2024 campus encampment movement: Rebellion is justified!

WW Commentary

Beanblossom, a member of the Marxist Youth League Propaganda Committee, gave this talk on May 15 to a meeting of the Buffalo Workers World Party branch.

A movement that began on April 17 with the Gaza Solidarity Encampment at Columbia University in New York City has since spread to universities all over the world. From Alberta, Canada to Buenos Aires, Argentina, from Edinburgh, Scotland, to Cape Town, South Africa, in Kyoto, Japan, and throughout the Indigenous Maori college system of New Zealand, students and community members have shown solidarity with the Palestinian people by occupying space on their public and private universities. 

The student encampment movement of 2024, what some have called the “Student Intifada,” has gone truly worldwide!

It is not a matter of mere happenstance that the encampment movement began and spread like wildfire in the sixth and seventh months of the ongoing genocide of the Palestinian people by the illegal Zionist occupation.

As Monica Moorehead pointed out in a Workers World article published on May 6, working-class and oppressed youth have watched on our phones and televisions for months as the occupation has used bombs, tanks, white phosphorus and the depriving of international humanitarian aid against a population on the brink of starvation. This is all to advance an ethnic cleansing campaign against an Indigenous people under the guise of “self-defense.” (workers.org/2024/05/78509/)

The occupation forces have killed over 35,000 civilians and injured over 78,000. Some 2 million people have been displaced inside of the Gaza Strip and pushed into overburdened and overflowing refugee camps, and this is all without mentioning the thousands still trapped beneath the rubble and buried beneath the earth, yet uncounted.

For young people living in the U.S. (and I’m sure this goes for other youth in other imperialist countries as well), we have been organizing, demonstrating and demanding that the U.S.  government cease providing the occupation with billions of dollars in weapons and munitions for months. About 400,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 13 to demand an immediate and permanent ceasefire after three months of demonstrations in cities, towns and universities all over the U.S. 

Need for escalation of tactics

The representatives of the imperialist ruling class responded by sending more aid to the occupation. Around this time, it became clear to us all, if it wasn’t already clear before, that a significant escalation of tactics was necessary in order to apply more domestic and international pressure on the U.S. ruling class. While marches can be a significant show of strength for our class, more was needed.

Some activists pivoted to attempting to get student associations and city councils to pass ceasefire resolutions. Others (including members of Buffalo’s Marxist Youth League) occupied or demonstrated outside the offices and events of local politicians. It wasn’t until April 17 though, that the movement would witness a significant advance in its tactics and notoriety, with the birth of the Columbia University Gaza Solidarity Encampment. 

This was an ingenious escalation which brought the massive discontent seen in street demonstrations all over the world to a U.S. institution directly complicit in financing and equipping the occupation. It helped to bring this discontent to the universities in a more organized and entrenched form. Within less than a month, there were over 100 Gaza Solidarity Encampments on campuses across the U.S., advancing demands that college administrations divest from corporations and funds with ties to industries making weapons used in the genocide of the Palestinian people. 

The students have not just called for divestment, but for a permanent end to the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. In response to these demonstrations of solidarity, university administrators have called in police departments decked out in riot gear and equipped with rubber bullets, flashbang grenades and drones to smash the encampments.

 Over 3,000 students have been arrested over the last month in the U.S.; many have been suspended, expelled and evicted from campus housing for their participation in the movement. Example after example of police violence and discrimination has occurred at Emory University, University of California, Los Angeles, University of Texas at Austin, California State Polytechnic, New York University, Columbia and even right here at the University at Buffalo.

Cops rush to quash Buffalo encampment

University of Pennsylvania, May 10, 2024.

When we tried alongside other organizations and community members to set up a Gaza Solidarity Encampment at the University of Buffalo with some 80 or so people, we were smashed by the police. Dozens of pigs from at least five local police departments were called in to break up the peaceful demonstration. They waited until just before nightfall, around when Muslim students participating in the demonstration had evening prayers, and then demanded that demonstrators disperse.

