Photos by Sandra Whitehead

Many Milwaukee news outlets covered a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee protest Monday. Students set up an encampment on the lawn of Mitchell Hall and have vowed to stay until their demands are met.

After months of marching, letter-writing campaigns and calls to government representatives, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee students formed a new coalition, UWM Popular University for Palestine, and joined the nationwide anti-war protest encampment movement yesterday.

Now they are being heard.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the state’s largest and most influential newspaper, has multiple reporters and photographers providing round-the-clock updates on the UWM and UW-Madison encampments, both of which began yesterday with hundreds of students, faculty, staff and community members marching and speaking. Urban Milwaukee, an online daily focused on the city of Milwaukee, also covered yesterday’s protest at UWM.

TV news crews from TMJ4, WISN12, CBS58 and Fox 6 Now came early to interview UWM student organizers. Some arrived before the 10:30 a.m. rally of more than 200 at UWM’s Golda Meir Library, named after the fourth prime minister of Israel and a point of contention for anti-Zionist students and community members. They televised students marching, chanting so loudly they could be heard blocks away, to the green space in front of Mitchell Hall near the corner of Downer Avenue and Kenwood Boulevard, where shortly after 11 a.m. students pitched tents on the lawn and announced they had delivered their demands to UWM’s administration.

A member of the University of Wisconsin’s Muslim Student Association led the march, followed by members of the Greater Milwaukee community who carried a banner with photos of three relatives of a Brookfield family killed by Israeli airstrikes.

Why risk arrest, suspension and more

Inspired by college students across the country, UWM students decided to take a bold stand against U.S. financial support to Israel as it conducts a massive, brutal retaliation for Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack. Israeli military bombing in Gaza has killed more than 40,000 Palestinian civilians, said Ameen, a board member of UWM’s Muslim Student Association who asked journalists to use only his first name. “We consider the national movement on college campuses to be one of the most motivating actions for the Palestinian cause. We haven’t seen it from elected officials. We haven’t seen it from our government. We’ve seen nothing from our president except his unwavering support for genocide. But we have now seen students take historic action.”

Students pitched tents Monday morning on campus near Downer Avenue and Kenwood Boulevard.

At the same time, they have seen the repercussions. Columbia University has begun suspending students who refused to leave their encampment by a deadline. CNN reported that Cornell University said it will suspend student protesters who refuse to move to an alternate location. Dozens of protesters at the University of Texas in Austin were arrested.

Why take the risk?

“I’ve spent so many nights after seeing new videos every day of children dying, of limbs being separated, of missile strikes on children, I can’t sleep,” Ameen said. “But this is not about me not being able to sleep. All I want is for the genocide to end and for the Israeli occupation to be brought to justice.

“They’ve been called out by the United Nations. They’ve been called out by the World Health Organization. They’ve been called out by the International Court but because they have the number one supporter in the United States of America, they face no repercussions.”

Jewish Voice for Peace-Milwaukee members carried a banner and joined in chants calling for a free Palestine.

The protesters want people to pay attention to what is happening in Gaza, Ameen said. “Think of it, 40,000 civilians have been killed in Gaza. 15,000 children. Friends here have relatives who have died in Israeli airstrikes. How can you not speak out?”

Behind him, three young women held a long banner with photos of two women and a teenage boy. “They are my dad’s cousin, my dad’s sister and my cousin,” said Fridarose Hamad of Brookfield. 

Student and community groups calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza joined UWM student protesters.

Students demand UWM call for a ceasefire and divest

A press release Monday from the UWM Popular University for Palestine Coalition explained the protesters’ position:

“We have seen government officials and university administrators continue to maintain ties with the occupation of Palestine, even in the face of genocide. Their complicity stands in direct conflict with the will of the students of UWM and the Milwaukee community at large. UWM has repeatedly dodged any accountability and refused to take action in ending ties to genocide.”

It also outlined the students’ demands: 

  • UWM must publicly disclose all financial assets including endowments, donations, mutual fund portfolios and all other holdings and investments made by UWM Foundation.
  • UWM must cease all business with any organization or corporation that profits from or supports the occupation of Palestine.
  • UWM must cease all collaboration with education institutions in occupied Palestine, which would include but is not limited to: Ending all study abroad trips to the occupation and removing any advertising of third-party trips on university platforms. Ending all student exchange programs with universities in occupied Palestine. Ending all research partnerships with universities and other institutions in occupied Palestine.
  • UWM must release a public statement condemning the ongoing genocide of Palestinians by the apartheid state of Israel – a regime responsible for the slaughter of over 40,000 civilians and the obliteration of every single university in Gaza.

A member of the UWM Muslim Student Association board, Ameen answered questions from several TV reporters before Monday’s rally began.

“The bare minimum is for UWM University to release a statement,” Ameen added. “There are UWM students at this university currently who have family members who have died because of missile strikes in Gaza. These are our university students and our university needs to address what is happening.”

Community members speak out

Marquette University Students and members of the Greater Milwaukee community joined the UWM students’ protest. Organizations represented included Jewish Voice for Peace-Milwaukee, the Islamic Society of Milwaukee, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Students for a Democratic Society and the Milwaukee Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, among others. 

Carrying a banner for Jewish Voice for Peace, Ren (who gave only her first name) explained, “I am here because I support complete freedom for Palestinians and I am disgusted with Israel’s actions. Before I converted to Judaism, many of my Jewish friends were anti-Zionists. I did not realize how much Zionism was in Jewish life in America. I feel it is important to have Jewish voices wherever possible to show it is not antisemitic to say, ‘Free Palestine.’”

Wisconsin Rep. Ryan Clancy (D-Milwaukee) spoke at the encampment, saying if UWM Chancellor Mark Mone were serious about free speech, “he would pick up the phone and have the charges against the Milwaukee 5 dropped.” He was referring to students arrested in February for an hours-long sit-in demonstration held by UWM’s Students for a Democratic Society.

Clancy also Tweeted his support of the protest from the encampment.

Photo courtesy of Ryan Clancy

When Wisconsin Rep. Ryan Clancy was a Milwaukee County supervisor, he introduced a ceasefire resolution the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors adopted (in a modified version) in March.

“We are so excited to see all the support from the community,” a student from UWM’s Students for Justice in Palestine said. “We need the community here now more than ever. We’ve waited seven months while every university in Gaza was demolished. 

“We cannot just sit here and do nothing,” she continued. “This encampment will take as long as it needs until our demands are met.”

Photo gallery by Mouna Photography