Moving from protest to power

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Students supporting UConn Unchain’s student sit in hold up signs in protest of President Joe Biden outside of the UConn Recreation Center on Friday Oct. 15 as he arrived on campus and gave a speech at the Dodd Research Center. President Biden came to the UConn campus to speak at the renaming of the Dodd Research Center, home to the UConn Human Rights Institute. Photo by Erin Knapp/Daily Campus.

On Wed., Oct. 13, UNCHAIN announced that it would hold a sit-in that Friday to protest the visit of President Joe Biden to rededicate the Dodd Center for Human Rights. The sit-in adopted a dual purpose as the two-day planning period progressed.  

Firstly, UNCHAIN, being an anti-imperialist organization, was acutely aware of Joe Biden’s record of exacerbating human suffering. 

We highlighted Biden’s fierce support for the disastrous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, his unconditional support for Israel’s decades long, indiscriminate assault on Palestine (chronicled and narrated here by Dr. Ilan Pappé), support for deadly sanctions against IranVenezuela, the DPRKCuba and more and a litany of other instances of Biden’s agency in US imperialism. We recommend a readthrough of “Empire Politician,” a project by The Intercept’s Jeremy Schahill documenting “a half-century of Biden’s stances on war, militarism, and the CIA.” 

UNCHAIN refuses to cheapify the value of human life, which is done when human rights is confined to a subject for academia and wealthy think tanks, both of which treat U.S. interventions, global inequality and preventable mass death like amoral accidents within an otherwise moral system. Global oppression is not an accident or mistake; it is the product of calculated decisions of political leaders like Joe Biden on behalf of the interests of an exploiting capitalist class.  

The UConn administration deserves a reminder that while they can easily wave away the heavy atrocities of imperialism, the people who felt its impacts cannot, nor can the UConn community who joined us for the Friday sit-in. 

Secondly, UNCHAIN wanted to seize this opportunity to mobilize against Biden’s conduct in office, our primary grievances being the revival of inhumane Trump-era immigration policies (including Trump’s so-called “Remain in Mexico” policy, which the Biden administration announced they would reinstate the day of his visit to UConn), the accelerated permission of new fossil fuel contracts, approval of the illegal Enbridge Line 3 pipeline through Ojibwe treaty territory and the continuation of drone strikes, sanctions and billions of dollars in arms trafficking to Saudi Arabia and Israel

The current Biden administration has walked back on almost all of its campaign promises, especially with respect to student debt cancellation and fossil fuel drilling. We refused to sit by while Biden attempted to wash his hands of broken commitments to the people and to the planet.  

There is no degree of measure by which we could call the sit-in a success or a failure, but UNCHAIN will be the first to admit that protest won’t be sufficient to win lasting change in our political-economic system.  

The protest, for all the adrenaline it generates (especially from disrupting upper-crust shindigs), is largely symbolic. Mass mobilization is simply one of the tools that organizers use to direct the tide of progress; taken alone, however, it’s not enough, no matter how sentimental. 

Students supporting UConn Unchain’s student sit in hold up signs in protest of President Joe Biden outside of the UConn Recreation Center on Friday Oct. 15 as he arrived on campus and gave a speech at the Dodd Research Center. President Biden came to the UConn campus to speak at the renaming of the Dodd Research Center, home to the UConn Human Rights Institute. Photo by Erin Knapp/Daily Campus.

What the UConn community needs is to coalesce around material demands, particularly when it comes to holding UConn to account for its commitments to students, the UConn community and the environment.  

With tuition costs rising, the administration staying silent on the future of the Cogeneration facility, millions of dollars still invested in the fossil fuel industry (two percent of a $460 million endowment) and the Connecticut Commitment meant to aid low-income students remaining paused while the university floods campus police with cash, UConn’s hands aren’t clean either.  

With the planet burning and insecurity on the rise globally, now is the time for coalition-building among radical organizations at UConn. We must use every tool at our collective disposal to put pressure on the university meant to serve us, borrowing from precedents like the recent Colombia tuition strike or Harvard students’ legal challenge against the Ivy behemoth’s $838 million investment in fossil fuels.  

As a radical organization, UNCHAIN deals in uprooting oppressive systems entirely. We believe that the problems of this university stems not just from capitalism, colonialism and imperialism, which make the resources necessary for human flourishing prohibitively expensive in the name of profit; it also has to do with governance.  

Presently, UConn’s finances are governed by the Board of Trustees, headed by Daniel Toscano, a longtime donor and managing director at Morgan Stanley. Do we want UConn’s future in the monied hands of people invested in the debt, private insurance and real estate industries, or do we want autonomy from individuals with interests in maximally squeezing students and workers dry?  

UConn students and organizations must confront this question of power head on. Though our individual academic careers may be ephemeral, we have a responsibility to work towards lasting change and a future that is more equitable, sustainable, accessible and democratic for younger students.  

If you believe in this future, the first step is to show up. Join an organization. Come to protests. Feed your neighbors. A prime opportunity will be on Friday, Nov. 5, for the national climate strike during the COP 2021 climate conference, where our student organizations will make their demands clear to the university that depends on our money and compliance. There, we’ll take another step from protest to power.  

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