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In Portland, student mobilization against the war in Gaza “is here to stay”

Photo: Fabien Deglise Le Devoir Mobilization against the war in Gaza on the campus of Portland State University

Fabien Deglise in Portland

Published at 0:00

  • United States

Behind her barricade, in the heart of the Portland State University campus, Emily, an art and psychology student in her early twenties, looked tired on Saturday morning.

“Last night, the police showed up to force us to dismantle our camp,” she said behind her mask, which only showed a blue look on her face, clear and determined. We backed up onto the steps of the library, which they cannot intervene on. And I assure you that we will stay there. »

Since Friday, this public university in Oregon has added to the list of university campuses occupied across the country by groups of students denouncing the support of the United States government for the war waged in the Gaza Strip for nearly of seven months by Israel.

Party from Columbia University in New York on April 17, where the massive mobilization was severely repressed by the forces of order, the movement has since spread to Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Indiana, as well as to the West Coast, where, there too, on the grounds of several universities, tents have grown, amid Palestinian flags and of signs calling for an end to the war in the Gaza enclave.

In Portland, the mobilization also targets the aviation and military equipment giant Boeing, a major local employer and generous donor to the State University, which pacifist student groups would like to see move away from their institution. “He is a manufacturer of weapons that are used to destroy Gaza and starve civilians there,” said Jeffrey, an anthropology student, wearing a keffiyeh, an emblematic scarf of the Palestinian liberation movement, around his head. We don't want his money. »

In Portland, student mobilization against the war in Gaza “is here to stay”

Photo: Fabien Deglise Le Devoir A poster on the Portland State University campus

In the last few days, several universities have ordered the dismantling of camps on their territories, even calling on riot police to help put them out. On Saturday morning, at Northeastern University in Boston, more than 100 students were arrested. They face charges of trespassing and inappropriate conduct. The institution indicated that the demonstrations in recent days would have been “infiltrated by professional activists”, unconnected with the University, who would have made threats against Jews. “We cannot tolerate this kind of hatred on our campus,” management warned in a press release broadcast on the X network.

In Bloomington, Indiana University arrested 23 people on Saturday after setting up a camp the day before. They were charged with criminal trespass and resisting law enforcement. Last week, the University of Southern California, where the anti-war protest movement heated up, canceled its graduation ceremony, citing “new security measures.”

“We are experiencing a reconstruction of the student mobilizations of 1968, summarized in an interview with Devoir, historian Heather Ferguson , professor at Claremont McKenna College, from her campus where tension was rising Saturday afternoon between police officers and students. All of this would not be happening if university administrators had abandoned their corporate mentality to remember that colleges and universities are places of education and to recognize the humanity of their students who attempt to defend that of Palestinians. Instead, they prefer to criminalize their students. »

In an email sent to all employees, faculty and students on Thursday, Portland State University President Ann Cudd announced that she would pause contributions made by Boeing to its institution, in the face of “the passion repeatedly expressed by some members of the university community” on this issue, she said. A measure deemed insufficient, however, by the handful of demonstrators gathered on Saturday on the steps of the library. “A break is not a break in ties,” said Jena, a sociology student, while describing the gesture as a “lure” aimed above all at stifling the mobilization of students called to a demonstration Monday at the end of the day on the campus.

The occupation of university campuses across the country is beginning to enter the political scene, in the midst of the presidential campaign, where tensions have become high around the military aid granted by the Biden government to Ukraine and the US support for Israel's strikes on Gaza.

Last Wednesday, the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, Mike Johnson, appeared on the campus of Columbia University in New York to denounce the chaos caused by the pro-Palestinian mobilization and to call the president of the institution , Minouche Shafik, “to restore order immediately” or to resign. The White House plans, for its part, to keep Joe Biden's presence at a minimum on the university campuses that the president traditionally frequents at this time of year to make speeches, during graduation ceremonies. .

In Portland, student mobilization against the war in Gaza “is here to stay”

Photo: Fabien Deglise Le Devoir The Portland State University campus

A few days ago, White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre, however, affirmed that he fully intended to be present for the graduation ceremony at Morehouse College and at the United States Military Academy at West Point in May to “convey an encouraging message […] to graduates and their families.” “He will do his best to respond to what is happening [on campuses], to the pain that certain communities are feeling,” she added.

A recent Harvard University poll indicates that support for Joe Biden among young people under 30 remains strong, despite the violent response to student protests on several campuses since April 17. The Democrat is 30 points ahead in the voting intentions of these voters compared to Donald Trump.

18-29 year olds also seem more concerned about inflation , access to health care, armed violence, the protection of democracy, climate change and the reproductive rights of women, which they place at the top of the electoral issues, well before the war in Gaza, according to this coup probe.

On the Portland State University campus Saturday, Emily acknowledged that mobilizing students against the war was no easy task. “Many don’t even know where Palestine is or what it represents,” she said. But this is no reason to remain silent in the face of bombs, drone attacks against civilians and famine, of which we have become complicit. »

And she added: “We're going to stay here until Joe Biden finally listens to us. And change its policies. »

This report was financed thanks to the Transat International Journalism Fund-Le Devoir.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116