The Limits Of Student Power

‘History is Speaking with Gusto’


It is perhaps the biggest student movement since Vietnam. Since April 17–when, in a serious escalation of repression, Columbia University brought the New York Police Department in to destroy a student solidarity encampment, similar encampments emerged on campuses from coast to coast [as well as in Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia]. In turn, university administrations, in coordination with police departments, responded with overwhelming force. At least 2,300 students, professors, and solidarity activists have been arrested at nearly 50 schools across over a dozen states. In truth, the crackdowns have concentrated student resolve and revitalized a solidarity movement frustrated by a lack of progress.

In a matter of days, dozens of Gaza solidarity encampments have sprung up on over a hundred university campuses across the US. It’s the biggest student movement since the anti-war protests that swept U S universities in the 1960s.

As encampments are erected across the country, students have peacefully called for divestment from Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. In response, many school administrations are inviting police onto campuses to violently crack down on students.

For over six months, tens of thousands of Jews and countless other people of conscience have fought to end the genocide Israel is committing against Palestinians in Gaza. They continue to demand that the Biden administration end its support for the Israeli military.

As the movement for a ceasefire grows, students across the country have organized in the thousands to demand that their universities cut ties with Israel’s apartheid regime. Over 100 Gaza solidarity encampments have been established on campuses across the country, reclaiming the space as “liberated zones” and “popular universities for Gaza.” Student chapters of Jewish Voice for Peace have been involved in organizing at least 47 of these encampments.

At the University of Chicago, students established the “Popular University for Gaza” on the main quad of the University of Chicago campus. Painted boards bearing the messages “Disclose, divest, and repair” and “In solidarity with Gaza forever” have been erected around the encampment. At the University of Minnesota, after their pro-Palestine encampment was cleared and nine were arrested, hundreds of student protesters set up a new encampment, linking arms to protect it after fresh arrests were threatened.

In response to these peaceful student anti-war protests against genocide, many school administrations have invited police onto campus for violent crackdowns.

At Columbia University, negotiations broke down and the university began issuing fresh suspensions. In response, hundreds of Columbia students and professors occupied Hamilton Hall, one of the buildings occupied by anti-war student protesters in 1968. Faculty linked arms with students to protect protesters inside.

Students renamed the occupied building “Hind’s Hall,” after 6-year-old Hind Rajab, who was murdered alongside her family by the Israeli military in Gaza. For hours, Hind was left to bleed out as Israeli forces fired on ambulances trying to reach her.

Meanwhile, the Columbia administration again called the cops on their own students. As student journalists were confined to Pulitzer Hall, and told they would be arrested if they left, hundreds of NYPD police clad in riot gear swarmed Columbia’s campus to forcefully disperse the encampment and remove the students occupying Hind’s Hall. Cops deployed an armoured vehicle to gain entry to Hind’s Hall and brutalised the dozens of student protesters who were doing nothing but peacefully occupying a building on their own campus.

One video shows a protester being thrown down the stairs; another shows cops entering Hind’s Hall with their guns drawn to confront the unarmed student protesters inside. Just a few miles away, dozens of cops were deployed in a simultaneous raid to crack down on protesters at CCNY, where police also used excessive force against peaceful students, arresting dozens. Across the city, hundreds of protesters were arrested.

On air, a student reporter for Columbia’s radio station fought back tears at the news that Columbia President Minouche Shafik has requested the NYPD remain on campus for the remainder of the school year.

At UCLA, tens of thousands of dollars were crowd-funded to bus Zionist agitators to campus, where they surrounded student protesters. In one video, a woman waving an Israeli flag is seen shouting at students: “Go to Palestine. I hope they rape you.”

 Masked Zionist vigilantes from outside campus attempted to tear down the students’ encampment. They beat students with bats, threw bricks, sprayed mace, and shot fireworks at protesters, all while police stood by and watched. Later last night, UCLA student journalists who were walking on campus were followed and assaulted by Zionist counter-protesters.

As dozens of encampments are erected across the country, students peacefully calling for divestment from Israel’s oppression of Palestinians are facing an increasingly violent crackdown by the state.

Police clad in riot gear have been called in to clear encampments by force, and over 1,000 students have been arrested in total. Videos taken of police raids have shown students and professors being thrown to the ground and handcuffed, shoved, beaten, and dragged by militarized police.

Across the country, cops are using pepper spray, rubber bullets, stun grenades, and tear gas on students, many of whom are still teenagers, at the behest of the university administrators who claim to care for their safety. At Arizona State University, videos showed cops removing the hijabs of female Muslim protesters. At Tulane, mounted police rode through the student encampment.

Pro-Israel agitators are also doing everything in their power to smear protesters and get encampments shut down by force. When a man waving an Israeli flag showed up to Northeastern University’s Gaza solidarity encampment and shouted “Kill the Jews,” the university had 100 pro-Palestine student protesters arrested in response. The Northeastern administration justified the crackdown in a statement citing this anti-Semitic threat—neglecting to specify that it was a pro-Israel provocateur making that threat.

It’s clear that the only violence happening on U S campuses is being perpetrated by the state and Zionist agitators. Yet the U S media and pro-genocide politicians have gone to great lengths to portray peaceful, student anti-war demonstrations as violent, anti-Semitic mobs, in order to justify the increasingly brutal crackdown on the right to protest.

Attempts to smear the biggest student anti-war movement since Vietnam won’t distract agitators from the urgent work at hand: ending the genocide in Gaza. Palestinians are digging with their hands to unearth the bodies of their loved ones wrapped in plastic and dumped in mass graves outside Nasser and Al-Shifa hospital, some of them with their hands bound, others still connected to cannulas.

 Movements continue to be inspired by these courageous students’ steadfastness in the face of state violence and relentless attacks on their character.

After five consecutive days of demonstrations, students at Northwestern won a series of concessions from their university, including increased transparency around the school’s investments. Back in New York, over 90 percent of Barnard students voted to divest from Israeli apartheid, and in Rhode Island, students successfully pressured Brown University administrators to hold a vote on divestment.

Nearly seven months into the Israeli government’s genocide, people are still fighting for a permanent ceasefire. As students across the country stand their ground and escalate their tactics under mounting state violence, it’s critical that peace movements across the world keep the momentum.

The student movement is writing a new chapter of history. The protesters are building on decades of struggle for Palestine and pulling people into a radically new future.

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Vol 56, No. 48, May 26 - Jun 1, 2024