Students, Gaza and a New Vision of Safety

“We Keep Us Safe” is more than a slogan at student encampments. It inspires an avenue to protection and community that undercuts a security state bolstered by genocide—and can show us all a path forward.

Sarah Jaffe

A banner reading "We Keep Us Safe" at the DePaul University student encampment on April 30, 2024. Similar banners have been seen in many student encampments across the country. Sarah-Ji

The sign hanging over the student encampment at Chicago’s DePaul University bore a slogan that has echoed through almost all of the justice movements over the past several years: We Keep Us Safe.” 

The tents beneath it fragile, just a thin layer of canvas between the students and the rest of the world. A statement of purpose and of solidarity; a reminder of the tents so many Palestinians in Gaza are living in right now as they move, and move again, and move again from homes destroyed by U.S.-made bombs delivered by Israeli planes into supposed safe zones.

The tents go up in flames so easily. They are so easily crushed. Who can argue that they are a threat?

But is there a safe zone when its safety is declared by the people who have declared war on you? The horrific scenes coming out of Rafah, as bombs incinerated tents and the people inside of them, have brought home this point with brutal clarity. As Al Jazeera’s Hind Khoudary, a Gazan journalist reporting over and over from the scenes of mass death, wrote: There’s simply no area that is safe across the Gaza Strip.” Displaced families, most of them grieving loved ones already, follow orders dropped from warplanes above only to find more death awaits.

The tents go up in flames so easily. They are so easily crushed. Who can argue that they are a threat?

The weekend’s news touted safety for four hostages held in Gaza, the success of a rescue” operation celebrated across the front pages of U.S. and Israeli newspapers. The fact that scores” of Palestinian civilians in Nuseirat refugee camp—274 according to one count — were killed in the process, that the soldiers came in on disguised aid vehicles, almost an afterthought. Yet these disproportionate numbers are once again a reminder that the calculation is being made day after day that hundreds of civilian deaths are permissible if the Israeli state is the one doing the killing.

That more hostages have been freed through negotiations than battle, that hostages may have died during the raid, makes it seem as though safety is not the point, after all.

The students who built the encampments knew well their relative safety compared to the people in Gaza whose updates they watched on smartphones for eight months. They knew they would also face crackdowns from their universities, assaults by police and right-wing counterprotesters, because they had faced them already for those eight months.

Palestinians in Rafah, Gaza, write a message of solidarity on a tent for refugees with students protesting across the world. (Photo by Hani Alshaer/Anadolu via Getty Images)

But within the tents they raised on campuses around the country — I spoke to students, faculty and community members from 11 universities and visited two encampments and the site of one’s dismantling — they built a space of temporary safety and community, turning the lessons of past movements to the growing Palestine solidarity campaigns across the United States and across the world, applying pressure to the institutions that turn their tuition dollars into prestige and profits and yes, risking their own safety when those institutions brought in the riot police.

Within the spaces of the encampments, students enacted the vision on that We Keep Us Safe” banner at DePaul. They did their best to keep one another safe, and to provide for all of their basic needs.

Within the spaces of the encampments, students enacted the vision on that “We Keep Us Safe” banner at DePaul. They did their best to keep one another safe, and to provide for all of their basic needs.

It was really beautiful,” said Christopher Iacovetti, a graduate student at the University of Chicago. It was especially encouraging to me to see how many people from so many different backgrounds came to support, to mobilize, to provide supplies almost on the drop of a hat.”

Marie Adele Grosso, an undergraduate at Barnard College in New York, said the Columbia-Barnard encampment created the strongest sense of community people have felt in quite a few years on campus.” 

While we were on campus and while we were all together, we were making all of the decisions together,” Grosso said. Organizers did just such an amazing job of bringing in the beauty of Palestine.” There was dance and music and teach-ins and conversation with people in Gaza at the moment. 

At the University of Virginia (UVA), a student who, like many I spoke with on condition of anonymity (or who asked to only use their first name) because of their universities’ threats of punishment or legal proceedings, told me, Under that context, knowing that we hold those values similarly in our protest against genocide, it was a lot of joy and I got to connect with people that I’ve never met before, and a lot of students got to connect with community members who are directly impacted by the university.”

