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Friday, June 14, 2024
A speaker teaches "How Gaza is liberating people globally and in the US" at the pro-Palestine encampment on Library Mall on April 30, 2024.
A speaker teaches "How Gaza is liberating people globally and in the US" at the pro-Palestine encampment on Library Mall on April 30, 2024.

What to know about the pro-Palestine encampment at UW-Madison as day two continues

Pro-Palestine protesters camped out on the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Library Mall, locked arms, marched around tents and chanted as protest leaders warned police were preparing to surround the encampment Monday evening. 

Their tents were in violation of state law. But the police swarm never materialized, and no arrests were made.

Spirits appeared high Tuesday after a mostly sunny day of peaceful marches and chants on Monday gave way to overcast skies and unease of a nighttime police crackdown that never came. UW-Madison chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and Young Democratic Socialists of America, the student groups leading demonstrations, released a schedule of second-day events Tuesday morning via Instagram.

More: Live updates: Day two of the pro-Palestine protest encampment on Library Mall

The tents, which numbered more than two dozen by the end of Monday’s demonstration, are still firmly planted on Library Mall more than 30 hours later. 

Protesters continue to advocate for a list of six demands, with headliners being investment transparency and divestment from all companies the American Friends Service Committee says participate in the border, surveillance, prison and occupation industries.

Other demands include cutting ties with “Israeli institutions,” a graduate exchange program and study abroad trips to Israel, campus-specific demands calling for “all cops off campus” and an end to “land grabs” and university expansion.

“We have not seen substantial movement in our demands, and so we are still committed to stay here indefinitely,” Dahlia Saba, an SJP member who served as a media liaison for the group, told reporters Monday evening.

Pro-palestine encampments on Library Mall photographed during the day of April 29, 2024.

Although the demonstration has been peaceful so far, some of Monday's chants were fiercely critical of Israel. Protestors regularly shouted “Israel go to hell” and “smash the settler Zionist state,” along with other chants including “globalize the intifada” and “There is only one solution, intifada revolution.”

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UW Hillel, a Jewish student life group not affiliated with the university, said in a statement posted to Instagram on Monday it was “closely monitoring” the situation. The group held a community support space Monday evening. 

“No student’s right to be safe, to pursue their education, and to be proud of their Jewish and Israeli identity should ever be compromised,” the organization wrote. “When a cause aligns with terrorist organizations taking pride in the protests and actions, and when language calls for violence against an entire identity, religion, and people — it becomes hate and discrimination.”

UW-Madison Police Department spokesperson confirmed to the Wisconsin Law Journal on Tuesday the department was investigating reports of an individual who shouted “Heil Hitler” to Jewish students at Monday’s protest. The individual was since identified by protesters as someone not affiliated with SJP nor other student protest groups present.

More: UWPD investigating antisemitic incident on Library Mall

A "People's Kitchen" is constructed with a tent, tables and supplies for the pro-Palestine encampment at Library Mall on April 30, 2024.

Talks start when tents come down, university leaders tell protesters

Five university officials released a statement Monday evening promising to meet with student groups about their demands, only after tents violating state law came down. 

Camping on university lands is prohibited under Wisconsin Administrative Code Chapter 18. Although the code allows chancellors to authorize exceptions to the camping rule, Tyrrell told The Daily Cardinal on Friday there were no plans to do so.  

“We recognize the deeply felt and passionate views held by those who are participating in today’s protest, Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin, Provost Charles Isbell and vice chancellors Lori Reesor, Lavar Charleston and Robert Cramer wrote Monday. “We continue to ask the protesters to voluntarily comply with state law against tents and encampments on university property.”

UW-Madison leaders met with protest leaders during the day Monday for private negotiations on protesters’ demands, said Kelly Tyrrell, a university spokesperson. 

Reesor had scheduled a meeting with protest leaders Monday evening following the statement, a university spokesperson said. The tents stayed up.

