The end of the occupation
Fellow students, workers, and friends,
47 days ago a few dozen of us students set up tents in front of Kirkland Hall, the main administration building of Vanderbilt University, rallying with over 150 supporters. We did it to show that our university was administered in a way that violated our communities values: that our policies were hurting people, and the administration was doing it for profit and prestige. We are investing in EMVest, which grabs land from peasant in subsaharan Africa. We are investing in HEI which treats workers poorly and commits labor violations in the US hotel industry. We pay our dining workers about $16,500 a year, far below the federal poverty line.
There is a reason inequality is so systematic at Vanderbilt. It is because the community isn't allowed to manage its own resources; the community is decidedly against these injustices, with thousands signing petitions and rallying against them. The reality is that Vanderbilt administrators are some of the wealthiest university administrators in the country: the top 20 of them in 2010 made 24 million dollars, an average salary of 2.4 million dollars a year; they are out of touch with the people of Vanderbilt. The university is managed more like a ruthless Fortune 500 firm than a place for making the world better. They would rather perpetuate the status quo than do the right thing. At the beginning of the occupation, we wrote: "As members of the Vanderbilt community, we do not want to rise into the 1%, we want to rise with the 99% — for the ultimate benefit of the 100%." We continue now to stand against a system where some people's lives are devalued and ignored for the benefit of others.
We've packed up camp for the summer. We're not leaving, we're not just going back to our lives. We've changed and built stronger ties with workers and the community, and a majority of us will be pursuing social justice work elsewhere or in Nashville or even here at Vanderbilt, and we'll be coming back next year to continue the fight, more prepared than ever. And we hope to see you there!
And to all the friends we met along the way: it may have only been ~40 of us sleeping out there, but it felt like we were so much more with the hundreds of messages of support we got. So thank you.
PS. Here's what we did during the occupation:
|March 19||The encampment is established with a 150 person rally. Click for videos of speechs: student Tristan, Worker Mrs. Anne, Ellie from Occupy Nashville.|
|March 22||Occupy Vanderbilt and OUR Vanderbilt host an "alternate worker's showcase" showing the poverty of our workers, simultaneously countering the managers' dining showcase occurring for the NACUFS dining conference held a Vanderbilt.|
|March 22||Occupy Vanderbilt mic-checks and interrupts a private reception for a dining management conference to protest the unjust treatment of our dining workers. Click for video.|
|March 22||Two classes held at Occupy Vanderbilt about neocolonialism.|
|March 26||Food politics teach-in.|
|March 27||Another class teach-in on Vanderbilt's Land Grabs.|
|April 1||March to "the rally for the right to exist", a rally for homeless rights on legislative plaza. Since brining "sleeping paraphanalia" onto the plaza is now a class A misdemeanor, we brought a flying tent:|
|April 5||Professor Barsky leads a teach-in on the university as a agent of social change.|
|April 6||Occupy Vanderbilt hosts the original researcher who discovered Vanderbilt's investment in Africa land grabs, Anuradha Mittal, as well as director of the Responsible Endowments Coalition Dan Apfel, and Jeff Furman (founding board member of the socially responsible corporation Ben and Jerry's). Click for a full video of the responsible endowment symposium.|
|April 13||Students cookout with hundreds of workers, organizing new relationships.|
|April 13-19||More than a dozen classes, undergraduate and graduate, hold class at the encampment, faculty standing in solidarity and leading classes on issues of inequality, global and local.|
|April 19||One month anniversary: we had a "sleep-in" to support the issues of poverty of dining workers and responsible endowment -- with over 30 students here.|
|April 23||We surrounded the chancellor and read him this letter from the dining workers, who earn below a poverty income. This was at an event celebrating the tearing down of Kissam, a dorm complex, and the building of a new $150 million dollar dorm complex. This is five years after Vanderbilt built new freshman dorms, The Commons for a cost of $150 million.|
|April 26||We released the satirical "Occupied Vanderbilt Hustler" with the "the news we wish we could print"! Vanderbilt seizes and destroys hundreds of copies of it, but it's read by thousands more in paper and on the web. (our school newspaper is named "The Vanderbilt Hustler"). Don't worry, we sent them a bill for the destroyed copies.|
|April 28||Occupy Vanderbilt and Vanderbilt Campaign for Fair Food organizes a picket action against our community's Publix grocery store, telling them "to do the right thing and pay the workers who pick their tomatoes a penny more per pound and end abuses in the tomato fields by agreeing to the Coalition of Immokale Workers' Fair Food Program's code of conduct!"|
|April 28||We occupy the Vanderbilt admissions blog!|
|May 1||International Worker's Day rally with over a 100 students and community members again rallying for justice, as millions all over the country and world take the streets! In the The City Paper and Tennessean|
|May 3||OccuPotluck! And then we tore down camp :)|
Our summer plans: regroup, hone skills, strategize, come back and kick ass for social justice (!).
Keep up with us on facebook.