SIUE students protest on Inauguration Day
Impassioned speeches and smashing ceramics opened the Trump era at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville on Friday, as two protests were held within minutes of the presidential inauguration.
Crowds were thin but speakers passionate as they held a rally on the central campus just as Vice President Mike Pence was taking the oath of office. Organized by several student activist groups, the speakers’ subjects ranged from the budget standoff in Springfield to homophobia and racism to opposition for the electoral college.
“Politics does not begin and end with Donald Trump,” said Zack Nunn, representing both Student Action and the SIUE College Democrats. “It begins and ends right here.”
Bryon Pierson held up a petition that several students signed calling for an end to the budget stalemate in Springfield.
“Politicians on both sides of the aisle have been arguing and bickering for too long,” Pierson said. “It’s time for them to come together and unite to end this stalemate… I love this state, and I do not want to see it fail.”
Pierson, who is a former foster care child, said he believes in full access to education for low-income students and wants to see more support for public schools in government.
Mina Mathenia said both Democrats and Republicans will be affected by the incoming administration, that the election of 2016 was a wake-up call for many young Americans.
“I was ignorant to believe that problems like racism, sexism and homophobia had mostly vanished,” Mathenia said. “Hate speech is rampant, you see it on social media, you see it everywhere you go. People are being threatened, beaten and stabbed…. These things cannot keep happening, but they will unless we all get together and do something.”
I was ignorant to believe that problems like racism, sexism and homophobia had mostly vanished.
Mina Mathenia, SIUE student
Several speakers said they were alarmed at statements by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos expressing what they felt to be a lack of support for public education. On the contrary, at least one speaker said he would like to see Illinois move toward free college education in Illinois.
“The last thing we should be doing right now is cutting education,” Nunn said. “So that every kid who wants to go to college, who works hard, who has the work ethic and the grades, can do so. We know this is an ambitious goal, but we like being ambitious. We like dreaming big.”
Nunn said the students are mobilizing to pass petitions, call legislators, fight for legislation and for candidates who support their beliefs.
“America is a country that’s built on diversity, founded by immigrants,” he said. “We can’t shy away from that. In America, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from, or what you look like. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white or Latino, it doesn’t matter if you’re male or female, gay or straight, or where you’re from or what you believe in. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican, because at the end of the day, we’re all Americans. And we can work together, to build a country and a government that works for everybody.”
Travis Ware is a student finishing his education after serving in the U.S. Marine Corps. He has a mixed-race daughter, and said the day after the election in November was the first time his daughter ever heard a racial slur directed at her.
“We have made social strides that have just been fantastic, wonderful,” Ware said. “I’m here to say that we’re not going back… We’re going to fight. I’d urge anyone who does not want to be oppressed to do the same.”
Ware is a graphic design student who established the “interactive art project” called “Smash the Dicktatorship.” He created a large number of white ceramic phalluses, on which students have written personal experiences of sexism, racism, homophobia and other memories of oppression or prejudice.
Shortly after the speeches at the university circle, Ware set up a “smashing platform” on the Quad and invited anyone who was not a straight, white male to step up and smash them - which also excluded him, he said. He said it was about voicing these experiences, and then destroying them symbolically.
“Each piece represents an individual’s experience,” he said. They were made of fragile, hollow ceramic, and he had promised the university administration he would clean up the mess, he said. Student after student stepped up to share their experiences as people of color, women, gay people or their supporters, and people with disabilities smashed the ceramics with a mallet or baseball bat.
“Students these days don’t really have a handle on feeling raw emotion,” Ware said. “They bury their raw emotions, and in doing so, they don’t know how to protest, they don’t know how to be angry. I’m providing a window of opportunity for that. ... I hope it was cathartic for everyone.”