By Sophie Squire
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2903

The fire this time: mass movement for Palestine on US campuses

The movement is rocking the US establishment
Issue 2903
Najla Said, daughter of the late Edward Said, arrive at Columbia’s solidarity encampment in support of the US student movement

Najla Said, daughter of the late Edward Said, arrive at Columbia’s solidarity encampment in support of the US student movement (Picture: @NationalSJP on Twitter)

A militant movement for Palestine is spreading across campuses in the US. Protests, occupations and encampments have spread to more than 40 campuses after students at Columbia University and Barnard College took action.

The occupation at Columbia was still standing strong after ten days on Friday, despite the police trying to smash up the encampment.

The protests have forced university management to enter negotiations with students, who are pushing for the university to divest from all companies that fund and support the Israeli apartheid state. 

“We want to stay visible,” said Columbia student protester Mahmoud Khalil. “The university should do something about what we’re asking for, about the genocide that’s happening in Gaza. They should stop investing in this genocide.” 

The movement is gathering steam fast, with students on more campuses springing into action every day. 

In New York, hundreds of protesters set up an encampment at Gould Plaza at New York university earlier this week. They ignored orders from university bosses who said they’d face punishment if they stayed. 

As cops tried to remove them from Gould Plaza, they chanted, “We will not stop, we will not rest. Disclose. Divest.” 

At the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, students were furious on Thursday that university bosses were trying to ban their group from campus. The FIT Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) said they wouldn’t leave the Goodman Centre until their demands were met, which they have renamed the People’s Museum. 

The strength of the protests at the University of Southern California forced university management to cancel its commencement ceremony, fearing protesters would disrupt it. 

On Wednesday, students at Brown University in Rhode Island said they would not move their tents despite university bosses saying they were breaching university policy. 

Niyanta Nepal, president-elect of the student body, said, “What we’re putting on the line is so minimal in risk compared to what Gazans are going through. This is the least we can be doing, as youth in a privileged situation, to take ownership of the situation.”

The lengths to which the US state would go to stop the protest were on display throughout the week. Protesters and students spotted and photographed snipers on the roof of buildings pointed at crowds at Ohio state university and Indiana University Bloomington. 

State troopers, some on horseback, charged students at the University of Texas on Wednesday. Lines of cops in military attire marched onto the university campus to try and intimidate students. 

In total 34 protesters were arrested by the cops and almost 100 detained. And the cops fired rubber bullets at protesters at the University of Southern California, reportedly hitting a student. 

Students do not face repression alone; workers stand by the students they teach. Hundreds of workers at Columbia University walked out this week in solidarity with their students. 

A group of workers at the University of Texas wrote a statement stating that they would be taking part in “No classes, No grading. No assignments. No work” while the cops occupy their university. 

The group added that there could be no “business as usual” until they left. Others stood in front of their students to protect them from police repression. 

Steven Thrasher is an assistant professor at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. He said, “Once we heard that they were going to be doing this encampment, we wanted to be here as a presence to help protect them and support them.” 

He explained that workers and students were using a colour code system to identify whether they are willing to be arrested. The assistant professor explained that red indicates you are willing to risk arrest. 

“And I’m a level red,” said Thrasher. “I was horrified to see students around the country being assaulted by cops. So I wanted to put my body on the line before they could touch our students.”

Students worldwide are inspired by the protests in the US. There were solidarity protests on university campuses in France, Turkey, Italy and Australia. 

And pro-Palestinian students occupied the centre of the University of Warwick to hit back at the universities’ ties to the Israeli state. Students and workers here in Britain must follow the lead of those fighting in the US. 

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance