“This is what democracy looks like!”
“What do we want? W.R.C.! When do we want it? Now!”
A crowd of about 50 student protesters, curious onlookers, and members of the media listened to these chants outside the Tower on Wednesday afternoon.
At noon, about 18 student protesters with United Students Against Sweatshops began a sit-in at President Bill Power’s office, and when the building closed at 5 p.m., they were arrested for trespassing. More protesters gathered outside the Tower to chant, some bringing megaphones, tambourines, and even a banjo.
The students demanded that UT join the Workers’ Rights Consortium, a watchdog group that monitors human rights in factories overseas. UT is a member of the Fair Labor Association, a group the students allege does not do enough to prevent human rights violations in its factories.
“Employees of Nike and other corporations are on the F.L.A, and that’s a clear conflict of interest,” says senior Shiyam Galyon, one of the protesters. “About 180 of our peer institutions have joined the W.R.C., so we’re not asking UT to do something extreme.”
“We are inspired by the long legacy of protest at UT,” Galyon adds. “This is a peaceful protest, not an aggressive one—that’s why we brought cookies and flowers—and we tried the niceties first. Powers has always refused to listen.”
UT spokesman Gary Susswein released a statement saying that the University has long considered the protesters’ requests. “We have examined and re-examined this campus group’s request to change our affiliation from the FLA. We continue to believe our membership helps ensure the rights of workers and consider this issue closed,” the statement says.
The statement also listed multiple responses from President Powers to the student group, including four letters sent by Powers himself and one meeting in Powers’ office.
As police officers escorted handcuffed students out of the Tower, the students being arrested chanted and cheered, and at least one of them smiled at the crowd of photographers and reporters.
Photo by Trent Lesikar