Indiana Daily Student

IU students, unhoused people pitch tents to protest city’s treatment of unhoused community

<p>Dozens of protesters march into campus Saturday afternoon for the “March to End the Madness.&#x27;&#x27; The group walked to IU&#x27;s tailgate fields where they hoped to gather attention from the ongoing NCAA men’s basketball tournament games. </p>

Dozens of protesters march into campus Saturday afternoon for the “March to End the Madness.'' The group walked to IU's tailgate fields where they hoped to gather attention from the ongoing NCAA men’s basketball tournament games.

More than 100 people sat in tents and chanted in support of Bloomington’s unhoused population for about three hours Saturday, across the street from Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall where a NCAA tournament game was taking place. 

IU Police Department officers had told demonstrators 10 minutes earlier to dismantle them. They decided to keep them up anyway.

“We’ll march to end the madness, we shall not be moved!” they shouted in the direction of Assembly Hall. “Just like a tree that’s planted by the water, we shall not be moved.”

Related: [‘Nothing but a ruse to get what they wanted’: Bloomington residents react to Seminary Square Park homeless camp clear out]

The sit-in at the tailgate fields was the last of three demonstrations Thursday through Saturday protesting the City of Bloomington’s evictions of unhoused encampments and Bloomington City Council voting down ordinance 21-06, which would have provided protections for encampments. IU student organizers and Bloomington advocates named “March to End the Madness'' in response to Bloomington hosting six NCAA men’s basketball tournament games from March 18 to 20.

Bloomington advocacy organizations including the Bloomington Homeless Coalition and IU student groups including the Rainbow Coalition organized the demonstrations

The first event took place from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday in Dunn Meadow. All day, people gathered to participate in discussions, collect donations and plan events for the next two days.

Related: [Bloomington’s Chamber of Commerce published members’ comments about the unhoused. We fact-checked them.]

The second day events took place from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday in Dunn Meadow. Organizers conducted a series of solidarity against injustice workshops, such as an art workshop to create protest signs and a workshop on neighborhood zoning.

Before the demonstrators sat in the tailgate fields Saturday, they met in Dunn Meadow to listen to speakers, learn songs and chants, disperse signs and determine the path of their march. They decided to walk from their first location through campus up Jordan Avenue, turn left on 17th Street and end at the tailgate fields. 

Donwaf Townsley and Patrick Saling address a crowd at the Bryan House Saturday. The “March to End the Madness" consisted of multiple events on March 18, 19 and 20. Ethan Levy

Trevor Richardson, an organizer of the event who is currently unhoused, told the crowd it’s unfair that Bloomington seems to care more about college basketball games than taking care of the unhoused population.

“We have historically punished and exploited the vulnerabilities and made criminals out of the most at-risk people, the most disfavored people in our societies,” he said. “That is madness.”

The demonstrators left Dunn Meadow at 11:45 a.m. and marched to the Bryan House, which is the traditional home of IU’s president but not where current IU President Michael McRobbie lives. There, they listened to more speakers, sang and regrouped before marching up Jordan Avenue and 17th Street to the tailgate fields.

Related: [Bloomington City Council votes down proposal to protect homeless encampments 4-4]

The protesters marched in the street, at some points blocking both lanes of traffic. Some protesters carried signs with messages such as, “no housing no peace!” and “united we stand.”

The group stopped in front of the IUPD offices for a few minutes, confronting the fact that IUPD officers removed some of the group’s protest supplies from Dunn Meadow Friday and chanting at the officers in the building.

“They smell like what?” organizer Patrick Saling said to the crowd as they walked up to the building.

“Pigs,” the crowd shouted in response.

The group arrived in the tailgate fields at 1 p.m. and started setting up tents. About 20 minutes later, IUPD officers told the group they had 10 minutes to dismantle the tents or they were going to remove them. They said the group was not allowed to have the tents on university property, but did not cite any specific rule that prohibited students from doing so.

The protesters left the tents up and moved them to the edge of the field bordering 17th street and Woodlawn Avenue. Some, including IU junior Nikko Rocha, sat inside the tents as an extended form of protest against the IUPD.

Related: [Bloomington official: Sheltering unhoused people isn’t part of city's ‘core service area’]

Rocha said she wanted to sit in a tentto let other people know about the mistreatment of Bloomington’s homeless population and the systems that perpetuate extreme poverty in the community.

“To them, the tents represent something that they want to hide under a rug and I want to sit here and demand that it shouldn’t be hidden,” she said. “People need to recognize the madness that is occurring.”

The officers left at about 1:30 p.m. and did not return to remove the tents.

Protesters stayed in the tents until the end of the men’s basketball game between Louisiana State University and St. Bonaventure at about 4 p.m. They wanted the game’s attendees to see their demonstration.

Related: [BPD body camera footage shows unhoused Bloomington resident in final hours alive]

The protestors did not specifically say anything to people walking by unless the people walking from Assembly Hall shouted or asked questions, which some of them did. Many of the responses were people either honking or yelling from their cars.

Following the demonstration, the protesters packed up the 16 tents, remaining food and protest supplies and walked back to Dunn Meadow. The group plans to donate remaining supplies to organizations such as the Bloomington Homeless Coalition.

Crow, who has been homeless, said he believed the demonstration was a success because no one was injured or arrested and demonstrators were able to share the message in support of theunhoused community.

“The impoverished and those without homes and those who are not lucky enough to have a good foot to stand on in our capitalist society, we’re humans too,” Crow said. “We’re just like everybody else, we just had a streak of bad luck.”

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