College Encampments Seek Divestment from Israel’s Genocide of Palestine

Students around the United States have shown incredible principles in the face of genuine threats to their current and future livelihoods. Grand Rapids Democratic Socialists of America fully support their efforts to demand that their schools divest from the profiteering of the ongoing genocide in Palestine.

Police in riot gear stand in front of the sign that reads "Encampment for Gaza! Divest Now!"
photo by Josiah Walker

This last month we’ve seen the next stage of development of the pro-Palestine protests in the form of student encampments on college campuses. Columbia University sparked the movement on April 17th, but it quickly spread across the coast then to the rest of the U.S., including two encampments in Michigan; one at University of Michigan in Ann Arbor (which was brutally broken up last week) and the other at Michigan State University in East Lansing (which shut down on May 2nd). The protests have immediately brought backlash from the police and some members of the public, totaling 2,200 arrests in the United States. Others have been quick to note its striking resemblance to the student protests against apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, and against the Vietnam War in the 1960s.

One university, California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, a trade school in Arcata, California, managed to grow their protest large enough to occupy two of the campus buildings. They held this ground for days before the police swarmed early in the morning to catch them off-guard. The working class background of the students undoubtedly factored into their more militant and successful tactics – the broader American left could benefit greatly from paying close attention to what worked at the Cal Humboldt occupation.

Columbia, UT Texas, and UCLA also had violent police crackdowns, explicitly violating their first amendment right to protest. The police put students in direct danger; one officer even fired their gun at Columbia. In response Joe Biden said “dissent must never lead to disorder,” which is an openly fascist statement to make. Disorder becomes necessary when the “order” is what needs to be changed. Of course, Joe Biden would never renounce the disorder necessitated by the American Revolution.

MLK said it best in his letters from Birmingham Jail: “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a ‘more convenient season.’

On Saturday, May 4th at the University of Michigan, student protestors interrupted the commencement ceremony. The Guardian covers this in detail – we thought this was a particularly salient point:

Israel has […] destroyed every university in Gaza, in addition to killing at least 5,479 students, 261 teachers and 95 university professors, according to the UN, which has condemned Israel’s actions as “scholasticide”.

Also at the University of Michigan, on May 15th, thirty masked protestors left fake corpses outside the house of the chair of the university’s governing board (Associated Press covers this). Their encampment on the Diag is still up.

One college, Evergreen State College, has had school officials actually reach an agreement with the student protestors. However, when we take a closer look, the agreement is of course vague enough for a university administrator to feel comfortable with – they’ve promised to “work towards divesting from companies that profit from the occupation of Palestinian territories,” with no real timeline. The school is notable for being the alma mater of Rachel Corrie, an American activist who was killed in 2003 in Rafah by the Israel Defense Forces. Time will tell if Evergreen State College actually divests. If you would like an exhaustive list of universities that have made compromises with students, you can check that out here.

If you would like to donate to the cause, please consider giving aid to evacuating Palestinians, or to medical aid like Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP). Second, if you would like to donate to the student activists, consider doing so here, though do note that bail funds tend to get an overwhelming amount of support. No arrests have been made at the Michigan encampments, so check to see you’re giving to someone who needs the aid.

Where do we go from here? If these protests don’t achieve their goals, what are the movement’s next steps? How can the working class gain the power it needs to demand a ceasefire in Gaza from the ruling class? If you’re interested in answering questions like these, please consider attending a meeting at the Grand Rapids DSA, we’d love to talk to you about how you can get involved.