Rallies share goal of social justice

Allie Kolechta

Two different protests — coincidentally scheduled on the West Mall for the same time Monday — called attention to both the military occupation of Kashmir, India, and the use of sweatshops to produce University apparel.

About 25 students from the UT branch of Oxfam International and Students Against Sweatshops marched into the Main Building and delivered a letter to the office of President William Powers Jr.

They demanded a meeting to discuss an affiliation with the Worker Rights Consortium, which they said would help ensure the apparel and other official UT products are made under ethical conditions. The University is not currently affiliated with the consortium.

Last week, the two groups delivered a letter to Powers’ office with a Nov. 8 deadline for a response on whether they could schedule a meeting, said Billy Yates, international relations junior and a member of Students Against Sweatshops. When they did not receive a response from the administration by the deadline, students in the organization decided to march into the Main Building carrying signs and demanding a meeting.

About eight of the students delivered a letter to a security guard outside of the president’s office. Yates said they plan to continue protesting in the Main Building if they do not receive a response.

“This is going to happen,” he said. “It’s going to get louder if we don’t get a response.”

UT Student Government passed a resolution in April to support the University’s affiliation with the consortium.

The protest was meant to help raise awareness among students of the poor working conditions of those who make University apparel, including 16-hour days, low wages and unreasonably high production quotas, said Cait McCann, co-president of UT’s Oxfam chapter and a Latin American studies senior.

“As a student, I can’t always guarantee that my clothes are going to be made by people who are treated ethically,” she said. “UT as an institution has so much power. UT has the power to demand that all of our apparel is produced ethically so that we can live up to those core values that we have.”

At the same time, students gathered to protest the Indian government’s denial of California Institute of Integral Studies Professor Richard Shapiro’s entry into Kashmir without a legal basis.

The solidarity protest called upon the government to revoke the ban and promote peaceful conflict resolution in Kashmir, said Snehal Shingavi, an assistant English professor who attended the protest. The synced protests will help raise awareness nationally, he said.

“It’s pretty astonishing — the Indian government has really clamped down on Kashmir,” he said. “Unfortunately, I think that most people don’t even know where Kashmir is. I think that when you see people protesting and you see those signs, you start to think about where these places are.”