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Suspected protest prompts action

Rohan Anand | Wednesday, May 2, 2007

The Student Activities Office ordered the Notre Dame Peace Fellowship and Campus Labor Action Project (CLAP) to alter their planned demonstration at Fieldhouse Mall Tuesday, accusing the groups of misleading in conversations leading up to the event, but activists pushed on with the event at a scaled-back level.

While organizers said they shared their agenda with the SAO as they planned the event-which they said was meant to commemorate the feast of Saint Joseph the Worker and include students, staff and faculty members – sophomore CLAP member Michael Angulo said the office called him 30 minutes before the scheduled kickoff to tell him there were problems with the “lack of transparency” in these conversations.

CLAP organizers said their application to Student Activities stated the event would celebrate the contribution of campus workers in conjunction with the feast of Saint Joseph, which typically occurs on May 1. SAO Assistant Director Amy Geist, however, said that when her office discovered some of the event’s details Tuesday, she was concerned the celebration could become a workers’ rights’ protest.

“Peace Fellowship approached me about plans for a social celebratory program,” Geist said. “When it became apparent that the events of the day were more demonstration-like in nature, further discussions were had with the officers of Peace Fellowship.”

She said when it became clear the group had not taken the required steps to register a demonstration on campus, the SAO asked the CLAP and Peace Fellowship officers to “return the event to its originally proposed nature – that of a celebration of workers.”

So the event went on – though not quite as planned.

“The main difference was that professors did not speak, that there was no opening prayer, that students from Campus Ministry and Right to Life did not speak, and they had prepared a statement saying economic justice is a life issue that we need to think about,” Angulo said. “And all of the other [participants] were informed that it was no longer an SAO event, so it was simply them speaking their minds about the issues on their mind. More freedom with less security.”

Angulo said Student Activities cited four problems with the organizers’ plans, including the idea to feature campus employees as speakers demanding salary raises on football Saturdays. On those days, he said, workers clock in at 5 a.m. and do not take a break until noon.

“I told them specifically we were going to have information on Catholic social teachings, other labor rights and issues. I told them explicitly that information about workers’ justice and dignity would be presented, and they said, ‘This is not appropriate. This is antagonist. This is a critique of the University,'” Angulo said.

Another problem Angulo said the SAO brought up was the group’s support for the defunct Copy Shop, which ran its photocopying business for 18 years in the basement of the LaFortune Student Center before the University declined to renew its contract this spring.

He said the SAO told him the group no longer had a “prayer attitude” but rather a protest attitude, because organizers did not say in their discussion of Catholic social teachings that they would touch on the Copy Shop controversy.

“The Copy Shop was basically run out of business by Notre Dame and FedEx Kinko’s in a joint effort to get the Copy Shop off campus, which was a mom-and-pop shop run by a three-time Domer,” Angulo said.

He also said the SAO prohibited a banner that read “Thank you workers,” which students and professors signed.

“In my view, I didn’t think we needed to get that approved,” Angulo said. “It’s such a small detail, but they kept taking these small details and trying to make them into a big deal when none of them were.”

Event organizers and participants said they did not give complete cancellation serious consideration, despite the SAO’s request, because they were determined to highlight the solidarity and dignity of every worker.

“We wanted to have a celebration and mark the day and highlight the importance of the dignity of work,” said senior Casey Stanton, CLAP member and main organizer of the event. “In doing so, sometimes that involves looking at a critical eye of where we are, we wanted to thank the workers and inform the dignity of work, and it included a call to action.”

Freshman Miriam Olsen said she didn’t understand why Student Activities hadn’t questioned organizers earlier.

“[SAO] clearly had some agenda other than ‘it was a violation of Student Activities policy,'” she said. “Otherwise, they would have told us yesterday, not thirty minutes before.”

Organizers said guests who had agreed to perform or speak to the students were disgruntled at the SAO’s handling of the situation, not thinking the event could become a large protest in any way. Many of the guests scheduled to speak at Fieldhouse Mall did not attend due to the cancellation rumors.

Junior Stuart Mora, a member of CLAP, took the podium and spoke about his relationships with the workers on campus and the issues they face, including wages, childcare, health insurance and understaffing.

Mora then introduced two workers from the Huddle, who voiced their dissatisfaction with the treatment they said they receive during home football weekends. The Observer did not quote the workers, because the event organizers would not release their names.

Students who attended the event were happy CLAP went on with most of its plans despite SAO’s decision to scale back the event, and said they felt like it reinforced Catholic Social Teaching principles on campus.

“I’m here because I think justice is a really foundational aspect of my faith,” freshman Kristi Haas said. “As a Catholic, I feel that every person has human dignity and deserves to be appreciated, and we want to build fellowship with these workers on campus.”

Angulo said that he was “pleased with the turnout” despite the circumstances, and felt that principles of solidarity and dignity in Catholic Social Teaching were emphasized effectively.

“Not enough Catholics know about the social teachings and see them as a call to action,” he said. “We’re here today to show the Notre Dame community that we must take these ideals and make them more concrete in the world.”

George Porter, a Subway employee who has been working at LaFortune for more than seven years, echoed Angulo’s words, adding he wishes he received more support from his employers.

Porter, a self-published author, was signing copies of his book, “A Boy Amidst the Rubble” – a semi-autobiographical account of his family’s experiences during the London bombings in World War II – at Tuesday’s event.

Porter said he moved from his native country, England, to the U.S. about 29 years ago. He spent the last 13 years writing the book, but he said both the Huddle and the Hammes Bookstore have refused to put it on their stands.

Angulo said the SAO also told him his verbal invitations to campus employees to attend Tuesday’s event were inappropriate. He said he didn’t think there were any guidelines in duLac, the student handbook, that said he could not verbally invite people to an event, and so he didn’t think it was necessary to inform the SAO.

The “Thank you workers” banner was available to students and professors who attended the event and wanted to sign it.

Marcela Berrios contributed to this report.