On February 25, 2015 the students at all three campuses of the University of Washington (Seattle, Bothell, and Tacoma) declared a State of Emergency because of the ethnic and cultural disparities within the institution. Hundreds of students gathered after walking out of their classes and submitted demands to the administrations of the University. In addition, to the mere volume of students submitting these lists of demands, there was also national media coverage of the demonstration, and the social media sites went haywire with commotion both positive and negative. Three important things to take note of; (1) it cannot be argued that the students do not have broad support, both among the cohort of students, and among the administration, faculty and staff; (2) there can be no question about what it is the students want because our demands were listed in written form and submitted, as well as being posted on line; and (3) it would be foolish and an awful public stain for the University of Washington not to address these demands and to publicly acknowledge that it has, given the attention it has all ready received.
Out of 29,468 students at the University of Washington in 2014 there were 11,947 students of color, and only 1, 026 Black students. That means the Black students at a state institution only composed 3.4% of the population. At the same time, there were 4,115 faculty members, but only 70 were Black, which is 1.7%. KIRO 7 Eyewitness News, bless their hearts (not really), attempted to demean and discredit the concerns of the students and the demands that we were making by showing to the public that last year the University of Washington admitted 216 African American students, up from the previous year’s 181 African American students enrolled for Autumn quarter. Their attempt to demean our concerns only exposes the problem, on a campus of nearly 30,000 the UW admitted only 216 African American students! However, the tone in which KIRO 7 used when reporting these facts implied to the public that they did ‘not believe’ the students should be upset about these data points and statistics. Excuse me if I don’t start licking your boots and shining your shoes like a good house Negro, remaining silent, praising the fact that the knife has been pulled half out the back of our people. The fact remains that I-200 and the repealing of Affirmative Action has caused a harm to our entire community, not just the Black community.
“It is troubling at best, and damaging and disparaging at worst that people who after harboring generations of hatred and oppressive sentiment against people because of the color of their skin or cultural backgrounds, all the while institutions and the principles that ground them were being developed and indoctrinated, believe that the hatred and oppression has disappeared from these institutions In the few short years since the Civil Rights Era and the Post-Colonial Movement.”
#BlackLivesMatterUW Undergraduate Demands
I-200 became part of Title 49 RCW Labor Regulations, and in particular, RCW 49.60.400 wherein in states; “(1) The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” If this were a statute that the state and it’s institutions were really beholden to, then we would not be witnessing the discriminatory and preferential treatment of People of Color being funneled through the public school systems into prisons via The School-to-Prison Pipeline. Minority students are approximately 75% more likely to be suspended or expelled from school, for the same offenses that White students are not suspended or expelled for. Of that population whom is sent from school, they are also approximately 75% more likely to wind up in the Juvenile detention centers, and 85-95% more likely to wind up in the adult penitentiary system, and thus reduced to slaves. Furthermore, the State of Washington has the forth largest prison factor system in the United States run by Correctional Industries (C.I.), and all state agencies are required by law to purchase goods (particularly furniture) from prison labor. This reveals a critical economic interest and motivation to warehouse people in prisons for insanely cheap or free labor, and historically the people in this county that this status has been relegated to are Black people. In addition to this, the Supreme Court in, McKlesky v. Kemp 1986, ruled that it was Constitutional for law enforcement and prosecutors to practice discriminatory discretion in the investigation, apprehension, conviction and and sentencing of people. And lastly, in the R.C.W. 49.60.400, subsection (4) (b), it states that the non-discriminatory and non-preferential treatment specified in subsection (1) does not apply to law enforcement. Thus, pulling all of these components together, with both the historical and recent experiences of such things as Stop and Frisk, which we know specifically targets minority communities, reveals that I-200 only applies to anything that would be to our benefit and that it’s true purpose is to not make things equal, but rather to prevent us from escaping the New Jim Crow, the contemporary slave trade.
