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Sitting In On Senator Kohl and the War-A Conversation With Antiwar Students

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On April 18, 2007, a protest against the war in Iraq at the University of Wisconsin campus in Madison turned into an overnight occupation of Senator Herb Kohl's office by approximately 100 citizens. Kohl is one of several Democratic Senators who claims he opposes the occupation of Iraq yet firmly supports the continued funding of that occupation and war through such mechanisms as the currently contested bill that sets a rather loose deadline for the withdrawal of some US troops from Iraq by March 31, 2008. Kohl's office had been the target of antiwar sit-ins before, but never before had there been as many participants nor had anyone been arrested. As most readers probably know, Kohl is but one of several legislators who have seen sit-ins in their offices because of their refusal to support bills demanding immediate withdrawal of forces form Iraq. The Madison action was unique in that it was organized primarily by antiwar students at the university and will most likely go down in the history of the current antiwar movement as the first large action of its kind.

I had the opportunity to connect with some of the participants/organizers of this action. We had an informed and stimulating exchange. I reprint it here in the hopes that others will be inspired to act similarly, especially in the light of the current attempts by Congress to rewrite the aforementioned legislation so that there are no timetables or deadlines for withdrawal whatsoever, only so-called benchmarks that do nothing but blame the Green Zone government for the occupation's failure to assume control of Iraq and its resources while simultaneously tying non-military aid to the Green Zone government's continuing the transformation of Iraq into another neoliberal colony of Washington. The elected representatives of the people must be made to understand that we want the troops home now. As the students below make clear, only mass protest will bring this home to them.

Ron:Tell me what happened. How did this protest turn into a sit in?

Josh Brielmaier: About 100 of us crammed into Kohl's office to make our demands. Somebody suggested staying the night and by show of hands around forty of us were willing to stay the night.

Chris Dols: The visit to Kohl's became an overnight office occupation when Kohl refused to meet our demand for an in-person meeting. Kohl has never met publicly with antiwar constituents in Madison since the war began. Further, he has supported and funded the war since the beginning.

Zach Heise: The original intention of the protest was for it to be a sit-in. We were informed that Wednesday afternoons were a time when a regular sit-in group was in Kohl's office, so we thought that we would bolster their group and show our support. We had hoped that we wouldn't need to do a sit-in, at least some of us - Campus Antiwar Network's (CAN) reasons for being there were clearly stated and taped within moments of our arrival: we wanted to meet with Kohl, or at the VERY least, arrange with him personally via phone for a time that he could meet with our group. We didn't want any secondhand hearsay from aides or notes - we wanted to hear his voice on the phone to arrange a meeting with us, and then we would have, as far as I believe was our intention, left peacefully. That was our mission.

Todd Dennis: Like Zach said, The plan from the start was to go to Herb Kohl's office and make our demands and request a public meeting where we could get Herb Kohl's response to our demands for the troops to come home from Iraq. Following the run-around from his staff, as the folks from The Network have been getting since they have been conducting their sit-ins, we stayed in the office while waiting on when Kohl would come back to speak with his constituents in his home state. The staff told us they would give us a teleconference in the next couple days but wouldn't give us an exact time as they had to work out to find some open time the senator had. After "granting" the conference call, they said okay here you go, will you leave now. Of course since we wanted a public meeting in Wisconsin we said no. As previously understood by those of us who planned the event we staying in the Senators office waiting to hear he would come to Wisconsin for the public meeting. However, overnight upon the realization that we meant business we were given several demands and when they told us we couldn't make anymore demands and also made it clear that we would get neither the conference call nor the public meeting we took back the entire office from the 10 X 20 part we were corralled in overnight. Following our taking over fo the entire office, the police were called and we had to leave the building.

Ron:What were your personal and political reasons for participating?

Bernadette Watts: I don’t see any just reasoning behind this war. Everything in my body tells me that it’s a senseless war for the profit of a small group of individuals. Kohl, the wealthiest US senator, continues to support funding for the war while saying he is against it. I believe our senator should work for us, the people he supposedly represents, and when he messes up, I believe it’s our duty to make him accountable for his actions. I recently became involved with CAN and it has been a pleasure working with such an intelligent group of individuals, all of whom continue to inspire me to use my voice.

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Ron Jacobs is a writer, library worker and anti-imperialist. He is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: a History of the Weather Underground and Short Order Frame Up. His collection of essays and other musings titled Tripping Through the American (more...)
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