Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin visited the University of Wisconsin-Madison to speak with student leaders Friday in a roundtable event to kick off her “One Year to Win” campaign tour.
During the event, hosted by UW-Madison College Democrats in the Student Activity Center, a group of protesters from the Wisconsin Coalition for Justice in Palestine interrupted by speaking over student questions and Baldwin’s responses.
The coalition, composed of local pro-Palestine organizations committed to justice in Palestine, previously held marches and rallies statewide demanding an end to U.S. aid to Israel and an expansion of humanitarian aid to Gaza. Some of the group’s members were not UW-Madison students.
“I’m heartbroken about what’s happening, I can’t imagine there’s anyone in here who isn’t absolutely heartbroken,” Baldwin said. “What I want to do is get the humanitarian aid distributed as quickly as possible.”
Baldwin joined a group of 33 U.S. Senators in October to urge President Joe Biden to provide “lifesaving humanitarian assistance” for Palestinians in Gaza. She joined Biden in calling for a ceasefire to "hostilities that pose high-risk to civilians, aid workers or humanitarian aid delivery" on Saturday.
Coalition members asked Baldwin if she wakes up at night “thinking about the 3,000 dead Palestinian children” and if she feels responsible for their deaths.
Baldwin was unable to respond due to the protesters’ overlapping questions but said she "hopes we'll be there soon" in response to a question about a ceasefire in Gaza.
Student moderators repeatedly asked the group to leave and told The Daily Cardinal they “were not expecting” the interruption.
Protesters held up signs reading “Ceasefire now” and started chants as they left the conference room.
“We were not aware that it was an organized group coming for the purpose of asking very specific questions,” Whitman Bottari, communications director for the College Democrats of UW-Madison, told the Cardinal.
MGR Govindarajan, District 8 Alder on the Madison Common Council and a UW-Madison senior, told the Cardinal the Israel-Hamas war is an important issue that should be discussed.
But the event was tailored toward students’ issues, he said.
“When you see a senator, when you see someone who has a bigger position, [students] don’t get much time with them, and it kind of felt like that time was usurped from us,” Govindarajan told the Cardinal.
Prior to the interruption, Baldwin answered questions from student leaders and voiced support for student issues including affordable housing, reproductive healthcare access, sustainability on campus, LGBTQ+ youth rights and student voter turnout.
Baldwin cited private-public partnerships as a way to expand student housing options.
“We are so many units short of what is needed. What remains is out of reach price-wise,” Baldwin said. “That’s where I think you need partnerships. That’s where federal government, state, local, private sector… are not just going to turn away and say, ‘I will not build.’”
Baldwin left the conference room shortly after the protestors were told to leave and declined to answer additional questions.
Baldwin is up for reelection to a third U.S. Senate term in November 2024.
Editor's note: This article was updated at 2:50 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023 to properly reflect ASM's role in the event. College Democrats, not ASM, hosted Friday's event. This article was updated again on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2023 to reflect an update in Baldwin's stance on a ceasefire in Gaza.