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Gathering of Leftist Student Groups Talk ‘Mob Takeovers,’ Storming Offices, “Tampon Tax”

Updated: Oct 14, 2020

Contributor: Anthony Barash

A recent gathering of leftist organizations at Michigan State University discussed activism tactics, university shortcomings, successes, and plans for the future.

The conference highlighted illegal forms of protest, race-based theories, and critical opinions about MSU. It was sponsored by MSU’s Center for Gender in Global Context.

The mob takeover of office spaces, such as Senator Gary Peters’ office and MSU President Stanley’s office was discussed at length. Members of the Sunrise movement shared their experience of members being arrested for breaking into Senator Peters’ office. Further shared was MSU’s Black Student Alliance's sit-in of President Stanley’s office, refusing to leave until heard.

Troy Distelrath, a representative for the Sunrise Movement, spoke about past protests organized by the Sunrise movement, stating “We...took direct action to hold our politicians accountable.” Pointing his finger to a photo, “so that is us huddling Gary Peters’ office. We snuck in twenty two of us and took it over for about an hour because he’s been very, very weak on supporting the climate crisis.”

A few protestors were arrested because “Gary's team wasn't willing to support the Green New Deal,” Distelrath continued.

[RELATED STORY: MSU Progressive Alliance DEMANDS a Sanctuary Campus, Money, Others]

Jonathan Walkotten, representative for Queering Medicine, expressed his disappointment in not joining a recent takeover of MSU President Stanley’s office. "I think like BSA (Black Student Alliance) a couple of months ago got in the President's office, right?”

Looking towards BSA’s president, Walkotten said, “You were in the Hannah Administration building, but you didn't move until he listened to you, and heard your demands, and if more student groups had been there and stayed there, I can imagine the power of that."

Pointed out at the conference were race related theories.

Jamie Davidson, a representative for the Students United for Palestinian Rights at MSU, shared from a previous talk about the violence and oppression which Palestinian students and their allies face. “There's an organization called Canary Mission which is a blacklist, whose membership can cause students or faculty to be denied entrance to Palestine, get flagged on job, graduate school, or tenure applications...this McCarthyism,” she stated.

Further, she claimed that her Jewish heritage has so far protected her from secret Jewish blacklists. “As a Jewish American I have an unequal apartheid system,” she concluded.

Lastly, the conference featured criticisms of Michigan State University. Several were pointed racial bias incidents. Ahmad Hammad, President of the MSU Muslim Students' Association, said “MSU is a reactive school rather than proactive. So MSU only does something when something negative happens.”

[RELATED STORY: MSU Black Alliance DEMANDS Validation of Perceived Bias, and More Minority Leaders]

Further critiqued was MSU’s lack of financial support for activist movements, most representatives agreed that MSU doesn’t provide enough. Taylor Belyea, President of Planned Parenthood Generation Action at MSU, declared “We have this initiative, we want to get more menstrual products circulating. We need money and the university isn't showing up."

Nama Naseam, the founder of PERIOD MSU, continued, "[It's] frustrating trying to work with the administration and then you'll get emails saying 'oh we'll listen to you, we'll have a Q&A session with the President Stanley,' but you guys already know about what we want, but you won't actually help us." She further called for the end of the “tampon tax.”

The conference hosted by MSU’s Center for Gender in Global Context was organized into two parts. The first part of the conference featured a slideshow presentation that summarized each participating group and its subsequent representative, and the second part was dedicated to the topics of discussion.

The conference was organized by interns operating under Patrick Arnold, an advisor at MSU's Center for Gender in Global Context. It was held at MSU’s International Center on February 27, 2020.

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