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But the encampments were not simply places to commune. The communities built trust and bonds that last; trust that mattered when the police came in. They had specific demands, each set tailored to the institution they targeted, and even some of the universities that decided to clear the tents away at the end of a club and a riot shield gave in to some of those demands.

Even as it ended in a very ugly way with the U of C raid,” Iacovetti said, I think we built a tremendous amount of power.”

Student organizing for a free Palestine did not begin with the encampments. Nor did it begin on October 7. Organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) have decades of work behind them, though much of that work was undertaken by small if tenacious groups. Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), similarly, was founded in the 1990s. And so there were student organizers ready to act in October, ready to march, to table, to welcome new people who, Iacovetti said, were horrified at what they were seeing in the news on their phones, but didn’t know how to channel that into direct action.” 

Divestment from Israeli companies and from arms manufacturers who provide weapons to Israel was similarly not a new demand; the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement was officially launched in 2005 by Palestinian civil society groups, following the model used to protest apartheid South Africa. But students felt stonewalled by administration after administration as the bombardment of Gaza went on. Student workers tried acting through their unions at Columbia and elsewhere, making demands as employees who could withhold labor rather than just as students (treated as consumers by the university). 

The universities responded by cracking down harder; Columbia suspended SJP and JVP on campus, citing threatening rhetoric and intimidation.”

Nusrath (one of a few students who wished their first name only be used), a doctoral candidate at Rutgers University — New Brunswick and a leader in the graduate workers section of Rutgers AAUP-AFT, explained that divestment organizing at Rutgers has been successful in the past; thanks to pressure from the Endowment Justice Collective, Rutgers created an off-ramp to divest from companies related to fossil fuels.” But requests to divest from Israeli companies did not receive the same response from the university. Still, the students pressed on: We have had three successful student assembly resolutions in all three of Rutgers campuses in New Brunswick, Camden and Newark, where overwhelmingly, at rates of 70% to 80% undergrad students voted in favor of both parts of our divestment request.” At UVA, too, students voted by a large majority for divestment, and were condemned by elected officials.

Students, noted one Columbia graduate student worker, decided that they need to stop business as usual, as they say, and do something that clearly stops the university from just functioning as nothing was happening.” As university presidents were being raked over the coals at Congressional hearings purportedly about antisemitism, the students escalated.

“Contextualizing the University of Virginia as a site and campus where white supremacists felt comfortable enough in 2017 marching through the lawn with torches and guns, shouting hate speech, and realizing that they were not met with the same police repression we faced as people protesting the genocide against Palestinians, makes the encampment on UVA ground feel especially important in connecting the Palestinian genocide as a racial justice issue.”

A big part of why the encampments were the next step was because Columbia was trying so hard to make protest impossible,” said Grosso. They kept creating all of these loopholes that we would have to jump through in order to protest safely or within their rules.” But the concern for safety” rang hollow, she added, after students were sprayed with skunk,” a chemical used regularly by the Israeli military in Palestine, at a January rally. (The day I visited the encampment at the University of Pennsylvania, someone was also arrested for spraying something like skunk at the students.)

Silas, a student at Tulane University in New Orleans, joined a chapter of Students for a Democratic Society that was founded on campus in early autumn, and faced counterprotesters at early actions. Those counterprotesters, he said, started a fight, but only the students advocating for a free Palestine were arrested.

The school’s immediate reaction was to frame the event as an outside agitators thing organized by people from outside the Tulane community,” he said, and that’s been their go-to framing for pretty much all of our actions.”

At UVA, the claims of safety” concerns had special resonance for the student I spoke with: Contextualizing the University of Virginia as a site and campus where white supremacists felt comfortable enough in 2017 marching through the lawn with torches and guns, shouting hate speech, and realizing that they were not met with the same police repression we faced as people protesting the genocide against Palestinians, makes the encampment on UVA ground feel especially important in connecting the Palestinian genocide as a racial justice issue.”

The older students I spoke with remember September 11, 2001 from their childhood; the youngest were born after the forever war on terror began, after Islamophobia became central to American national security police, after the Department of Homeland Security was cobbled together. 

