Saturday, July 21st, 2018

Student activists mobilize on campus to get to Washington for massive protest

Angelina Smith

Posted on December 10, 2016 in News
By USM Free Press

Johnna Ossie, News Editor

The newly re-started Gender Studies Student Organization (GSSO) along with faculty from the Women and Gender Studies (WGS) Program are working to send a group of students to the Women’s March on Washington, which will take place on January 21 in Washington, D.C., one day after the official inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump. The march is being organized by chapters all across the country in all 50 states, who plan to march from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument in order to protest the inauguration of Donald Trump, as well as many of Trump’s policies that they believe will be harmful to women from all walks of life. As of now, roughly 139,000 people are planning to attend the massive protest.

The GSSO met this week in the WGS house on Bedford Street. On the door of the house is a bright pink flier that reads “Donald Trump will be President- Connect, Organize, Mobilize, Resist.” The students of the GSSO gathered to discuss re-launching the student group and how to raise funds to pay for transportation to send students to the march. Until recently, the GSSO has been a defunct student organization, but the group plans to go to the Student Senate and file to be recognized as an official student group starting next semester.

Among them was student activist Emma Donnelly, who organized the “We Won’t Go Back” protest in Augusta last month and is also head of the student group Huskies for Reproductive Health, as well as the creator of the recent student group USM Student Action. The GSSO’s new president will be junior English and WGS major Allie Walsh, and will be supervised by faculty advisor Professor Lisa Walker, head of the Women and Gender Studies Program.

According to the GSSO, there is a lot at stake in the United States right now under the Trump administration, and student activists should not miss out on this historic opportunity to participate in the Women’s March on Washington.

However, an announcement was made Friday that the Women’s March would be unable to access the Lincoln Memorial, where some of the United State’s largest and most influential protests have taken place, including the civil rights and anti-Vietnam war protests of the 1960s. According to Time magazine, the National Park Services, on behalf of the Presidential Inauguration Committee, will bar off the Lincoln Memorial weeks before the Inauguration takes place, and it will remain blocked to protesters throughout the inauguration.

This is not the first wall that the GSSO has hit in its attempt to send students to the protest. Faculty in the WGS Program were advised by university staff not to use department funds to send students to the event, as it is political in nature. The university is not allowed to endorse a political candidate or ballot initiative. The Women’s March on Washington does not endorse any political candidate. President Cummings told the Free Press that he was unsure why departments may not be able to use department funds to send students to a political event.  

Sally Meredith, USM Chief of Staff, advised the WGS department that they should be “quite careful” to make sure that department funds are used in support of the university’s mission, and advised that they may be able to ask the student senate for funding for the trip.

The official Women’s March website states: “We stand together in solidarity with our partners and children for the protection of our rights, our safety, our health, and our families — recognizing that our vibrant and diverse communities are the strength of our country. Because women’s rights are human rights.” The GSSO is attempting to raise 5,000 dollars from sources outside the university to send students on a bus to the protest, the location of which is now uncertain.  

Professor Wendy Chapkis, professor of sociology and women and gender studies, is no stranger to activism and working with student activists. She was arrested in 2003 along with USM students outside the offices of Senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe. This was the night that former president George W. Bush began a bombing campaign against Iraq, known as the “Shock and Awe” campaign. Professor Chapkis, along with concerned students, attempted to speak with Senators Snowe and Collins, but they were locked from the offices and refused entry. They remained outside in the street and were arrested.

“There were many students who were mobilized,” Chapkis said. “It was just two years after 9/11, students were of course very shaken, and very concerned about the way [9/11] was being used to mobilize support for an invasion of a country that had nothing to do with the attacks.”

Chapkis spoke to the power that students have within the university system and in a broader context. She referred to the massive USM student mobilization around the budget cuts and faculty cuts that USM experienced two years ago, when the group USM Future was formed.

“The most recent, and for me the most amazing, was was two years ago when students were mobilized around the cuts,” she said. “I’ve never seen anything like that. Students occupied the hallway outside the Provost office when tenured faculty were getting layoff notices, students occupied the Board of Trustees meeting.”

In the wake of the recent election, many students are concerned about what will happen on a global, national and local level, as well as what will happen within the university. There have already been several student actions taken since the election one month ago. Students have staged walkouts on campus, held rallies in Augusta as well as in Portland and created petitions to make USM a sanctuary school for undocumented students.

Chapkis discussed the importance of activism and solidarity, and said she believes that politicians do take notice of protests, to who is in the streets and how many are in the streets.

“In times of political despair it can be very helpful to be surrounded by other people who are fighting for the same things you are,” she said. “I think that’s often overlooked. I’m reminded that I’m not alone, that there are many of us that are taking action. That’s hugely important in sustaining hope and forward momentum.”

The GSSO plans to host two bake sales next week in Woodbury to gain funding, and has started an online fundraising campaign that has raised over 1,000 dollars so far.

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