Central Michigan Action focus on election, campaigns in first semester
What started as a group of students campaigning for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential race in March turned into a group organizing a 300-plus-person rally at Central Michigan University in November.
Central Michigan Action, described by members as a progressive organizing and action network, held its first meeting in September, said Evan Wittenbach, a Rockford junior and lead campus organizer. The group meets bi-weekly for 90 minutes to discuss issues affecting the campus and nation.
After the election of President-elect Donald Trump on Nov. 8, Jon Arlt, a fixed-term sociology, anthropology and social work department faculty member, attended the “Peace and Solidarity” rally on campus. Arlt said he noticed the concerns of students, adding they were "angry, hurting and scared."
Arlt and CM Action organized the “Stop Hate: Walkout and Protest” on Nov. 15, which saw more than 300 people invade the front of Warriner Hall to voice their disapproval.
Wittenbach said the group had been working toward a demonstration for some time. When Trump won, the group decided to use the president-elect's "hateful" rhetoric as their basis for action.
“We said this increase in hate speech and hate crimes is very troubling,” Wittenbach said. “We’re asking the university to commit to standing behind its at-risk students, racial and ethnic minorities and members of the LGBTQ+ community.”
Wittenbach said CM Action delivered a letter to the office of University President George Ross with a plan of action the group has dubbed the "Student Safety Campaign" on the day of the Stop Hate protest.
As part of the Student Safety Campaign, CM Action requested three initiatives to improve student safety on campus: instituting a gender and sexuality center on campus, including important phone numbers such as the CMU Police Department, Safe Rides and Sexual Aggression Peer Advocates (SAPA) on the back of student IDs and to incorporating LGBTQ+ language into SAPA’s “No Zebras, No Excuses” program shown at freshman orientation.
Ross issued a letter on Nov. 14 expressing his support of students planning to attend the Stop Hate protest. CM Action's letter sent the next day thanked Ross and outlined the three initiatives. After receiving no word from Ross since then, CM Action left voicemails to Ross’ office phone over Thanksgiving break.
The group sent an email to members asking them to get student leaders and professors to sign a letter supporting the SSC. Wittenbach said on Dec. 5 the group has received more than 100 signatures.
“What we can do is take concrete action to make CMU a better place for our students and community members as well,” Wittenbach said.
Arlt said he had an early interest in the Sanders campaign, but teaching six classes in the 2015 Fall Semester kept him busy.
He created an off-campus wing titled Mid-Michigan for Bernie, teaming up with Students for Bernie Sanders at CMU, a group in which Wittenbach was president of. Arlt said they did so much work for Sanders in the primaries, Isabella County voted higher for Sanders than any other county in Michigan — a state Sanders won in the primaries.
“The reason I got involved in this is because I couldn’t not,” Arlt said. “Working on the (Sanders) campaign fundamentally changed my life, but electoral politics was hollow, fragile and brittle. This type of organizing — this is what moves the world.”
CM Action, which Witenbach said has more than 50 active members, is working on a NODAPL campaign, which opposes Energy Transfer Partners' Dakota Access Pipeline. Arlt said the group wants to target Wells Fargo, which is helping fund the construction of the pipeline. A re-routing of the pipeline was announced on Dec. 4, but Wittenbach said the campaign is still ongoing.
Wittenbach said CM Action’s ultimate goal is to make CMU a safe place for all students and an equitable institution for everyone.
“We’re moving onward and upward,” Wittenbach said. “I think we have a large capacity to run a few campaigns at a time. I think we’re going to see our capacity grow as we continue to pursue these actions and make a difference at CMU. When people see that difference being made, the interest in our group is only going to grow."