‘We have been silenced every time,’ says intersectional dream team
College foodies were so mad when their school declined to dramatically expand its selection of locally sourced and “sustainable” food that they occupied a building.
But under the laws of intersectionality, they also pledged to leave Bricker Hall if Ohio State University agrees to divest from Israel or back out of an energy-privatization plan.
An alliance of progressive groups mounted a short-lived sit-in Wednesday demanding that one of them get what it wants, though the school threatened them with arrest for obstructing ordinary business in the building and staying past business hours.
The squatters were led by the campus chapters of the Real Food Challenge, a national organization backed by environmental groups and labor unions that opposes food with genetically modified organisms; United Students Against Sweatshops, which opposes privatization efforts that take student jobs; and the Committee for Justice in Palestine, which supports divestment from Israel.
They are using the Twitter hashtag #ReclaimOSU – echoing the language and tactics of a Harvard Law School squatter group, #ReclaimHLS – to spread their message, including encounters with police and administrators.
— Adam Pohlabel (@AdamPohlabel) April 7, 2016
You’re freaking out the staff
In one video, an official identified by The Columbus Dispatch as Senior Vice President for Administration and Planning Jay Kasey warned the squatters Wednesday they would be arrested and likely expelled if they didn’t leave the building by 5 a.m. Thursday.
Students laughed at him when Kasey said staff who work in the building felt threatened by their protest. They complained on Twitter that police were “starving” them out by preventing others from bringing food inside the locked building.
The school’s official statement early Thursday said the occupation was “illegal” and included “unknown people” as well as students, and that they left “on their own volition” after being warned.
The statement alluded to staff unease, saying that while protesters were exercising their freedoms, “these protections and rights also extend to our staff as they work on the important business of the university. … [Dialogue] must be conducted in a constructive way.”
At a press conference in front of the locked and guarded building Thursday afternoon, The Lantern reported, a protest leader accused “police and administration” of retracting the 5 a.m. deadline the previous night, telling the protesters shortly before midnight they faced “immediate arrest and expulsion” if they didn’t leave.
— Katie Love (@KLOVEREPORTER) April 7, 2016
Citing an official, the Dispatch said squatters started leaving “in small groups” in the early evening and the last group left about 12:30 a.m.
— ReclaimOSU (@ReclaimOSU614) April 7, 2016
— TraitorBoehner (@aBoehner4Pelosi) April 7, 2016
‘Ohio State continually represses’ us by disagreeing
The squatting followed a previously announced “people’s open mic” Wednesday afternoon in front of the library, hosted by Real Food OSU, black student group Still We Rise and the International Socialist Organization-Columbus, among others.
“We have been silenced every time. #NoEndsNOW,” the event page read. They warned participants they would “not tolerate racism, homophobia, misogyny, transphobia, ableism, classism, anti-blackness, and other statements that perpetuate structural oppression” at the event.
Reclaim OSU prefaced its demand list by complaining that the school has not been “completely transparent with our money.” They want to know whether companies the school invests in are “complicit in violence and exploitation of others” and whether the budget is “fairly distributed.”
— Daniel Bendtsen (@mtntopwaterdrop) April 7, 2016
“We are occupying to show that we will not remain complacent while Ohio State continually represses its students, faculty, staff, and those affected by Ohio State’s investments,” the group said, apparently referring to the administration and student government declining to adopt their causes. “We are here because we are fighting for justice and nothing less.”
"School is too expensive, so we want OSU to hire more administrators, give us free food, and increase labor costs" #ReclaimOSU
— Walt Wygon (@waltwygon) April 7, 2016
In addition to opening the books, the group asked the school to adopt one of their campaigns: divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and G4S; “maintain in-house operation of its energy systems” rather than contract it out; and sign the “Real Food Campus Commitment,” a pledge to “buy at least 20 percent of real food” each year by 2020 (defined as ethically sourced and environmentally friendly).
You gotta feel it, it’s intersectional
OSU’s refusal to adopt the real-food pledge two weeks ago was apparently the last straw for the OSU chapter of the Challenge, a front group for environmentalists and labor activists.
“While we support the initiative in spirit, we will continue to independently design goals and strategies … customized to the needs, challenges, and opportunities of our institution and local community,” Provost Bruce McPheron wrote in a March 22 letter to the leaders of the OSU chapter.
The university did not respond to requests for comment by The College Fix beyond supplying the letter.
OSU Real Food President Rachel Metzler criticized the university for declining the pledge, telling The Lantern: “They have just been vague about a clear yes or no before and have always reiterated that we have ‘shared goals,’ similar to as it states in the letter.”
Much like the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has tried to align anti-Israel activism with LGBT and feminist issues, the foodies have joined forces with unrelated progressive causes.
Last fall the OSU chapter hosted talks called “Black Lives Matter and the Food System,” arguing that there are “other, less obvious forms of violence that target communities of color, such as the organization of agriculture and the distribution of food.”
The national Real Food Challenge retweeted a Twitter account celebrating the FSLN, which stands for Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional – the Nicaraguan Sandinistas.
— The Dream Defenders (@Dreamdefenders) March 2, 2016
It protests against the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal between the United States and Pacific Rim countries, and promotes a group, Democracy Awakening, that is lobbying to overturn the Citizens United money-in-politics legal precedent.
The connection to Students United Against Sweatshops is less clear. That group’s main project at OSU is opposing the privatization of energy plants, which it calls a “sell out of our energy systems.”
Multiple attempts to reach members of Real Food OSU and the national Real Food Challenge were not successful.
Intersectionality of food with non-digestive issues does not appear to be rare among other Real Food Challenge chapters.
The University of Vermont’s Food Systems Initiative, which carries out the goals of the Challenge, hosts a summit every year on food topics. One speaker last year was Raj Patel, who said “gender inequity” is an agriculture issue that requires “feminist organizing and challenging patriarchy” to address.
OSU isn’t the only place where foodies are hitting barriers. University of Washington President Ana Mari Cauce questioned the costs of the Challenge after students lobbied her, the national Challenge group said in February.