Iacovetti recalled from a young age being uncomfortable with the rampant militarism, Islamophobia permeating the U.S.” His studies led him to Palestinian literature, but, he noted, it took a while because the overarching narrative in U.S. politics was that the question of Palestine is so terribly complex,” and that if you slip up, say the wrong thing, you’re fueling antisemitism.” He noted that this formula preys on both good epistemic instincts and good moral instincts in very insidious ways and has the effect of intimidating a lot of people into silence or perpetual ignorance.” But the more he learned, built connections, organized, the more he came to understand the struggle as relatively straightforward, and also as an integral part of U.S. policy, one which would require U.S. action to change.

Student Encampment at Rutgers—New Brunswick on May 2, 2024, just before it was dismantled. Sarah Jaffe

From 9/11 to Covid, Nusrath added, safety” has been redefined for this generation of students, and they are in turn redefining it themselves. It’s not that each person gets to decide for themselves what is safe, but each person is also responsible for working with another person’s definition of safety. And that’s, in the end, what leads to collective safety.”

The students at the encampments had universally lost years of in-person schooling, high school or college, to the pandemic. Grosso recalled that organizing as a high school student was mostly online in those days. You never really got to see the other people you were working with, and you never got to see how many people noticed, and you never got to see who was joining and who was moved by it.” It made the space of the encampments particularly moving to her: I have friends in Gaza, and I think a lot of people there did, and it’s very isolating to watch your friends be bombed every day and for life to just continue as normal.”

The grief from Covid is still real for so many. The UVA student noted that Covid precautions were important for their encampment; masks also helped avoid surveillance. But being together in person was also important: in those spaces, the students built the kinds of skills for navigating and deescalating conflict, for collective decision-making in a crisis, that will be necessary in this and other movements in the coming years. They learned to keep each other safe in multiple ways.

A common thread of the movements of the past decade has been the tendency toward participatory democracy; it makes sense, as Jane McAlevey points out in No Shortcuts, quoting Francesca Polletta, that the depoliticized world of neoliberalism, a two-party system evacuated of any sense of improvement, unions and other organizations beaten back to a shadow of their former selves, that young people in particular reach for movement forms that allow them to strengthen their democratic muscles.

“It’s not that each person gets to decide for themselves what is safe, but each person is also responsible for working with another person’s definition of safety. And that’s, in the end, what leads to collective safety.”

Some of them had indeed poured that energy into unions; the Columbia graduate student unionist had previously participated in strikes and union actions. During the Covid shutdown and the George Floyd rebellion, the organizing, she said, brought home the role that the university had in gentrifying the surrounding Harlem community, how it displaced largely Black and brown communities and pitted the university against them. (Silas at Tulane mentioned a similar dynamic.) The students were also inspired by the movement to stop Cop City in Atlanta, which reminded the Columbia grad student just how much money is going to war basically inside and outside, and how the repression of protest is deadly.” 

Some of the students had been in the Palestine movement for years; Grosso said that her parents took her to her first protest as a baby. I’ve seen the effect the U.S. imperialism and the U.S. counter-terrorism’ has had on Arab communities and the racism that’s come with that my entire life. Whenever we’d go through airports, my mom would be grumbling about 9/11 policies that I could never remember.” Security theater was something she had learned to counterpose to real safety from a young age. 

When she applied to Barnard, she wrote about her activism in her essay. Barnard, she noted, prides itself on its history of activism, but the kind of activism she was doing didn’t seem to be the type the school wanted: I think they just hope that we’re going to be like women’s rights activists and that’s it.” When we spoke, she was not being allowed to finish her coursework, her professors would not be allowed to grade it if she did, and she was awaiting the results of her disciplinary process for her second arrest. (She is studying sociology and human rights.)

The Columbia graduate student noted that international students from the Global South, including Palestinian students, were at the heart of the movement; that for those students, it was the first time they had felt welcome, at home, at the university. They were deeply aware of how much the university was intertwined with the security state in a way that made it a strategic target: We feel at the heart or one of the hearts of the empire in a very concrete material way, and all of the research of these groups have shown how much the investments of the university go to the genocide.” And how little of the university’s wealth is actually wrapped up in their education. Sadly, the educational part is a smaller and smaller, it’s not a priority for the institutions.”