These are the conditions that initially led Outside Agitators 206 (OA206) to declare a State of Emergency at the University of in collaboration with many of the students and organizations on the campuses. From there, this became the people’s movement, OA206 set the stage and swept the path clear for the people to represent ourselves; much like Frederick Douglass advocated oppressed people do. The students ourselves compiled our lists of demands and we submitted them to our respective administrations together, standing in unity. In classic fashion, the Seattle Police Department showed up in riot gear, as they do to every thing when the hash-tag #BlackLivesMatter emerges in an assertion of values and rights. It must be noted at this point, that many of the administrators had the student’s’ backs and interests in mind. The administration told the police that they were to stay away from the student’s and to allow us to exercise our 1st Amendment Rights, and that is precisely what they did. Now, it could be asserted that this was a move to avoid a scandal, and I am sure that played into it, but I am hopeful that many of our faculty and administration are as interested in having more diversity and equity on campus, as we are. A public display of support came from UW Seattle’s Interim President, Ana Mari Cauce on a FaceBook post “Was able to join students briefly at #BlackLivesMatter# rally. Very proud of the way they are shining a light on the continuing inequities and discrimination that remain. We need to work together to make the world a better place for ALL of us!” This gives me hope. The people who we look to for support are coming out and are using their privileged positions to help those without those privileges to gain fair and equitable treatment. It gives me hope that we can make a difference. It gives me hope that what we are doing is reaching people and activating them.
At the end of our March and submissions of demands at the rally and speak out in front of Gerberding Hall where the President’s office is located in Red Square, a young man proclaimed as he grabbed the megaphone that he had “been awoken” by the days events. This is something that happened over and over again with countless people. He didn’t know quite what he wanted to say or how to say it, and he was trembling in front of the massive crowd, but he just knew he could no longer remain silent. I also heard it said that many people did not know there were as many Black students on campus as were in the march. At one point, while leading the chants, I glanced over the heads behind me and could not see the end of the procession, all screaming “Repeal I-200, Pull our kids out the jails, give them educations, See how this nation sails!” This could be heard echoing off the buildings and reverberating through classrooms and many who had not initially walked out, did so because they were compelled to be part of a historic moment. There is something liberating about doing what is right. There is something liberating about knowing you are not alone. This is true regardless of whether you are a student, a faculty member, a staff member, or an administrator. We are all members of an institution where we are outnumbered and it is sometimes difficult to stand alone, to speak up, to stand in opposition of what we clearly and blatantly know to be wrong; if it is not downright impossible. However, part of the beauty of yesterday was both the revelation and display that we are not alone and that the few brave souls that had the courage to initiate the stand, no longer have to go at it alone.
Mara an Outside Agitator said something very important, “Your degrees will not set you free” at the last rally of the march. This was shocking to many in the crowd because we have been indoctrinated to believe that earning a degree is the end game, as if we have finally arrived at our destination. However, as can be evinced by the faculty and administrators who have had their hands tied working in an institution that (dis)functions on discriminatory practices, that is not the way it is. She continues, “It is good that you are protesting here on campus, but we will not find liberation until you go to the places and work with the people who are most marginalized,” arguing that the privilege we gain by earning these degrees places upon us a responsibility to use that privilege to make sure that others whom are less privileged are not marginalized. Then she drops the C-word, CAPITALISM, which is at the heart of this struggle and marginalization, and the reason there are such disparaging statistics at the University of Washington, the reason why there is a School-to- Prison Pipeline, and why People of Color are relegated to being slaves of the system. We cannot have CAPITALISM without racism and for just so long as we remain within the system, we are complicit in the oppression that is happening to our people. The people, the students were shocked and awed because they thought we were there to challenge the system. Well, Mara hit the nail on the head, we are that system and that means we have to challenge ourselves as well as our institutions.
In closing this short thought about yesterday and why I believe it was important, I just want to acknowledge all the beautiful and amazing people that came together to make yesterday happen and our objectives to be executed well. I will not name them all, but will give a special shout out to Nikkita and Sarra specifically for standing shoulder to shoulder with me out front. Outside Agitators 206 for initiating this demonstration, bringing us all together, and making sure that we could and did stand up for ourselves. The Black Student Union and African Student Association for all their hard work and help in spreading the word, for keeping us together on campus and for holding down space. And all the countless people who both organized and participated in the submission of our. This is The Peoples’ movement and these The Peoples’ demands; and none of this would have been possible if we did not all come together to make this happen.
Now that the demands have been submitted, we have to ensure that our demands are met. So, watch the feeds because our next steps will be posted soon and you will all be called upon to do what you can to guarantee that equity fills the University of Washington and floods into the rest of Seattle