CARBONDALE, IL (KFVS) - A group of students are hoping to make Monday, May 2 a day that sparks change, not a day that lives in infamy on the Southern Illinois University campus in spite of threats of racist violence and rioting.
"Our thought with the strike was that we could have a day that was a full stop that would be celebratory day," said one male May 2 Strike Committee member who identified himself only as Jay. "All the things that students, professors, even administrators complain about every day but don't feel like they fit into legitimate complaints can just come out with them and we can have a real conversation."
Members of the SIU May 2 Strike Committee told Heartland News they initially wanted to remain nameless so as not to be seen as leaders of a movement for the people. Tuesday, two members spoke to Carly O'Keefe on condition of anonymity for another reason.
Two separate investigations on campus are linked, but not connected to the May 2 Strike effort.
Someone, apparently inspired by the group, spray painted graffiti on the wall of Faner Hall. The most concerning to members of the Strike Committee was the giant statement in large red letters that read "Riot Proof? We'll see."
"In general, I have no problem with graffiti," Jay said. "My problem with this specific graffiti about the riot is that it hit the wrong note entirely. It scared people where we were trying to empower people and encourage them."
Jay and his cohort, a female strike committee member known only as Bay, said they did not recognize the people pictured in several surveillance photos connected with the graffiti incident circulated by the SIU Department of Public Safety.
"We are not responsible for those things, and so for that reason now more than ever – we want to maintain that it has always been about organizing a collective struggle, everyone should be involved," Bay said. "Certain people have chosen to be involved in ways that we personally disagree with in terms of expressing racism and expressing a desire to incite violence, and that was never our intention and still isn't."
The racism to which Bay referred was a racially-charged re-dubbing of the May 2 Strike Committee call to action video posted on YouTube. The remake changes the wording to include racial slurs, and calls for lynchings and other violent acts on May 2. The imposter video has since been removed from YouTube and SIU is investigating its origin.
"I was disgusted by it," Bay said. "To see it in response to our call for people to have a conversation about issues among all of us – even including the people who made that video – made me more impassioned to make this strike happen."
In spite of the criminal investigations, threats of violence and racism, organizers said they are not deterred from their plans to push ahead for non-violent demonstrations.
"Things are changing all the time, but it's for the worse," Jay said. "The only way to make them change for the better is to rediscover that social solidarity. So that's the wager of this strike. Yes, we're planning to go ahead with May 2."
SIU interim chancellor Brad Colwell told reporters in a news conference Monday that he and the university are fully supportive of a peaceful day of student demonstrations.
"We intended and still intend that this is a day that is peaceful, but we also want to emphasize that peaceful doesn't mean obedient," Jay said. "We would like it to be a celebratory day -- a day that breaks with the norm. That means don't be afraid to break stupid rules like putting up posters or having barbecues or dancing. Those are the things that we've called for. Those are the kinds of things that we encourage people to organize for themselves. We insist that they be non-violent."