The encampment is a movement against the social imperatives of capitalism. Which is a fancy way to say that capitalism pits us against each other and the encampment — like the union, the membership group, the party in the old sense — brings us together. The encampment is the most intense of these, if usually the most temporary. It teaches something that the rest of the world does not. 

The students I spoke to insisted that they are not the story, however willing they were to share their histories and connect the dots between the issues that had politicized them. Their actions, they all said, were designed to keep the focus on Gaza; to make it impossible for the university to ignore them. It is, however, still worth it to study how movements grow and people find their way to action, to understand why and how a particular tactic takes off. 

“It's spreading like wildfire precisely because it's a way not only of mobilizing people on a given campus, but mobilizing people on a national and global stage,” Iacovetti said.

To Iacovetti, the tents and encampments are a symbol of a Palestinian displacement. And displacement has been a constant feature of Palestinian experience since 1947 when Zionist militias first began depopulating Palestinian villages and kicking Palestinians off their land. And it continues up through the present in Gaza where more than 85% of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have been forcibly displaced.”

The tents in the middle of the campus were impossible to ignore, and they were also easy to emulate, as indeed they have been around the world. Campuses in the United States might have slowed down for the summer, but elsewhere the movement is just beginning. 

It’s spreading like wildfire precisely because it’s a way not only of mobilizing people on a given campus, but mobilizing people on a national and global stage,” Iacovetti said.

Signs and tents at the student encampment at the University of Pennsylvania on May 1, 2024. Sarah Jaffe

Encampments have a long history; the tactic was there for the taking. Laura Flanders, a longtime journalist and political organizer, recalled the first one she joined in the early 1980s, outside of the Greenham Common U.S. Air Force Base in England. Women encamped there to do a variety of things, not just to protest, but to actually stop the deployment of cruise missiles,” she said. Turns out that it’s hard to move missiles and deploy them secretly when you have a bunch of screaming protesters following you. The encampment, she said, was that experience of embodied protest that people are probably familiar with from strikes and picket lines and prison protests and hunger strikes. But the duration of it is unlike anything else. Something gets built that gives you a glimpse of the world you’re trying to make. Not a perfect one, but a sense that some of your conventions are mutable.” 

Flanders had graduated from Columbia by the time students occupied Hamilton Hall in 1985, calling for divestment from South Africa, but she still joined them in support. Then, they renamed it Mandela Hall; in 2024, of course, students call it Hind’s Hall, after the six-year-old girl left calling for help for hours in Gaza. (Paramedics were told they had safe passage to rescue her; they were killed alongside her.) 

It was very similar to what you’re seeing now, except they didn’t call in the cops. We didn’t get beaten up, we didn’t get arrested,” Flanders said. We did disband. And eventually an agreement was made to divest.” The policing of the protests today has been different, but she also noted, I don’t remember the type of faculty and staff support that were seeing today. Not even close.” 

At Rutgers, Nusrath explained there’s a history of something called Tent State University, an obvious callback to Kent State University, where the National Guard killed four student protesters and wounded nine in 1970. Tent State began as a protest on the New Brunswick campus against budget cuts to universities in the wake of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Intertwining the issues of education and militarism, the action recurred for years and spread to other universities; it included, Nusrath said, skills sharing, resource generation and campaigns for future issues.” A document created by student organizers that she provided to me described it as more than just a protest. It merged the creation of a democratic university’ system and the most significant cultural festival at RU, all built around the recognition of access to education as a fundamental element of democracy, one that is compromised by war.” 

Such a statement has particular resonance now, when there is no major university left standing in Gaza. When the past, present, and future of higher education has been wiped away as part of the broader military campaign of destruction.

I happened to be at Rutgers — New Brunswick on May 2 for a conference on labor journalism, co-organized with the president and vice president of the Rutgers faculty union, Todd Wolfson and Rebecca Givan. I arrived on campus to find the faculty wearing their union T-shirts and applying silver duct tape to their shoulders, preparing to defend the student encampment with their bodies if necessary. The Rutgers administration had given the students a deadline of noon to move before they would be cleared by police.

