Student – ‘maid’ effort

By BenitaZepeda

For more than six years, workers at the Congress Hotel, 520 S. Michigan Ave., have been on strike seeking higher wages. On Nov. 3 at 5 p.m., students in Raymond Lohne’s History of the American Working Class course showed Columbia’s support by joining protesters on the picket line in front of the hotel.

Students in two sections of the class were cast in different roles to portray when they joined the protesters.  Some of the students dressed as maids, while the others portrayed members of “The View,” a popular television show where four women discuss various issues.

The hotel is located on Columbia’s urban campus and many students walk past protesters each day. Students in the two classes said they felt it was important to do something different to draw attention to the cause.

Lohne said this was the second time his class has participated in the strike and they are calling the event The Maid Parade. Last year’s event was called Drilling the Maids, where students dressed as maids and a drill sergeant called out cadence to encourage the workers.

“I have been teaching here for about seven years and for all those years, that strike has been going on,” Lohne said. “I got the idea that maybe my students should be involved in making some history instead of just studying it.”

The purpose of the roles was for the second part of the project, which was to film their participation in the protest. The film will be uploaded to a Web site, such as YouTube, when it is completed.

The major focal point of the Columbia protesters were two students dressed up as President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, surrounded by Secret Service detail.

When Obama was campaigning, he joined the protesters outside of the hotel, showing support for their cause. He said that he would be back on the picket line as president.

“Columbia students have something that very few students in America have,”

Lohne said. “The majority of the students that are here are dreamers and I like to encourage them that their dreams can change the world.”

Lohne said some of the students are planning on writing to Obama in hopes of drawing his attention back to the cause. He also said students need to know their voices are appreciated and they can be heard.

“You could see the looks on the students’ faces as the union workers thanked them,” Lohne said. “It was sort of electric. I don’t think that is something that can be taught in a classroom.”

Spencer Rysman, a junior graphic design major, created posters and was dressed as a maid for the protest. He said he hoped more Columbia students would have gotten involved.

“We were hoping to get as many people as possible,” Rysman said. “The more attention that we get, the bigger impact we can make.”

Rysman also said students have a responsibility to get involved and to live up to Columbia’s motto: create change.

“Columbia kind of has this reputation of being able to put on a show, being about to put on some sort of performance and to draw attention to ourselves because we’re creative people,” Rysman said. “These people have been out here for something like [six] years and they still aren’t getting proper wages. It just seems silly to sit back and not do anything at all.”

Andy King, junior film directing major, signed up early in the course to be the director of all the different film students in the class. He has become more involved with the protest by starting an online social networking presence of The Maid Parade.

“The ultimate goal was to create a short film to post online,” King said.

He said he hopes this film can show students that if they get involved, they can make a difference. He also said he hopes to turn this into a documentary to get done by next spring or fall.

“I hope that once I get this edited and out there that at least a few people, and maybe build from there, will have some sort of concern and think maybe we should do more about this,” King said. “This is something that I had definitely had some indifference to in the past, and hearing somebody talk about the plight of the working class is a lot different than making up these opinions on your own.”

When asked about how to combat the idea that each individual voice cannot make a difference, Lohne responded with the example of Harriet Beecher Stowe writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

“One voice, one person, one creative idea can change the world,” Lohne said. “That is a classic example of how altering the culture of your time can spark massive movement.”

For questions or ways to get involved with The Maid Parade, e-mail