Student Protesters See Links to a Global Struggle

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Across the United States, students are coming together to protest against the violence in Gaza. Their determination is clear, as many are willing to risk arrest to support the Palestinian cause. The conflict in Gaza, though far from their home, has deeply affected these students. For many, this issue is not just about Gaza; it’s tied to broader struggles for justice and equality.

The war in Gaza is happening in a place many of these students have never been. The deaths, reportedly 34,000 according to local health authorities, are known to them through news and social media. However, the students see the Gaza conflict as part of a larger fight for justice. They relate it to issues such as police brutality, the mistreatment of Indigenous people, discrimination against Black Americans, and the impact of global warming.

Ife Jones, a first-year student at Emory University in Atlanta, connects her activism today to her family’s involvement in the 1960s civil rights movement. She sees the current pushback against demonstrators as reminiscent of the past, saying, “The only thing missing was the dogs and the water.”

Students have been actively protesting on campuses, often facing harsh responses from authorities. Many have refused to comply with university administrators, chaining themselves to benches and taking over buildings. In the last 24 hours alone, hundreds of students have been arrested at various schools, including Columbia University. With increasing counter protests from pro-Israel students, tensions on campuses are expected to rise.

In interviews, students often use academic terms like intersectionality, colonialism, and imperialism to explain their views. They argue that the Palestinian plight is part of a global system of bias and oppression. Katie Rueff, a first-year student at Cornell University, sees climate justice and the conflict in Gaza as interconnected struggles against imperialism and capitalism.

Jawuanna McAllister, a 27-year-old Ph.D. candidate at Cornell, is part of the Coalition for Mutual Liberation. She explains, “We believe that none of us can be free and have the respect and dignity we deserve unless all of us are free.”

Most protest groups are calling for an immediate cease-fire and for divestment from companies with interests in Israel or the military. However, their agendas often extend to other issues. At the University of California, Los Angeles, students like Nicole Crawford are also demanding the school sever ties with the Los Angeles Police Department and increase transparency about its investments.

Many students connect the suffering in Gaza to other forms of oppression worldwide. Nicole Crawford, a 20-year-old UCLA student, links her activism to her experiences as part of the Pan-African diaspora in the United States. She believes that being part of an oppressed group politicizes individuals and drives them to fight for broader justice.

At Emory University, protesters have been chanting “Free Palestine” and “Stop Cop City,” the latter referring to a large police and fire training compound being built in Atlanta. Ari Quan, a 19-year-old first-year student, didn’t initially follow the Gaza conflict closely but joined the protests after seeing a friend pushed by police. “I would have felt bad if I wasn’t involved,” they said. “To see the police become more militarized is hard for me to imagine.”

The current student movement supporting Palestinians builds on a history of linking to other issues. Students for Justice in Palestine, a group that started in the early 1990s at the University of California, Berkeley, consciously included other activists, broadening their base. Today, the group has over 200 chapters in the U.S. and often collaborates with other student groups.

Building coalitions has strengthened the movement, giving protesters a sense that they have widespread support. However, scholars note that the current movement is different from past movements like those against apartheid in South Africa or the Vietnam War. Timothy Naftali, a public policy teacher at Columbia, believes today’s demonstrations may create a greater sense of insecurity among specific groups than past antiwar protests did.

In interviews, many students avoided discussing Hamas, the militant group responsible for the October 7 attacks in Israel that killed 1,200 people. While acknowledging the attacks were terrible, students like Lila Steinbach, a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, find it difficult to navigate their politics. Raised Jewish, she struggles with condemning all violence, knowing people affected by the attacks. Yet, she also sees Israeli and U.S. actions as contributing to the conditions that breed terrorism.

Almost all student protesters recognize antisemitism as a genuine concern but say they do not see it among their ranks. They believe their chants, such as “from the river to the sea,” call for peace and equality rather than the destruction of Israel. Alexandra Weiner, a 25-year-old faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh, grew up attending the Tree of Life Synagogue, which experienced a deadly attack in 2018. She has not encountered antisemitism within the protests.

Student protests across the country are marked by a deep sense of urgency and a broad view of justice. By linking the Gaza conflict to various global and local issues, these students demonstrate a commitment to fighting oppression in all its forms. Despite facing significant pushback, their movement continues to grow, driven by a belief in mutual liberation and a better world for all.

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