take this fight as an opportunity to unite with other groups in defense of free speech and against racism and violence. We need to build this movement above and beyond this particular battle.
In contrast to the aggressive tack the College and Police have taken against students both during and after the Dead Prez concert, the administration has not acknowledged the racism of the concert arrest or the sexism of a recent campus rape-at-gunpoint. It has been five months since the rape, and the campus police have not been anywhere near as ardent in pursuing any rapists on campus as in pursuing its own students at a post-concert protest. The oppressive nature of these events is inherently political and affects the basic safety of everyone on campus, especially womyn and people of color.