My first real honest-to-God big-time campus sit-in. We win!
My first real honest-to-God big-time campus sit-in. We win!
OUR VIEW/YOUR VIEW
BOB BOSSIN/Our token radica1
IT IS TWO in the morning. I am eating a peanut-butter-and-jam sandwich at the large felt-covered conference table in the middle of the University of Toronto Senate Chamber and I feel like king of the world. As I type — I have no idea where the typewriter came from — I am facing the large, darkstained, oak doors, left open for the first time ever. Around the entrance there are fake wooden pillars in some Greek style whose name I learned and forgot in high school. Above the doorway is the Ontario coat of arms in gold leaf. Ordinarily, that is all. But today there is also a cardboard sign saying THIS UNIVERSITY BELONGS TO THE PEOPLE, DIG IT. And hanging just below the Ontario crest is a beautiful round, fat, red balloon.
We are sitting-in. Two hundred of us. To be completely honest, I have been waiting for this for four years. I've been at rallies, teach-ins and vigils. I've marched. I've picketed. But until today I had never been part of an occupation. It's like making the play-offs.
Actually, this is my second sit-in.
The first was for a couple of hours one winter afternoon on the porch of the old house used as the university's job-recruitment centre. Dow Chemical was there that day. It had the U.S. government napalm contract, and we wanted to make ourselves as much of a nuisance as possible. I spoke about the issue in more sophisticated terms then, but that is what it boiled down to.
That was three and a half years ago and 1 stood for a long time on the sidewalk in front of the building, wrestling with my angels, trying to decide where I should be. I tossed around the nature of free speech, even for munitions manufacturers, and tried to weigh that against Canada’s getting rich off American interference in some little Asian country I could not even place on a map. I thought about how T. S. Eliot had Becket realize that action is suffering and suffering is action, thought about what napalm actually did, about Thomas More's qui tacit consentire, about Nuremberg and finally about Mario Savio. the original Berkeley radical, who shouted from the steps of their administration building. “There comes a time when the workings of the machine become so stinking and so odious that you have to throw yourself on the wheels.” I guess that was the day I lost my political virginity.
The Dow man stayed barricaded in until suppertime, while we sat in the cold, listening to speeches. Then the university agreed to set up a committee on the question and we went home. Three and a half years later, Dow, Hawker Siddeley, Honeywell and De Havilland are still on campus and Canada makes more money than ever out of Vietnam. For all I know, the committee is still sitting. I have served on a dozen such committees and half a dozen student councils. The result has been about the same. Committees don’t stop arms sales, “love” does not reform the school system and rational dialogue does not get day-care centres set up.
/THAT IS THE ISSUE here tonight, day care for 22 babies of university students, junior faculty and workers. In the autumn a group of parents and Women’s Liberation people decided to set up a centre for children under three. They wanted to free some of the mothers’ time for study or work. They planned to run the nursery cooperatively, with parents and friends serving as volunteers. This, they argued, would not only be cheap but would also benefit the kids themselves. If they were brought up with other children and adults they could become less possessive and less dependent than if their first years were spent only among immediate family. All that was
needed was a house for such a centre.
The university gave its moral support but demurred on the house. Crown Trust, rental agents for the university, said none were available. Then one mother, while walking through the campus, found an empty house. The trust company said the wiring was defective. Someone found out the house had been rewired two years before. The trust company said that the house might be torn down in the spring. The day-care people asked for it in the meantime. The trust company said it would take time to work out a lease. Fed up, the parents entered the house through an open back door and began to repaint. Faced with the fait accompli, the university allowed them to stay. Four days later the day-care centre opened.
There were a few intimations of eviction, but no real crisis — until the city demanded $2,000 worth of renovations. The nursery was charging $30 per month, per child. At this point, the university put down its financial foot. A vice-president wrote, “The university does not have funds available to provide day-care facilities and it is not considered that this is the responsibility of the university.”