Negotiations between the students and the administration were ongoing; the deadline kept being pushed back, and more people arrived to defend the encampment. The core organizers termed this as psychological warfare to put that much pressure on students while they’re trying to also negotiate their demands,” Nusrath said. The representatives of the university, the chancellor, the chief of staff of the president, they were saying that they’re doing this out of concerns for student safety, but at the same time calling cops on us.”

The Rutgers students did reach a deal with the administration, which Rutgers president Jonathan Holloway defended when he testified before Congress. While the students did not get a commitment to divest from Israel, they did win eight of their 10 demands, and because of their actions, interested many more in the struggle for divestment — without being further brutalized. And their win, Nusrath noted, doesn’t take away from the safety of our Jewish friends. It doesn’t take away the safety from any other communities in this very diverse student body that we have in Rutgers.”

Safety, though, the students recognize, is not an option for many.

Our friends in Gaza, they were in Khan Younis, they left, they’re in Rafah, they’re staying with family in Rafah, and they can’t decide if it’s safer to be in a house in Rafah or a tent,” Grosso said. You keep having to flee the safe space.”

“Our friends in Gaza, they were in Khan Younis, they left, they're in Rafah, they're staying with family in Rafah, and they can't decide if it's safer to be in a house in Rafah or a tent,” Grosso said. “You keep having to flee the safe space.”

Palestinians are treated with such disregard, she noted, that some of that disregard rubs off on American students like her. We are some of the most privileged U.S. citizens, and simply for speaking out for Palestinian rights, we got an incredibly violent response from our own country. So imagining that they’re willing to do that to U.S. citizens fully, publicly, fully on U.S. soil with their own infrastructure makes it so clear that they’re not even trying to hide what they’re doing to Palestinians.” 

Like the Palestinians, the students get blamed for their own lack of safety. The NYPD, Grosso said, took its time posing for photos with its new weaponry—including an armored vehicle with ladders used to deliver armed police into the building — when it raided the Columbia encampment. 

The concept of safety — or, more accurately, the concept of feeling safe” — has been at the heart of arguments about Palestine since October 7, and perhaps since the beginning of the Zionist movement. Zionism is after all a project of colonization that is justified with appeals to Jewish safety; the genocide in Gaza is justified with repeated invocations of Hamas committing the largest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust.” But for a generation more familiar with 9/11 and Covid-19, the invocation of the Holocaust no longer trumps current reality, not when they can see reality on their phones.

Student protesters and the encampment at Columbia University on April 30, 2024. Photo by Mary Altaffer/AFP via Getty Images

Feelings of safety, after all, can be wrong: many people, including perhaps some of the students brutalized by the NYPD at Columbia, might have felt safe with the presence of armed police, but armed police killed a record number of people in 2023, and they’re on track to surpass that number in 2024

The fact is that feeling safe does not mean we are safe; conversely, the term feeling unsafe” in recent years often seems to be deployed in ways that mean something more akin to feeling uncomfortable. This is particularly true, as Natasha Lennard wrote, in this political moment, when Congress is whipping up panic around antisemitism on campus (not, notably, the antisemitism of white supremacists marching with torches chanting Jew will not replace us”), when anti-Zionism is repeatedly conflated with antisemitism no matter how many anti-Zionist Jews march wearing T-shirts proclaiming their identity. Groups like the Anti-Defamation League contribute to the problem by classifying criticism of the state of Israel as hate speech, and in doing so wildly inflate the amount of antisemitism they report and misidentify its locations.

I feel like people aren’t really able to make the distinction between being disagreed with and being threatened,” Silas said. At Tulane, he said, a lot of people here go through their lives without really facing any sort of conflict or rough waters or anything like that. And so any sort of little disturbance to what they’re hoping is going to be their fun party school environment, I think they see that as danger.” 

But it is the students who protested at Tulane who were actually put in danger when state police raided their encampment. 

They all gave us the same charges, and one of our charges was starting an emergency,” he said. At first, they refused to give us any more details on that, but they budged a little bit and admitted that it was because they got allegedly hundreds of calls saying that people felt unsafe and saying that people felt threatened.”

