On April 5, 2018, members of the Hyde Park community came together to protest a multitude of issues, with the common theme of pressuring the University of Chicago Administration to take action. The protesters recognized the need to disrupt the status quo in order to create change.
In order to send a message, The Graduate Student Union (GSU) organized the GSU Rally: Time to Bargain! The original intent of the rally was to protest outside International House, where President Robert Zimmer, Dean John Boyer, and David Axelrod were inside participating in a student forum.
GSU has been organizing for the betterment of the lives of graduate students, and advocating to ensure they have proper resources since 2007. Since voting to unionize in October, the group has been fighting for the administration to sit down with them and bargain for a contract. From the perspective of GSU, the administration has been unresponsive.
However, what began as a rally to demand bargaining rights for GSU became an opportunity for different groups of community members to make their grievances clear. Students protesting Steve Bannon coming to campus, as well as community members and students who were outraged and heartbroken after the on-campus shooting of a University of Chicago student two days before, joined forces with GSU to make sure that the administration knew that the entirety of the community is serious about their demands for change.
The protest began outside of the Booth School of Business. Protesters gathered in the April snow showers with signs that spoke to their cause. They drummed on buckets and chanted “Bargain now!” in between speakers. News cameras circled the outskirts of the event.
After around seventy people had gathered, the protesters began the three-block walk to International House. Once they arrived, some protesters attempted to enter the event but were turned away by security. The protesters gathered on the side steps of the building to ensure that those inside the event could hear their chants.
Alycia Moaron, a seventeen-year-old junior at Kenwood Academy in Hyde Park, spoke at the protest. Alycia is a part of the Good Kids Mad City movement, which was started by youth that feel attacked by their own city. They advocate for investment in youth employment and mental health services for youth, trauma-informed schools, and equitable school funding.
The University of Chicago student was shot by the UCPD, but for Moaron and her fellow students at Kenwood Academy, the University of Chicago Police and the Chicago Police are one and the same. Alycia was compelled to speak at the rally because she has witnessed and been subject to the “abuse of the power that the police are given.”
She said she has seen the police regularly harass and question the black male students at Kenwood Academy for standing at the corner of the school doing nothing. As a participant in the No Cop Academy Sit-In that was held at city hall, she felt the intimidation that the officers inflicted on the students: not allowing them to use the bathroom, shutting down the elevators, and forcing them to eat outside even though they were in a public space.
Moaron saw the protest as another means to reiterate that justice should be rendered to police departments; shootings are handled with little-to-no reprimand or punishment for the officers. It was also a way to let those in power know that the community has needs which are not being met: “There are things being closed in communities such as schools and health clinics. These things could help the community build stronger bonds. But we're not getting these resources or these opportunities.”
Members of the Graduate Student Union had similar concerns to those whose main issue at the protest was gun violence. GSU member Claudio Gonzales, who was assisting with queing up speakers at the protest, is personally invested in the ability for graduate students to bargain with the administration. He has celiac disease, and the mandated insurance provided to graduate students does not allow him to visit the doctor when he needs to. Additionally, he has watched as his fellow graduate students pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for small incidents such as cutting their hand on a classroom window.
Even though the original purpose of the GSU protest was to bring the administration to the bargaining table and give them a voice, Gonzales acutely stated how the movement had morphed: “The theme of this action is that the power is unilateral, top-down: we need democratic voices going back up.”
To the broad range of community members protesting, this was an opportunity to consolidate their interests. It was a chance to exercise their free speech, and to be heard by an administration which critics claim touts its staunch support of free speech when it comes to white supremacists, but will not listen to the concerns of those who make up the community or those who keep the university functioning.
As the protesters began moving closer to the window of International House, beating their buckets and chanting “Contract now!” into the administrative panel event, Gonzales summed up the action: “I personally could use better health care, and I want my voice to be heard. But what really drives action is when labor and community recognize their shared interest. Labor is the community.”
Inside the event, students could barely hear Zimmer’s closing statements on free speech because of the roar of the protesters outside. A disruption had been made. The administration could not ignore the fact that their lack of action and adherence to the status quo was under fire.
Kaeli Subberwal contributed to reporting, and provided the featured image.
Sarah Wasik is a fourth-year double majoring in Public Policy and Philosophy. She has spent her summers working campaigns and interning at both the state and federal levels of government. When she isn’t writing, reading, or learning more about policy and politics, she is probably running up and down the lakefront path or spending time with friends.