After 11 hours, the occupation of Johnson Hall at the University of Oregon was still going strong. They had plenty of support: coffee, water, food, and sweet jams.
The activists’ demands?
Divest from fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy, Disarm the UO Police Department—the first step to a complete dismantling—and democratize the Board of Trustees.
Both chained and unchained activists did school work during the occupation and provided informational flyers to both passersby and attendees.
At the 12th hour, President Schill, along with his dog, casually approached the occupiers with another man and what appeared to be a plain clothes UOPD officer. After a few minutes of discussing amongst themselves what they’d say, the activists,their comrades, and members of the community spoke with President Schill.
The activists told Schill that they were unhappy with the university’s COVID-19 response, calling it “extremely unethical and irresponsible.” They said that the reopening of schools almost always preceded an uptick of cases and did not believe that the University of Oregon was enforcing its own pandemic guidelines and regulations.
Schill declined to accept responsibility for the surge in COVID-19 cases, instead blaming a “lack of information” and claiming that only students living off-campus were contracting the virus.
Schill also said that the university was following plans similar to the ones laid out by Eugene’s 4J school district.
The conversation continued, and the activists occupying Johnson Hall informed Schill of their three demands. They also demanded that the meeting be held publicly in the Erb Memorial Union, following proper social distance guidelines, and that it also be livestreamed and recorded for those unable or unwilling to attend.
Eventually, the two parties agreed to a tentative meeting.
As President Schill and crew departed, he told the activists to “stay safe” with a paternal tone.
After Schill left the scene, activists debriefed their supporters on their thoughts and feelings about the conversation with the university president. The group consensus decided to hold the meeting in two weeks. In order to receive community input on questions, concerns, and topics to address beyond their three demands, contact sheets were passed around.
One speaker stressed that the activists are prepared to walk out of the meeting with Schill if their demands are not met, and that they are ready to escalate their direct actions in order to achieve their goals.
But in the 16th hour of the occupation, this coalition of activists had reason to celebrate. Citing their success in guaranteeing a meeting with the president, the activists unchained themselves. Their supporters sent chants of “Defund! Disarm! Dismantle the police!” into the night.
This collective succeeded in taking the first step of a long journey that is fundamentally changing and dismantling a system they believe is broken: a system that does not benefit students or the community, but one that actively harms both. Given their organization and solidarity this collective appears more than prepared to fight for their demands.
And already, steps are being taken to address the activist’s demands. In addition to the basic demand of a meeting with Schill, the activists won another small victory when the Associated Students of the University of Oregon announced on Monday their intention to work toward disarming the UOPD.
By using direct action, activists achieved more in less than 24 hours than other groups have in over 100 days of marches.