Jewish safety has certainly not been an actual priority for any of these universities. It is, at this moment, a convenient fig leaf for U.S. foreign policy. It is not safety, but security that Israel seeks, and security in the post-9/11 age has been intimately linked with the War on Terror.

The supposedly threatening actions, he said, included an approved art build for Palestine on campus. We made a paper ring for every child between the ages of zero and five killed in Palestine since October 7. And we had people come by and say how unsafe it made them feel and how threatening it was.” The mere visualization of actual unsafety read as a threat against others. 

Jewish safety has certainly not been an actual priority for any of these universities. It is, at this moment, a convenient fig leaf for U.S. foreign policy. It is not safety, but security that Israel seeks, and security in the post-9/11 age has been intimately linked with the War on Terror. Hamas fits the preferred narrative; Israeli state violence, even when it is orders of magnitude larger than anything Hamas has done, does not. Again, and again and again, Israel has operated in this mode where it has used Jewish security as a pretext for its crimes, while in fact operating in ways that make Jews, both in historic Palestine and around the world, materially less safe,” Iacovetti said. 

What is safety when you have grown up in a surveillance state [in] post-9/11 America, for a Muslim person?” Nusrath asked. I think the answer is that we keep each other safe.” A man was charged with a hate crime for breaking into Rutgers’ Center for Islamic Life in April, she noted, and yet the vulnerability of Palestinian and Muslim students was never a priority and is still not a priority. The racism they face less important. 

Police attack students and supporters at the University of California, Irvine on May 15, 2024. Photo by Paul Bersebach/Orange County Register via Getty Images

To secure the campus, universities are willing to make certain students less safe. But, the UVA student said, the militarized police crackdown in a way had the opposite effect. When they did come, there were also more people coming in support of Palestinian life and liberation who were chanting alongside us. And that crowd just kept growing, which was really empowering to see.” They continued, I witnessed my peers get hit with these shields and hear[d] them scream in pain when they were being pepper sprayed. And still, throughout all of that, I also witnessed people taking care of each other. It wasn’t the police that were washing people’s eyes out. It was the people who joined us protesting that were taking care of each other.” 

Iacovetti noted that in a recent study of 553 campus demonstrations for Palestine, researchers found only 20 had resulted in any serious interpersonal violence or property damage.” And nearly half of those resulted from police intervention, or the case of violent counterprotests at UCLA, which continued for hours. 

Students were all still keenly aware that their safety was not guaranteed no matter how peaceful their protests might be. We all had to think through what is the risk for us personally,” Grosso said. Some of us have families who are supportive. I have friends who are at risk of being disowned. There are people who are international students who really can’t get arrested because at that point, they risk the ability to stay in the country.” But for each of them, she said, the question was always What’s the most I can put on the line right now to be helpful?”

“As soon as we go against the university's financial interest, we're no longer a part of the community and we turn from insiders to outside invaders, and that distinction is what allows them to use such violent tactics against us."

One of the more insidious narratives used to justify the crackdown on protests is that of the outside agitators,” the implication being that the presence of outsiders threatens the security of campus. That whole phrase is a myth, and it’s a propaganda tool used to divide us,” Nusrath said. We are all outside agitators. We are on Lenape land.” For her union, which has taken on bargaining for the common good” initiatives, lowering the boundaries between the university and the rest of the community is a net positive. 

As soon as we go against the university’s financial interest, we’re no longer a part of the community and we turn from insiders to outside invaders, and that distinction is what allows them to use such violent tactics against us,” noted Silas. In his case, as well as many others, that distinction was made literal when he was suspended from the university. 

The question of financial interest came to his mind, Silas said, because he noticed the class difference between the students helping build and maintain the encampments and those who found them threatening. People who are paying full tuition, he felt, were more important to the university than working-class, scholarship students, or students of color. The safety of those students, particularly Black and brown students, was of little concern when the university brought in state police. (New Orleans Police Department operates under a consent decree that does not apply to state forces.) They’re securing their property, securing the safety of their assets, but that does nothing for the physical safety of their own students.” 

Divestment, after all, is a demand that is about money, and the control of assets. This is why the big donors are so interested in what is happening on campus. Demands for divestment then materially threaten the hierarchy of the university, Silas said. I think they’re very, very afraid of setting the precedent that students do have power, and faculty do have power, and I think that’s part of why they responded so harshly.” 

