On Wednesday, April 18, the Campus Antiwar Network at the University of Wisconsin-Madison led a walkout of approximately 200 students against the war. This walkout culminated in 100 antiwar activists entering the office of Senator Herb Kohl, with twenty-five staying the night and dozens more joining us in the morning before Senator Kohl’s staff had us evicted by the Madison Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
WHY WE OCCUPIED SENATOR KOHL’S OFFICE
The simplest reason: Senator Kohl (D – WI) says he’s against the war, but votes to fund the continuation of the war. Moreover, in a remarkable display of arrogance, Senator Kohl has refused to meet with the antiwar movement in his state during the entire four years of the war in Iraq. Thus, the vibrant antiwar community in Madison, including chapters of the Campus Antiwar Network and Iraq Veterans Against the War, the Madison Area Peace Coalition and the Wisconsin Network for Peace and Justice, has never been able to discuss our position with a senator who says he is on our side, but never votes that way.
We presented Senator Kohl’s office with six demands, and informed him that setting a definite date for a public meeting with him to discuss these demands would end our building occupation immediately. Ultimately, his office preferred to inflict the force of the police on us rather than the force of our arguments on the senator.
Our demands were:
1.) Immediate withdrawal of all US forces from Iraq
2.) Iraq for Iraqis
3.) Fully fund veterans’ benefits and health care, including mental health care
4.) Reparations to the Iraqi people, no strings attached
5.) Ban the use of depleted uranium munitions in Iraq
6.) Money for Jobs & Education, not for War and Occupation
Ultimately, our experience in the senator’s office validated the premise of our protest: that we cannot wait for politicians like Herb Kohl to end the war of their own initiative, but must hold them accountable through our movement to the demand of Iraqis, Americans, and U.S. soldiers to end the war now.
WHAT HAPPENED IN THE SENATOR’S OFFICE
From the beginning, our movement was peaceful yet very lively. We filled the senator’s office with chants like “Iraq for Iraqis, troops out now”; “1 — we are the students, 2 — this is our movement, 3 — we want to meet with Se-na-tor Kohl”; “Cut the funding, end the war — What the hell is Congress for?” and many more. We received messages of solidarity and support from the historian Howard Zinn and antiwar sportswriter Dave Zirin (and, as the evening wore on, many other people from around the country who received word of our protest).
If our energy and support were inspiring, however, the reaction of Kohl’s office proved extremely disappointing. The only message we could get from Kohl was a generic statement reiterating his supposed “support” for us while implying that as a U.S. senator, he has no power to stop the war. The message ignored our specific demands, perhaps because there was no way to address his lack of support for them without calling into question whether he is willing to pose any opposition to Bush at all.
At this point, we presented Kohl’s staff with our demand for a public meeting and determined to stay in his office. Despite our offer to leave once we had an agreement to this seemingly basic demand from a large group of constituents — that the senator publicly discuss with us the pressing issue of the day — the country’s richest senator was apparently unwilling to commit to this. Many times his staff tried to break our protest, as when they had security tell us we could only keep five people in the office, and others would be forcibly removed. After a democratic discussion, 50 of us decided to stay anyway, and they were forced to back down. They also promised us a conference call with Senator Kohl within the next two days (only to later renege), but told us they could not negotiate a public meeting since we were occupying their office, because “it’s like negotiating with the terrorists.”
But after this, the police, under the authority of Kohl’s staff, turned what can only be called spiteful. They confined us in a small room where we could not possibly be comfortable (we couldn’t all lie down at the same time), limited our bathroom breaks, and denied us access to our own things (including medications) that were in another part of Kohl’s office. Acting under what they said were their orders from Kohl’s office, police denied the protesters access to water bottles and other necessities. A student who asked to be able to access birth control pills in her purse was told, “You don’t need birth control now.” A student who wanted to get his sweatshirt, six inches from the guarded door of where we were camped, during the cold night, was told he would be forcibly evicted if he did so. A female protester was physically manhandled by a male officer, who then refused to reveal his badge number. The press was banned from the office (although through our own creativity we managed to get in several reporters anyway). And the police, and Kohl’s staff, refused to discuss any of these issues with us.
There was no reason for these decisions other than spite. We decided to accept them rather than be evicted at night because we knew that more support (and media) was coming for us the next morning — and indeed it did, in the form of dozens more activists who joined us when Kohl’s office opened for the day. Having spent the night in political discussion, frequent chanting and singing, dramatic readings from Howard Zinn and Anthony Arnove’s “Voices from a People’s History of the United States,” and other fun and important pursuits, we were ready to greet our fellow activists. At that point, we retook the main room of the office, until Kohl’s staff had the police come in to remove us. Although Senator Kohl’s staff refused to speak with us entirely, the police confirmed for us that they had asked to have us cited (with a $425 fine per person) if we did not leave. After all, this was “private property” and we, Kohl’s constituents, were not welcome.
WHERE DOES CAN GO FROM HERE?
Our protest confirmed that our political representatives will not end this war unless our movement forces them to do so. We left Kohl’s office with a united plan to use the momentum and publicity from our stand to build a stronger antiwar movement in Madison and everywhere.
At our campus rally, we presented four demands to the University of Wisconsin under the headline “University of Wisconsin Out of the War”:
1) No more military research
2) Military recruiters off campus
3) No more CIA recruitment
4) Cancel Halliburton’s planned April 30 recruitment visit.
The last demand is urgent. Our movement will not allow war profiteers to openly recruit on our campus. We call on all students and activists to join CAN’s organizing meeting on Friday, April 20, at 4 PM in 360 Science Hall to plan to extend the spirit of the protest against Kohl to Halliburton.
Although the walkout and sit-in was organized by the Campus Antiwar Network at UW-Madison, students from all three Madison colleges — including Edgewood College and Madison Area Technical College — occupied Kohl’s office overnight. Those two campuses, which have not had antiwar groups before, are now in a position to start CAN chapters of their own. It is time for a bigger, stronger student movement in Madison, that can create the sustained militant action that it will take to end the war.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Campus Antiwar Network
National website: https://www.campusantiwar.net
Local email: WisconsinCAN@gmail.com