The Student Movement Survives and Grows

Student encampment for Gaza in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK.

Since Wednesday, April 17, when hundreds of students began an encampment at Columbia University to demand the university take actions to separate itself from Israel and to protest their president’s caving in to the pressure of right-wing members of Congress, the student movement has continued and spread!

In the three weeks since then, the movement has spread rapidly, first among schools in the Northeast and on the West Coast, and then into the South, where students in the thousands protested in Austin, Atlanta, and other college towns.

Condemnation and criticism of the movement has been harsh, unrelenting, and dishonest. Right- wing Republicans, eager to attack education in any form, but especially elite universities, jumped like rabid animals at their targets, labelling any criticism of Zionism or Israel anti-Semitic and demanding that professors and scholars be fired for teaching and writing history, or for taking a stand in support of Palestinian lives. McCarthyism is making a comeback, although instead of a caricature of a Communist as their target, now it’s the supposedly privileged and supposedly anti-Semitic college student.

Joe Biden and other Democrats also can’t resist focusing on supposed anti-Semitism rather than the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent people in Gaza. In a recent speech, Biden condemned a “ferocious surge of anti-Semitism” (without mentioning that many of the anti-Zionist protesters are themselves Jewish) and then forcefully stated that “Hamas unleashed this terror” (conveniently forgetting the more than 100 years of Zionist expansion, violence, and oppression of Palestinians that caused groups like Hamas to come into being).

Police repression also began rapidly despite the well organized and almost entirely peaceful nature of the protests. The first Columbia encampment was removed one day after it began, with about 100 student arrests. New York University also had protesters arrested, followed by the University of Texas at Austin, where heavily armed police used force against peaceful, unarmed protesters. At Emory University in Atlanta, cops attacked protesters and professors alike, arresting students for just beginning a protest and slamming at least one veteran professor to the ground. And last week, after Columbia students occupied a building in response to Columbia’s intransigence, the University shut down the campus to everyone, and hundreds of police executed a militarized storming of the building. And worst, on the UCLA campus, peaceful protesters were savagely attacked by Zionist thugs for hours, without campus police or Los Angeles police intervening to defend the protesters. The scene looked like a war. The next day, despite their heroism, the protesters (who had been attacked!) were all arrested and the encampment was dismantled, while their attackers have not been arrested. Nationwide, more than 2,500 peaceful protesters have been arrested so far.

Make no mistake about it: these unprovoked and violent attacks on students are raw political repression. In the case of UCLA, we saw something close to outright fascism, much like the Nazi Brownshirts in 1920s Germany would attack the meetings or rallies of their political enemies, beginning brawls and spreading nationalistic violence.

But despite the verbal and physical repression, the movement has not stopped.

There are still encampments at dozens of schools in the U.S., and dozens more in nations around the world. The University of California at San Diego, UCLA, Harvard, MIT, SUNY Purchase, Rutgers-Newark and Hunter College in NY have all had new surges of activity, which included not only mass marches and rallies with students and faculty, but also some new encampments, and also more arrests. Cal-Berkeley’s encampment is still vibrant, with more than 150 tents and hundreds of participants. Copenhagen University in Denmark, Ghent University in Belgium, and Barcelona University in Spain have all seen encampments spring up in just the past week.

We applaud the heroism and tenacity of these many thousands of young people. They have chosen to put their bodies on the line because, as a few of them have said, their small amount of suffering is nothing compared to the horror Gazans are experiencing.

While it remains to be seen where this movement will lead, the students are once again showing us a way forward. But they cannot alone bring about the change that they want. In order to stand up to police and political repression, in order to bring an end to U.S. support for Zionism, in order to abolish Zionism entirely, they will need the support of the working class. Only the larger working class can join the students can lead the struggle to bring capitalist society to a halt until the carnage in Palestine ends.