At Rutgers, as at most of the universities, the encampment was led by students of color, by marginalized people who had to create a space within their own imagination” where they were welcome, Nusrath said. In that space, anti-Zionist Jewish students held a Passover Seder and Shabbat services alongside Muslim students holding space for prayer. 

Trying to define safety, but defining it as safety for only certain groups, that’s a divisive tactic that I think we’re very familiar with,” she said. And that’s something that I think these encampments stand against.” 

On May 10, I accompanied a group of Jewish community members from New Orleans to Tulane’s campus, where they stood in front of the barricades assembled around campus and delivered a press conference condemning Tulane’s crackdown on the encampment. Behind the hastily assembled fencing, a giant illuminated sign informed us that the campus was PRIVATE PROPERTY-NO TRESPASSING.

They delivered a letter, signed by 250 local Jewish leaders, protesting the raid, and noting, We are also disgusted, as Jews, at your institution’s scapegoating of Jewish safety’ to defend these actions. We are deeply offended at your completely false and dangerous claims of antisemitism present at the protest. In fact, on the night of Tuesday, April 30, the entire camp joined in Jewish prayer to mark the end of Passover. Some of the students who organized the protest were, themselves, Jewish. The decision to send in a militarized police force was what put students at risk, both Jewish and non-Jewish.” 

This action was a reminder that the clearing of the encampments does not mean the end of the movement. The violent crackdown, Silas said, had brought more people to support their campaign: A letter demanding divestment now has about a thousand signatories; hundreds of faculty have come out in support of the student protesters. 

Jewish community members in Louisiana held a press conference on May 10, 2024 and delivered a letter signed by 250 local Jewish leaders decrying Tulane's invocation of "Jewish safety" to justify repression against student protesters. Sarah Jaffe

At Columbia, the graduate student worker I spoke with was one of a group of independently organized workers holding a sick-out and withholding grades until the university agreed to amnesty for the student activists, and to remove NYPD from campus. The union has officially filed unfair labor practice charges, but the students on sick-out organized independently to escalate their own action. Our messaging to Columbia was, we’re sick of Columbia and sick of the genocide, and we cannot in good faith work under these conditions until our students colleagues get full amnesty,” she said. It has been a beautiful organizing moment, but, she noted this is for the long haul.” 

The students’ relationship to the university seems likely to be permanently changed by this moment. Many of them, Grosso, still awaiting her disciplinary results, said, had come in expecting that their activism would be valued rather than punished. We told them ahead of time what we were going to do. We told them ahead of time what we cared about.”

One of the things we keep repeating to people who are getting scared or discouraged is that history will clear us,” Grosso continued. But she and the others repeatedly returned the focus to Gaza: What’s at the heart of the encampments and all of our projects has been Palestine,” the Columbia graduate student said. 

And that movement continues to grow and to spread. It’s understandable that there would be a desire to frame police raids as the final chapter in the story,” Iacovetti said. But in fact, the repression that the pro-Palestinian movement is facing … is in fact a reflection of the growing strength of this movement and the threat that it poses to the status quo of U.S. power and Israeli genocide.” 

Sarah Jaffe is a writer and reporter living in New Orleans and on the road. She is the author of Work Won’t Love You Back: How Devotion To Our Jobs Keeps Us Exploited, Exhausted, and Alone; Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt, and the forthcoming From the Ashes: Grief and Revolution in a World on Fire, all from Bold Type Books. Her journalism covers the politics of power, from the workplace to the streets, and her writing has been published in The Nation, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The New Republic, the New York Review of Books, and many other outlets. She is a columnist at The Progressive and a contributing writer at In These Times. She also co-hosts the Belabored podcast, with Michelle Chen, covering today’s labor movement, and Heart Reacts, with Craig Gent, an advice podcast for the collapse of late capitalism. Sarah has been a waitress, a bicycle mechanic, and a social media consultant, cleaned up trash and scooped ice cream and explained Soviet communism to middle schoolers. Journalism pays better than some of these. You can follow her on Twitter @sarahljaffe.

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