Tent State Three At Rutgers




T

he
third annual Tent State University took place at Rutgers University
the week of April 18, 2005. The demonstration had support from students,
student groups, the Administration, faculty, and legislators. The
basic message of their mission statement was: “Education, Not
War.” Throughout the week, students attended workshops in the
day, danced to bands in the evening, and camped in tents all night. 



W

hat
is becoming a Rutgers tradition started two years ago as a protest
organized by members of the Community Empowerment Project (CEP).
Founded by Tom DeGloma and Xavier Hansen in 1994, the CEP was created
to bring Rutgers students and New Brunswick community members together.
In February 2003 when then-Governor James McGreevey proposed to
cut state New Jersey higher education funding by an unprecedented
$143 million, CEP members planned a 2-day peaceful protest. 


Rutgers
alumnus and logistics coordinator Yael Bromberg says that their
idea to camp out was intially shot down by the Administration because
they were told that the grass had to stay nice for graduation. Says
Bromberg, “We asked them, ‘Is this a university or a golf
course?’” The Administration then let them use the lawn.
On the second day of the protest, McCormick showed up and asked
the students how long they planned on staying there. “We told
him we planned on staying as long as it was nice out,” says
Troeder. “So he said, ‘I hear it’s supposed to be
nice until Saturday’.” Due to overwhelming popularity
and support, Tent State was continued throughout the week. 


Symbolically,
Tent State represents an alternative university for those who are
being displaced and ignored by the lack of funding for higher education.
Hansen calls it a “university open to everyone,” in which
every member has a voice. With its free classes and emphasis on
non-hierarchical decision-making, it is also a model for what a
democratic community would look like. “Everyone’s voice
is heard and everyone’s opinions are discussed to the point
of general consent,” explains Troeder. DeGloma stresses the
importance of having everyone play a part. “We’re actively
encouraging as many students, facuty, staff, and community members
as possible to get involved in lobbying both state and federal representatives.” 


Tent
State has grown to include colleges across the country. Andrea Mueller,
one the outreach coordinators who works for the anti-war coalition
United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), recommended that CEP become
a member group of UFPJ. The model for Tent State was met with great
interest by UFPJ students from all across the country. After taking
the model back to their schools, colleges such as Ohio State, University
of Texas at Austin, University of California Santa Cruz, and University
of Missouri-Kansas City, decided to have their own Tent State. 


Following
a year in which the federal government allocated $53.1 billion to
the Department of Education and $365.3 billion to the Department
of Defense, the organizers have taken an anti-war stance. Bromberg
says the anti-war message offers a possible solution of where to
take funds from instead of simply identifying the problem of funding.
Part of their mission statement reads, “We demand full funding
for our public institutions of higher learning and oppose the reckless
squandering of life and resources through the militarization of
our national agenda.” Though there were no budget cuts proposed
for higher education this year, junior Lena Posner, one of the outreach
coordinators, warns against giving up the fight, noting that New
Jersey ranks 47th among other states in funding for higher education.
“Even when they’re not making cuts, we’re still in
a dire situation to begin with,” she says. 


On
the state level, Rutgers University receives less funding from New
Jersey than it used to. “Right now, Rutgers is half a public
institution,” says Posner. She notes that in 1992 Rutgers received
64 percent of its funds from New Jersey and now receives about 50
percent of its funding from the state. In addition, tuition has
risen over 150 percent in the past 10 years. 



The
Week 



T

his
year’s Tent State was the biggest yet. Posner estimated that
there were over 117 tents and 300-400 campers. The event was kicked
off with a speech from activist Medea Benjamin. Legislators also
came to show their support, such as Assemblypersons Upendra Chivukula,
Patrick Deignan, and Carol Greenstein. 


Tent
State featured anti-war speeches later in the day. The newly formed
Rutgers Against the War (RAW) brought speakers from Iraq Veterans
Against the War. RAW was eager to endorse Tent State as its members
see a lack of student activism on campus. “Collective student
activism has fallen out of our consciousness,” says RAW member
John Hayes, a senior. 


The
second day’s events included a medic workshop, a presentation
on the Zapitistas, and a poetry slam at night. The medic workshop,
entitled “First Aid 101,” dealt with basic procedures
for an urban protest situation. The training, lead by a well-known
Jersey activist known as Charlie the Medic, taught participants
how to make a temporary arm sling, how to flush out someone’s
eyes after being pepper sprayed, and different techniques for carrying
someone with a sprained ankle. 


The
Zapatista presentation began with a brief history of NAFTA’s
role in redistributing Mexican land, touching on how the U.S. pressured
Mexico to change Article 27 of their constitution to allow previously
community-owned land to be bought and sold. The latter half of the
presentation focused on Zapatista women. The event was put on by
the Mexico Solidarity Network and Adrian Boutureira, a member of
the Committee of Indigenous Solidarity who stopped by Tent State
on her national tour. 


The
poetry slam was part of Verbal Mayhem, an open mic poetry reading
that occurs every Tuesday night. Regulars and newcomers shared their
poetry and cheered each other on. Verbal Mayhem was one of many
events that moved to Tent State that week. 


