“Divest Now! Ceasefire Now! End the Siege!” The building shook, its 164-year-old foundation vibrating to the rhythm of the chanting and stomping from over 150 students packed body to body in the foyer outside UW-Madison Chancellor Mnookin’s office.
Since the Israeli military launched its massacre on Gaza, more than 20,000 Palestinian people have lost their lives to its indiscriminate violence, which is being fully backed by the US government and US weapons manufacturers. Rallying the fighting power of the international working class, Palestinian trade unions have called on workers globally to halt the manufacturing, sales, and shipment of weapons to Israel.
Heeding this call, on December 11, 2023, UW Madison students held a walkout, rally, and march to demand the university divest from BlackRock, a massive US-based asset manager that is grotesquely profiting off Israel’s war on Gaza. BlackRock owns huge shares in weapon manufacturers and military contractors such as Boeing ($7.78 billion), Lockheed Martin ($7.5 billion), Northrop Grumman ($4.5 billion), and General Dynamics ($3.4 billion), and through its investments in Blackrock, the University of Wisconsin System schools are profiting directly off of Israel’s assault on Gaza and the mass murder of the Palestinian people. Instead of investing half a billion dollars in war crimes overseas, the UW System should invest in its workers and students by paying all of its workers a real living wage, reverse the ongoing defunding of UW System schools, and fund services to address the needs of underrepresented students.
Socialist Alternative built for the walkout using a petition of the same demand. The petition was initiated by the Recertification Caucus within the Teaching Assistants Association (TAA). Through this, we built a coalition including UW-Madison Students for Justice in Palestine, the Wisconsin for Palestine Coalition, and Madison Jewish Voice for Peace. This petition, which gathered over 1000 signatures online and on-paper in under two weeks, is directly in line with the core demands of the TAA Recertification Caucus, which include a minimum stipend of $50,000, canceling all backdoor tuition, and accountability measures for workplace mistreatment. This caucus was launched this past Spring by activists in the TAA with Workers Strike Back to reinvigorate the graduate student union on campus into the fighting force it once was.
Direct actions with concrete demands, such as this petition and walkout, demonstrate how we can channel this mass anger into a fight back against this injustice. We have no illusions that this petition alone will force the UW System to listen to us. We know that we have to threaten their profits in order to affect change. The crowd erupted into cheers and chants of “End the siege!”, clearly fired up by the fight against the capitalist system that enables these atrocities.
This protest and walkout joins an anti-war movement of millions across the globe. Importantly, this burgeoning anti-war movement is explicitly calling out the rotten role of the Democratic Party in exacerbating the Israeli occupation of Palestine. As graduate student and Recertification Caucus member, August Easton-Calabria pointed out, “#GenocideJoe has been trending for very good reason. This man has been at the beating heart of the US ruling class’s imperialist policy in the Middle East for decades,” and is thus perpetuating the massacre of oppressed peoples both domestically and abroad. Similarly to how the Democrats demobilized the historic George Floyd movement, only to turn around and inflate police budgets across the country, the Democrats today aim to stop this growing movement in its tracks, and continue to use our tax dollars to enable the Israeli ruling class’ assault on Gaza.
Protests alone are not enough to force our politicians and the ruling class to stop aiding Israel’s massacre and occupation of Gaza. Alongside our protests, we must take escalatory actions, which are necessary to continue to build this momentum. Students, youth, and workers need to join forces with the labor movement to oppose the agenda of the ruling class. This collaboration strengthens both the anti-war movement and the labor movement, as the former rallies workers around the power of the working class, and strikes provide the economic strength necessary to win the demands of the anti-war movement. As Madison Socialist Alternative member, Sadie Witt, asserted during the rally, “the biggest threat to the Israeli and US ruling classes is a mass, unified, multiethnic and multiracial struggle in the form of demonstrations, pickets, protests, and strikes.”