A CLICHE that haunts the University of Wisconsin from September to June says culture starts on the coasts and eventually filters in to the midwest. Some products of Wisconsin's famous cheese and milk go East to college and look for their culture; the rest go to Madison and wait for it to come. Last week, culture, politics, and 2000 National Guardsmen came to Wisconsin, but they arrived in a typically Big Ten way.
Even at its height last Thursday, the demonstration at Madison resembled a homecoming carnival more than a protest. For the University of Wisconsin, Wednesday and Thursday are the end of one weekend and the beginning of another. Besides the protestors, thousands of students lined the streets to watch the National Guard go through its maneuvers. Coeds walked around with instamatics taking pictures to send home to Whitefish Bay or Eau Claire, and boys wore their best stapress levies and sweaters for the occasion.
As one student said after returning to classes Monday, "Like when you have two or three grand pigs out there, hell, I'm game. They were handing out sandwiches and beer on the picket lines. But like no pigs, and pftz, there's no excitement."
Marching in groups, students flowed from buildings to streets, blocking entrances and tying up traffic. They walked around streets making up chants that sounded more like high school cheers until troops came. When the Guard appeared to clear streets, the students filtered away through alleys and buildings to join other groups on other streets and start again.
Black students understood their mass of student support far better than anyone else in Wisconsin last week. Madison students will turn out in hundreds to picket and march, and in thousands to watch the National Guard. Confrontation politics, however, is as popular as Wisconsin's 0 and 17 football team. The week-long meeting between police and students approached confrontation often, but it never came.
Throughout the week blacks had a stranglehold control over the protesting students. The leaders, who remained anonymous until the end of the week, met secretly early in the mornings and emerged at 10 a.m. to explain the day's tactics to white students awaiting orders in the Student Union.
The tactics for last Thursday were similar to those of the rest of the week. They called for three groups of students--one to picket classes, one to march in front of the chancellor's office, and one to move around on streets blocking traffic. The blacks gave only three direct instructions, "Remain mobile, don't panic, don't get maced." Students were supposed to show their numbers but not to demonstrate their force, for the blacks needed only numbers to win the psychological battle with the university over the popularity of their demands.
ORIGINALLY three blacks led each of the groups, but as the number of students involved grew to thousands, there were not enough black leaders and several of the early ones felt that they could not head groups without risking arrest. At this point Wisconsin's SDS offered to do anything to help the black students' cause.
The blacks accepted them warily, often contradicting inflammatory speeches by white radicals during rallies, and together they gave the Wisconsin protest its core of leaders. Black students urged non-violence, knowing that students would go no further, but in large crowds, white radicals sometimes took over the leadership and tried to force confrontations with the police, alienating the blacks' moderate support.
While the week was punctuated with violence, these were usually encounters between Madison police--"first that Dow thing, now this. Let's take a few of them with us"--and white radicals. The National Guard appeared to be having fun playing army for a week. The units Governor Knowles called in were almost exclusively from farm areas -- there was only one unit from Milwaukee, Wisconsin's only center of black population. They could not hold a formation and they were soon bored by all the marching around.
The reaction of Wisconsin students to the black protest was strikingly uniform. The black demands represented a legitimate complaint about the university, and sooner or later something would be done to correct it. "The demands will be met eventually, and most of the blacks will be kicked out," one of the active white protestors said, "this doesn't affect me physically even though I suppose it bothers me morally that I'm not going to be punished.
TOWARD achieving most of the 13 black demands, the student protest went as far as it possibly could. University chancellor H. Edwin Young outlined what was being done to recruit more blacks--faculty and students--and promised to do more to get a Black Studies department established. But Wisconsin is not a tightly organized private university; all the black changes require the approval of several of the school's various faculties and ultimately the Wisconsin state legislature which approves the final budget each year.
Though students had asked the chancellor to agree to all the demands, most were not within his jurisdiction and his assent means little to a state legislature which was already hostile toward radicalism on the Madison campus. By the end of last week, most black leaders had resigned themselves to the fact that their demonstration was only serving to dramatize the power structure of a state school--the preponderant legislative interference in the university.
With 2000 National Guard troops on campus the dramatization was more than anyone expected. The State of Wisconsin reacted as if it were setting an example for the country: if you don't know how to keep your kids in line, Wisconsin can sure show you how. The Governor compared the black protest to every campus demonstration in the last two years.
The National Guard appeared everywhere on the university Thursday and Friday. The Guard occupied every building, and truck loads of Guardsmen followed student crowds to different street intersections around the campus. Wherever students went the Guard followed close behind. No one, however, was ready to start any major battles.
Blacks have vowed to continue their protest this week, but they have asked their white support to return to classes. The situation at Wisconsin -- a stalemate from the beginning -- remains a stalemate now. Wisconsin has had its protest this year; the Guard has gone home. The 13 black demands will now go before university and legislative committees where a few will be adopted in a modified form while university officials sift through demonstration pictures to single out black leaders for punishment.