“I think the fact that [the administration] has refused to listen to us seriously until we put up tents speaks louder, and it’s not surprising that the first thing they ask us to do is to take down tents,” SJP member Dahlia Saba said. “We do not want them to ignore demands. We demand that they take us seriously.”

Christina Olstad, UW-Madison dean of students, was present for most of Monday’s demonstration. Olstad handed out leaflets with reminders of camping laws, and journalists who attempted to ask questions were met with business cards for a UW-Madison spokesperson.  

The cards were littered across a makeshift media row on the balcony of Memorial Library as university and police spokespeople gave short answers in email responses to Cardinal reporters.


Dean of Students Olstad speaks with a pro-Palestine speaker on April 29, 2024.

Police overall quiet, playing engagement role for now

Police were largely tight-lipped as a joint collection of at least four forces — UW-Madison Police Department, the Madison Police Department, the Dane County Sheriff’s Office and Wisconsin State Patrol — quietly poured into campus. 

"Our role yesterday was to have a presence and make sure everybody was safe and if anybody needed help," UWPD spokesperson Marc Lovicott told the Cardinal early Tuesday afternoon. 

First stationed near the Limnology Building early Monday afternoon, police later fanned out and stationed trailers of “state-owned equipment” in loading docks at Memorial Union and the Chazen Museum of Art, less than a block each from the protest, before setting up makeshift command at the Fluno Center later Monday evening.

And despite a clear Friday morning warning from UW-Madison Dean of Students Christina Olstad that encampments “can and will have consequences” within the university’s code of student conduct and Wisconsin law, all but a few officers locked themselves away in the Fluno Center to watch camera and drone footage of protesters. 

The officers inside mulled about for hours, with riot gear like pepper spray, gas mask bags and batons visible on their belts as they carried in Panera Bread takeout and Chick-Fil-A nugget boxes. Three elected officials who tried to enter and speak with police — Madison District 8 Ald. MGR Govindarajan, District 2 Ald. Juliana Bennett and Dane County District 2 Supervisor Heidi Wegleitner — were forcibly shoved out of the building after warnings to leave.

“I reached out numerous times to all of the officers that have been around the surrounding area, none of which has given a clear answer has taken responsibility,” Bennett said following the incident. “They are absolutely pretending like they have nothing in the know, and yet here they clearly have something going on, not communicating anything.”

“They are escalating,” she added. “They are the problem.”

A request for a press conference from journalists staked out at the Fluno Center around 11 p.m. Monday was met with a laugh from police inside. Neither university, city, county nor state police held media availability Monday.

Lovicott told the Cardinal early Tuesday afternoon that UWPD Chief Brent Plisch was present on Library Mall and "working to engage with some folks."

"I'm not sure if that has not occurred yet, but that's the reason he's out here, to do some engagement and talk with people," Lovicott said.

While it's unclear as of Tuesday evening whether police plan to escalate their response, Gov. Tony Evers ruled out the possibility of the Wisconsin National Guard intervening in remarks to reporters earlier in the day, saying it's "not on the table."

Evers said the protest at UW-Madison and a similar demonstration at UW-Milwaukee were "fine" but urged protesters to avoid breaking laws or policies.

“At some point in time, the encampments have to end, whether that’s done voluntarily or not," Evers told reporters, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "But yes, it’s an issue, and we will eventually take action if we have to. But we believe that everybody’s in good faith here, and people will get sick of camping outside and go back to their dorm rooms or their houses.”

Police have yet to make arrests as of Tuesday evening.

Editor's note: This article was updated at 7:00 p.m. to include additional comment from UWPD, again at 7:30 p.m. to include comment from Gov. Tony Evers, and again at 11:30 p.m. to clarify information about an alleged antisemitic incident.

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Tyler Katzenberger

Tyler Katzenberger is the former managing editor at The Daily Cardinal. He also served as the state news editor, covering numerous protests, elections, healthcare, business and in-depth stories. He previously interned with The Capital Times, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and is an incoming POLITICO California intern. Follow him on Twitter at @TylerKatzen.

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