What if They Had a Protest and Nobody Came?

Maybe the cops will attack each other!


Spring was finally in Milwaukee air, but so was strife. Turmoil took place at UWM the other day. Small scale turmoil but turmoil nonetheless. Tuition was the issue, and Chancellor Santiago was the target. To no one’s surprise, the Chancellor was absent.

The protest began in the Student Union and gained size and energy as speakers voiced opinions on the high cost of higher education. They marched through the union and moved on to Chapman Hall chanting, shouting slogans, and making enough noise to be heard well above the din of the weekday lunch hour. The point was to present the chancellor with a petition calling for a stop to tuition hikes.

On the approach, they were met by UWM security and MPD, not Santiago.  Milwaukee police, taxpayer-funded, body armored henchmen sportin’ taxpayer-funded tasers and mace, were called on to keep a comfortable distance between the chancellor and the people, the masses, the bewildered herd, he is taxpayer-funded to serve. Our leaders seem to be afraid to face the people their policies directly affect.

The protestors wanted in. The guards said no.  My maintenance guy said they got in last year and made a mess. The crowd was riled up. Protestors threw snow-balls (not ice); cops sprayed mace (not ice). Protestors rushed the door; cops started shoving. Instead of addressing the crowd Santiago hid behind electronica and sent out a batch email the next day. He could have defused the situation by simply showing up and showing empathy. Apparently he is above all that. I can picture him telling Luljack, the PR guy, “Let the goons handle it. That’s what we pay ‘em for.”

NPR mentioned the nationwide protest, briefly. “Sixteen arrests and violence,” was the extent of their ‘sensational’ UWM coverage. Their only interview was with an administration lackey in a California school. Little was mentioned of reasons for the action. No mention the police were the perps of the violence with the shoving and wrestling the students into hand-cuffs. That’s NPR! The least of the worst in the mainstream!

Many students didn’t get it. The campus was plastered with protest posters and covered with sidewalk chalk days prior to the event. Yet you could hear ‘em standing on the sidelines asking, “What’s going on?” “What are they protesting?” Maybe if they unplugged their ear buds and stopped staring at their cell phones they would notice their surroundings.

 Of the over 29,000 students enrolled at the University about 100 to 150 showed up to protest. Imagine the reaction if, say, 1% of the total student body showed up. There might have been 300 people, 2%, 600, 10%, close to 3000. Impact?  A better chance anyways.

Maybe some student apathy can be attributed to disassociation from the problem. How much tuition money comes directly out of students’ pockets as opposed to government programs and parents’ purses. How many are taking on debt, carefree and living large the college experience. Youngsters are easy prey. They don’t have the experience to understand the economic shackles they are voluntarily submitting to. And the stakes get bigger as tuition rises.

The cops don’t get it either, they’re in the same boat as the masses, suffering from the same results of rich folk malfeasance. But they continue to stand guard between the rich and the herd. To quote a rock-n- roller, “Calling it your job ol’ hoss sure don’t make it right.”

Rich folk don’t care anymore. The herd is effectively tamed and sufficiently distracted. That’s why we see the blatant funneling of taxpayer funds to the top in the form of bonuses and bailouts and no serious attempts to reign in the multinational plutocracy bent on sucking every ounce of profit out of US potential. That’s why Santiago holds the student body in contempt. The show doesn’t matter anymore. The charade is unnecessary.

The UWM Post reported a 3% salary increase for the chancellor last year. Santiago’s batch email reported a 5% cut in his salary this year. Three percent, five percent, the guy makes six figures. Is he worth it? According to the UW System Financial Report from February of this year, state support of the UW system increased by 6.1% or upwards of $58 million and tuition revenue was up by 5.6%, close to $50 million. Total revenue for 2009 increased  11.9% over 2008. That’s $482.3 million! That kind of profit would make a mid-sized corporation proud.

I googled some numbers. Canada is comparable to US in tuition costs. The UK averages £3,000 a year (about a pound and a half to the dollar). The French go for free but the quality of their schools is questionable (no French universities made it onto the worldwide top 40 list, though I suspect that list is a corporate contrivance). China was getting ¥3,000 in 2000, now, ten years later, it’s up to ¥7,000 (about 7 yuan to a dollar). UWM tuition more than doubled in that same time frame.

Was the violence necessary? Kids were throwing snowballs. Did they need to get maced, chased and arrested? There were a handful of cops facing over a hundred students on a mission. That can be intimidating. I think we need to revisit UWM’s crowd control policy. What would the cops have done facing 3,000 students? Tasers? Shotguns? Do the authorities (I use that term loosely and with derision) understand protestor’s intent to provoke over-reaction? Do they care? I saw one arrogant cop pacing the parking lot slapping a handful of plastic, zip-tie handcuffs against his leg, a gleam in his eye and violence in his demeanor. Reminded me of Madison back in the day-cops were chomping at the bit waiting to rush in and bust heads, teach these spoiled college scum a lesson. We sure haven’t come far, have we.

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