On
Wednesday afternoon, members of the Rutgers American Civil Liberties
Union (ACLU) gathered students together for a group reading of the
First Amendment followed by a speech by Ed Barocas, the legal director
of NJ-ACLU. Barocas spoke about free speech cases involving students.
He went over about ten cases, all of which ended in a victory for
the NJ-ACLU, and reminded students of the importance of exercising
free speech. He ended by saying, “You have the right to remain
silent…and you have the right not to.” 


Later
in the afternoon, the New Brunswick Bicycle Network teamed up with
Rutgers Sustainable to host a cars vs. bikes race. Pitting nine
cyclists against three drivers, the event was dubbed the “paper
chase.” Each person had to deliver a term paper from the College
Avenue campus to the Douglass campus and return. The nine bikes
beat the three cars. The founder of the local bike library said,
“We support student issues. We are working on transportation
issues at Rutgers and we want to get more people riding bikes.”
The bike library offers a place for community members to borrow
bikes, learn how to fix bikes, and hang out. 


The
next event of the day was a Sweatshop Fashion Show put on by Latino
Unidos en Poder (LUEP). The LUEP brings cultural and political events
to Rutgers. The Sweatshop Fashion Show is an annual event whose
purpose is to raise awareness to an important issue using creativity.
The group decided that “it fit in with the mock university.” 


Thursday
kicked off with a workshop on the Women’s Center Defense Coalition
by junior Lindsay Napolitano. To show solidarity with Tent State
and also increase visibility, the students who run the all-student
all-volunteer Rutgers women’s center decided to move the center
to Tent State for the week. 


Napolitano
was eager to have the women’s center endorse Tent State. “Obviously
we have a lot of similar interests,” she says. “The women’s
center is an advocate of a progressive agenda and this is something
we’d like to show solidarity with.” Also, “The issue
of funding for higher education hits close to home for the women’s
center because we’re grossly underfunded,” says Napolitano.
“It’s also important to maintain a sense of community
within the progressive sphere.” 


Friday
afternoon, vice president for Student Affairs Gregory Blimling sat
down with Tent State participants to go over their list of demands.
In addition to stating their own demands, Tent State organizers
asked each sponsoring organization to list a demand on behalf of
its group. Most of the meeting time served as a discussion forum.
Students viewed it as a good step towards getting their voices heard.
Blimling says he supports Tent State’s goals and its participants.
“They are very organized and I like working with them.” 


At
night, Rutgers Culture Jam put on a globalization teach-in. The
teach-in, run by junior Vincent Trivett, sophomore Kyan Bowman,
and junior Stephanie Basile (the author of this article), focused
on the general effects of globalization, the effects of globalization
on Rutgers, and feminism in globalization. “TSU is a university
of self-made student-run classes, which is the ideal environment
for such a teach-in,” says Bowman. “Culture Jam as an
organization has and always will advocate the essential necessity
for immediate affordable access to higher education.” Bowman’s
part of the teach-in is especially important to the school right
now, as Rutgers’ ten-year exclusive contract with Coca Cola
is up in May. Students have been raising awareness about the issue
for years and have been especially active in bringing it to light
this past semester. Culture Jam has teamed up with several other
organizations, including Rutgers Sustainable and Killer Coke, to
kick Coke off campus. Bowman explains that Culture Jam is not only
concerned with Coke’s human rights violations but also exclusive
contracts in general, saying they “leave no headway for fair
market and sell students to corporations as permanent consumers.” 


Tent
State extended through the weekend this year, putting on a variety
of activities. The weekend saw a teach-in about empire sponsored
by NJ Solidarity and a wide range of performances by local bands
and musicians. 


A
week after Tent State began a small group of organizers attended
a meeting with Rutgers President Richard McCormick in which they
broke their demands into four parts, which consisted of (1) increased
legislative activity with students; (2) space and allocation of
resources; (3) increased student representation within the school;
and (4) taking a critical look at university policy. Posner said
the meeting went well and that McCormick “was very receptive.”
In response to their first demand, McCormick asked organizers to
write up a list of students who would be interested in sitting on
various planning committees. 



Hostility
In Santa Cruz 



U

nfortunately,
Santa Cruz’s Tent City was not met with the same support that
Rutgers has received. After their Administration told them they
could not camp out, about 100 Santa Cruz students decided to go
forward and occupy the base of the campus. According to Santa Cruz
Indymedia, University of California police arrived at 9:53 PM and
declared an unlawful assembly. A video clip shows police using pain
compliance techniques to violently pry students apart from their
arm-locked circles. 


At
Rutgers, organizers received a call from Santa Cruz explaining what
happened. Before long, students everywhere had seen the footage
and were outraged. “The kind of police brutality we saw, there’s
nothing that can ever make that okay,” says Bromberg. She notes
that the local media failed to cover it, reporting only that 19
students had been arrested that night. The situation was a reminder
that as Tent State expands, new issues are going to pop up that
Rutgers organizers haven’t encountered. “It’s something
we have not had to deal with,” says Troeder.





Stephanie Basile
is a junior at Rutgers University majoring in English and Women’s
and Gender Studies.