The spring of 2000 changed my life. I was a graduate student in Women’s Studies at The Ohio State University, mildly active with the Afrikan Student Union. One April day an advanced grad student named T.J. reported that the CWA Local 4501 union campus workers were stalled in their negotiations with the University, primarily over wages, and that they needed student support to win. Within a few days there was a relatively big rally on the steps of Bricker Hall, to which I brought my djembe, and then T.J. announced over the megaphone that we were going in. I went inside the administration building not knowing what was going on and having little experience with organized student activism. This action was the beginning of a 30-day building takeover in support of the workers.
The first few weeks run together because once the workers decided to strike, there were rallies, teach-ins, demonstrations, and so much more every day that I could hardly keep up. It was as if people did this all the time. Undergraduate students and graduate students and workers and faculty and community members were all working together to make sure the workers won. All food service and campus work from landscaping to trash pick-up ceased and the workers and the work they did were made visible to students in a way that they or it had not been before strike. The student organizers worked tirelessly to convince students to side with the workers and not the Administration because the workers were making less after more than twenty years of service than a new worker at McDonald’s.
The Administration Building became the STRIKE FREE ZONE and professors who refused to cross picket lines taught their classes throughout the hallways of the building so that their students understood the importance of what was happening. We marched from OSU to City Hall, during another demo a student was arrested when we blocked a major intersection on campus (the only black male among numerous white students), and we crashed every local speaking engagement President William Kirwan had to make sure his audiences knew what was going on at OSU. Student organizers contacted Maya Angelou and she refused to come to campus until the strike was settled, and Kwesi Mfume also refused to speak at graduation. But the major event that won the strike was when union workers across Columbus, Ohio (through the work of the local and state AFL-CIO) organized a picket line in front of the union construction entrance of the OSU Buckeye football stadium AND students picketed the non-union entrance to the stadium. When we shut down the renovation project happening at the stadium the university lost over $400,000. Needless to say the strike was resolved within days of that demonstration of student and worker power.
We, the student organizers and activists, were black, Latina, Native American, white, at-risk, Japanese, Taiwanese, muslim, queer, christian, women, black nationalists, lesbian, transgender, biracial, Indian, working-class, local youth, wealthy, musicians, feminists, historians, chemists, queer identified fathers in heterosexual relationships, poets, you name it. We were beautiful. We argued, laughed, cried, screamed, but most of all we learned by doing and taking risks and being committed.
I met my life partner on that picket line. I went to work for the labor movement in Washington, DC as a union representative for campus workers at George Washington and Howard University. Spring 2000 was the time I fell in love with activism and I have been in love ever since. Today I’m remembering the 10 year anniversary of a powerful demonstration of student, youth, faculty, worker, faith, and community power. We took on The Ohio State University and won.
“Ain’t no power like the power of the people cause the power of the people don’t stop. Wha-what”