A special issue of the campus newspaper had to be put out to handle the letters of protest from faculty, caretakers, students and clergymen. The student council complained. No result. Nothing. Finally, the day-care centre called a mini-march to the administration building to ask university president Claude Bissell to find the $2,000 somew'here in the university’s $ 100-million budget.
We arrived at lunchtime, but it was sunny and no one minded waiting. Word arrived that the president was in and that he would speak to a dele gation in his office, but not to the whole mob outside. There was a slight scuffle at the doors with campus po
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lice, who thought a 200-person delegation was somewhat large. The president did not invite us in, so we decided to wait just down the hall. In the Senate Chamber.
AT 5.30 P.M. President Bissell came in through the oak doors. Someone handed him a bullhorn. He said he was setting up a committee. Everyone laughed, including him, so he said, "I see you have more enthusiasm than I have for committees.” N o b o d y laughed, and he looked nervous and quickly finished his statement. “The university has shown its interest in and support for the day - care centre by making a building available.” Various smart-ass comments from around the room. “However, the university is not yet prepared to accept long-term responsibility for a day-care centre on campus until such time as there has been a resolution of the nature and extent of its social-welfare responsibilities and their relative priority in an increasingly constricted budget.” He looked very agitated, and said he would not negotiate under force. He asked that the occupation cease. Then he turned and left, still carrying the bullhorn. Someone shouted, “Stop, thief.” One of the campus police brought back the bullhorn. Everybody cheered. Nobody left.
Actually, Bissell had hit on the true issue: the university, or at least the university administration, is not sure whether or not it is responsible for the social welfare of its members. We are sure. It is responsible, just as International Nickel is responsible for pollution in Sudbury, or Dow Chemical for the napalm dropped on Vietnam. It is time schools stopped pretending that the head can be separated from the rest of the body, and that the conscience does not start to operate until 5 p.m. Not just schools. A set of marketable skills does not get on the bus in the morning and go to work; a person does. International Nickel should be funding day-care centres as well. Not because the latest findings in managerial psychology suggest it, but because it is right. But that means spending money, and that means a fight.
President Bissell, standing in the archway of the Senate Chamber in his grey suit, speaking into the bullhorn, also reminded me of another point of conflict. It is not really an issue. I don’t know exactly what to call it, other than a different way of doing things. At this moment, in one corner of the room, people are studying. Beside them, some children are asleep. A sign has gone up saying, FOOD COMMITTEE: WHAT ABOUT BREAKFAST?
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Someone reads out the Toronto Star editorial calling us silly. (“It’s as if Lenin, while storming the Czarist ramparts, had proclaimed that the purpose of the revolution was to provide all - day suckers for underprivileged kids.”) People are singing, smoking pot, sleeping and sharing sandwiches with the campus police. Everywhere there are discussions and arguments. The place is alive.
For all the confusion, we have conducted our business — security, food, cleaning, planning negotiations with the administration — without banging a gavel or invoking Roberts’ Rules Of Order. Our decisions are democratic and, even stranger, they are fun to make. There is more learning going on here than in a month, or maybe even a year, of classes. Five years of high-school classes. And most fantastic of all: strangers are looking one another right in the eye and smiling. Anarchy, I think, has been definitely underrated.
IT IS THE next day, 3 p.m. Same typewriter, same table, but the felt cover has been removed to shake off the sandwich crumbs. There are about 20 demonstrators left, sweeping, vacuuming and taking down posters. There is a small debate about the red balloon. One guy wants it to stay, but another says the janitors would get hell, and since we put it up we should take it down. Less than an hour ago, President Bissell came back and promised the $2,000. The rest of his statement was drowned out in cries of “We won,” accompanied by waving fists, V-signs and general embracing. Victory doesn’t come all that often when you take seriously that you are onethree-billionth responsible for the state of the world. I am .very tired but, as I said last night, I feel like king of the world. □
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