One of the women that I recognized had her zip ties and was flicking them up and down on her hand. The University is completely ready to arrest again.
|A live stream of the sit-in protest||Cody Permenter|
After arrests, sweatshop protestors hope to meet with UT President
Two weeks ago, 18 members of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition were arrested for staging a sit-in at President Powers‘ office. The coalition has been urging the University to change their apparel factory monitoring-service from the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to the Worker’s Rights Consortium (WRC) because of alleged bias on the FLA board.
Two weeks since 18 members of the Make UT Sweatshop-Free Coalition were arrested for staging a sit-in at President Powers ‘office, coalition members sit around a large table, each awaiting their specific duties for another act of civil disobedience.
Bianca Hinz-Foley, their determined leader, begins to map out their plan of action on a large white-board. Peace keepers, social media leaders, press contacts and negotiators are specified within the organization while members debate whether another arrest is acceptable.
Members of the group are called to join the action, but many of them have tests this week and concerns are brought up if students can come and leave the sit-in to attend classes. “I have a really strong suspicion they will lock the doors,” Hinz-Foley says.
Several members of the coalition begin to write their attorney’s name and number on their arms with a black marker.
As the group, 19 strong, makes their way up to the tower, members carry crosses with the pictures and stories of workers in foreign countries who died under poor working conditions. They are placed on the steps of the tower, as members make final restroom trips in preparation for what could be an extended stay.
A brisk walk up the tower steps and into the foyer that house the Vice President and Chief Financial Officer’s office landed the protesters in a room where a table of cookies and Chex mix were set up for one employee’s retirement party. The students sat against one side of the wall and a live-stream of the event was prepared.
Within minutes, police officer arrived to the foyer where the peaceful and quiet protesters mirrored the party-goers who seemed amused that a protest was happening while they were there.
“Y’all are not going to be able to stay here,” said Robert Dahlstrom, UTPD Chief of Police.
Dahlstrom squared off with several protesters and told them that 300 people were invited to the retirement party and the protesters could be arrested if they didn’t leave because they were disrupting an event.
“The last thing I want to do is put anybody in jail,” Dahlstrom said.
Coalition members began filing electronic public information requests under the Freedom of Information Act. The group has complained that previous requests have gone without response, or crucial information was withheld.
The Make UT Sweatshop-Free coalition has been urging the University to change their apparel factory monitoring-service from the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to the Worker’s Rights Consortium (WRC) because of alleged bias on the FLA board.
As more and more police officers began arriving, three coalition members were invited into negotiations with officer and UT administrators. A police officer was placed at the door and no more coalition members were allowed to enter the office.
Lucy Griswold, a member of the coalition, was allowed to leave the foyer by police to use the restroom and returned with information that she saw a dozen police officers in an outside alleyway, allegedly ready to arrest the protesters.
“One of the women that I recognized had her zip ties and was flicking them up and down on her hand. The University is completely ready to arrest again,” Griswold said.
After several hours, and two rounds of closed-door negotiations, Hinz-Foley announced to the group that the administration had made a deal for the group to send an email with the names of members they would like to meet with President Powers, and they would get a response within 24 hours. However, many of the members were concerned that those members previously arrested would not be allowed to meet with Powers.
“This is seemingly another repeat of every other kind of interaction we have had with them,” said Sabina Hinz-Foley, sister of Bianca Hinz-Foley and member of the coalition.
Assistant Dean of Students Mary Beth Mercatoris approached the group at 5 pm, the time the office closed for the day, and informed the group that they would be arrested if they did not leave.
After several minutes of confusion and debate about the possibility of being arrested again, they decided to leave the building chanting. They were met outside by supporters and member of the media.
“We should come back tomorrow, and every day after that,” shouted Yajaira Fraga, a member of the coalition.
The protesters ended their four hour ordeal with a final chant, hoping the administration would hear their request to meet with members of the coalition who were previously arrested.
“The invitation that was made last week is still open,” said UT spokesperson Tara Doolittle. “The President does have concerns about meeting with arrested students, but he is also open to finding ways to get the best information possible,” Doolittle said.
On the steps of the tower, pacing and talking on his cell phone, UT spokesperson Gary Susswein explained that the coalition had already had a meeting with Powers the previous year.
“We have no intentions on leaving the FLA,” Susswein said.