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Don't stand on the sidelines – get involved, and do it for higher education, climate activism, global harmony, or another cause that's important to you.

That was one theme from an Occupy the Oval demonstration Tuesday at the University of Montana led by members of the Missoula Campus-Community Coalition – formerly the UM Advocacy Coalition.

Around noon, students, faculty and community members gathered as part of a week of activism. They asked for tuition to remain affordable with only a 3 percent to 5 percent increase, cuts to be applied equally to programs, and the state to increase its share of the cost of higher education from 40 percent to 50 percent.

On the lawn, advocates had raised one large tent – filled with boxes of pizzas – and pitched five smaller ones.

"Neutrality is not an option!!!" read one sign hanging from a tent.

"Students not customers" stated another.

A maroon Griz paw was painted on a banner.

On a plaid blanket spread on the grass lay a couple of books: "Guide to Free Speech on Campus," and "One-Dimensional Man," a philosophical critique of capitalism and consumerism.

Olivia Schuler, a senior and political science major, sat on the lawn with her laptop before the speeches began. She said she was part of the demonstration because she is worried for the university.

"I'm proud of having spent some time here, and I would like it (UM) to succeed once I'm gone," said Schuler, who graduates this semester.

Enrollment already has declined, and the Great Falls woman fears that tuition increases could further hurt UM. Schuler said she understands some increase is reasonable, but she hasn't heard adequate explanations of all of the alternatives.

Last week, a demonstration by the Associated Students of the University of Montana rallying people to contact their legislators drew an estimated 120 people. This week's event had fewer people, but more visible causes.

Tables on the lawn touted signs for "Students for Peace and Justice," "Industrial Workers of the World," "Forward Montana," and at least one offered pizzas and water bottles.


At the mic, faculty member Doug Coffin asked the crowd, an estimated 50 at one point, to consider the effect of tuition increases on a family earning just $30,000, or a single mom making even less. The former legislator also asked people to get involved and vote. 

"We're losing money for higher education because we're losing elections," Coffin said.

While a tuition increase of $1,000 can be a "death sentence" for a student whose family doesn't earn much, he also said the university and its students are an economic boon to Missoula. For every 1,000 students lost, he said, the local economy loses $50 million a year.

Many people in the crowd documented the event. They carried cameras and video gear and trained cellphones on the speakers. 

In a passionate speech that drew some cheers, Curtis Schiwal also asked that students been seen first as people, not as commodities or a source of income. His generation feels a sense of hopelessness and apathy, he said, and some wonder if they can believe in the American dream.

In his own approach, he echoed one theme running through the collection of ideals and demands. The group had the right to be upset and angry, but also the power to speak, to occupy, he said.

"I am not inclined to merely hope. I'm inclined to act," Schiwal said.

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Higher Education Reporter

Higher education / University of Montana reporter for the Missoulian.