Those still defending the encampment formed a wall in front of Muslim students as the police advanced in droves, holding the pigs off as fellow students finished their prayers. At this point, though, the number of students had diminished significantly and the distribution of forces heavily favored police.

Fifteen people, including about seven students, were violently arrested by the pigs here in Buffalo, who were clearly targeting students of color — especially Muslim students. One youth was forced to the ground and held down by four officers during her arrest, over her friends’ protests. Police removed a young woman’s hijab from her head. An officer used his body to lean on a student’s head and neck. And  one Palestinian organizer with Liberation for One, Liberation for All Buffalo had his head slammed against a doorway and was further assaulted by police while in custody.

Stories like this one played out over and over on campuses throughout the U.S., with varying levels of police brutality — but also of success. In some illustrative cases, at universities like Cal-State Polytechnic, UCLA and the City College of New York, students were able to not only defend their encampments for extended periods, but fought back against the police, transitioning from the occupation of space in protest to direct confrontation with the state. 

At other universities, student associations and administrations have, under pressure, agreed to student demands. This was the case at State University of New York Binghamton, SUNY Stony Brook, UC Davis and the Fashion Institute of Technology. 

In the majority of cases, the encampments have either been willingly disbanded or forcefully smashed at the point of contact with the pigs, with students and community members taking arrests in many cases. But the state has made a crucial mistake: The cops do not understand that when they crush one mushroom under their boots, it spreads the spores — so that with each encampment they tear down, with each person they injure or arrest, 10 more of us come to take their place. 

Encampments raise the level of struggle

Whether each individual encampment lasts a few hours or a few days or is smashed immediately is not the point, because each attempt helps to raise the level of the struggle as a whole, by inspiring others to take organized action of a similar sort and by teaching the movement new lessons. Each attempt shows the administrators, the politicians and the pigs that we will not stop fighting back against the war machine until the seemingly endless money-faucet to Israel runs dry, until the bombs stop dropping and until we put an end to the genocide. 

Look at a map of the encampments now that have been put up in countries all over the world. Look at London.  Look at Paris and Mexico City.  Look at the massive solidarity demonstrations taking place in Türkiye and Yemen. The fight for an end to the genocide of the Palestinian people is a truly international one today, and we cannot afford to ignore how the flames of the student movement right here in the center of the empire have worked to rejuvenate and embolden the global struggle.

Many of us will go further.  We will not stop until Israeli apartheid falls, because we see in the illegal Zionist occupation the same kind of militaristic, white supremacist society that the U.S. empire is. We see that Israel is just its most visible tentacle, a testing ground for new drones, new bombs and new crowd control devices to be used on working-class and oppressed peoples all over the globe.

Palestine and the struggle against capitalism

We know that the International Occupation Forces train with the pigs right here in the U.S. and that they share equipment, tactics and information. So when we talk about the police as a tool of white supremacy, used to control, criminalize and intern working-class and oppressed people in support of the interests of our capitalist ruling class, we have to understand that the IOF are another powerful appendage of that same system.

Therefore, we know that our liberation is deeply tied up with that of the Palestinian people, that any victory of the Palestinian resistance against the illegal Zionist occupation and the U.S. empire is also a victory for us, because it weakens our oppressors right here. If we hope to one day live in a world free from capitalist

exploitation and oppression, white supremacy, cis-heteropatriarchy and militarism, we must also hope for and provide material support to the struggle for a free Palestine.

One more thing, on the subject of violent versus peaceful protest in the movement, deserves saying:  The corporate media, the politicians and the school administrators want us to focus on the disruptive or violent tactics used by students and community members to protest the occupation because they can use that to try to justify putting us down using their own violence. What we have to be clear about amongst ourselves and with others who ask or try to criticize us is that the real violence is the violence of the genocidal Zionist occupation, which has spent months slaughtering and starving a civilian population. 

Therefore, we are justified in using any means necessary to help put a stop to the genocide and our government’s complicity in it. Don’t let them confuse you. Our resistance has had the sympathy of the overwhelming global majority and has been tame when compared to the atrocities being committed by the U.S. and Israeli governments.

This talk has been edited.

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