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I’ll come to you live! How smartphones have increased the impact of protests on America’s campus

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The pro-Palestinian student movement sweeping the US will go down as a major generational moment in American political history.

Images of police using batons to arrest students and break up protest camps are reminiscent of the anti-Vietnam War movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, when America was embroiled in another unpopular conflict.

Then the Americans saw what was happening on the other side of the world through newspapers, magazines and television broadcasts.

Today’s events in Gaza can be viewed in real time by anyone with a phone.

Mark Naison, a history professor at Fordham University, said young people were particularly affected by the “heartbreaking scenes of death and destruction in Gaza.”

These are “conveyed with great force, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, on Instagram and TikTok, places where most young people get their information,” Prof. Naison told me. The national one. “If you are exposed to these images every day, you might be tempted to join in.”

When Columbia University called on New York police to clear student tents on campus in mid-April, resulting in more than 100 arrests, it sparked a wave of student solidarity and protest against Israel’s war on Gaza.

Anti-war protesters at dozens of American colleges and universities have set up their own camps, sit-ins and protest rallies over the past two weeks.

Universities have responded to the protests — which have sparked violence from pro-Israel supporters and claims of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia — by calling for police action, moving classes and exams online, canceling graduation ceremonies or negotiating with student protesters.

According to an AP count on May 2, more than 2,000 people have been arrested.

President Joe Biden said Thursday that “different opinions are essential to democracy,” as he denounced violent protests and hate speech.

Steven Thrasher, a journalist and professor at Northwestern University, attended camps, including Columbia, and served as supportive faculty on his campus.

“One of the speakers they had in Columbia the night I was there had been arrested at that same place in 1968,” he said, referring to a year when protests against the Vietnam War were at their height.

“She spoke very briefly and beautifully, and had a similar message that a Palestinian nurse who had just returned from Gaza had also shared: that it makes you feel like you are really doing the right thing. You will remember the feeling of doing the right thing for the rest of your life. And that will continue to be a guiding voice for you.”

Rare show of support for the Palestinians

The nationwide protests mark a rare moment of widespread American activism in support of the Palestinian cause.

“It is unique in number and energy in terms of being pro-Palestine,” Helga Tawil-Souri, a Palestinian-American associate professor at New York University, told me. The national one.

When visiting camps, chants of “free, free Palestine” can be heard from people wearing keffiyehs, as both Jewish and Muslim participants take time to pray.

Protesters in Columbia named a building “Hind’s Hall” in honor of a six-year-old girl killed by Israeli gunfire.

“It’s hard to imagine that this happened, you know. Even in the war against Gaza in 2008 and 2009, you did not see any kind of uprising,” Ms Tawil-Souri said.

Students across the country have made a number of common demands: that their universities disclose their investments and divest from companies or academic institutions involved in Israeli action in the Palestinian territories, and that they declare a ceasefire in Gaza to demand.

Health officials in Gaza report that more than 34,500 people have been killed in Israel’s war against the Palestinian enclave.

That was after a Hamas-led attack on Israel in October that killed 1,200 people, according to officials.

Young Americans have been active against gun violence and climate change over the years, making them “no strangers to protest,” Prof. Naison said.

“Four years ago, when many of them were in high school, they participated in the largest mass movement in modern American history, the Black Lives Matter movement that emerged in response to the killing of George Floyd in May 2020.”

For some, the growing support for Palestine in American universities is a result of the US supporting Israel in Gaza.

“What’s special about it is that (Israel) couldn’t do what it does without the support of the United States, so students in the United States think we have the responsibility,” says Prof. Bruce Robbins told CNN.

History repeats itself on campuses

Columbia is no stranger to civil disobedience.

Hamilton Hall, on the Morningside campus on the city’s Upper West Side, is named after founding father Alexander Hamilton, who attended King’s College, the former name of Columbia.

Columbia’s order for the NYPD to clear the pro-Palestinian occupation of the venue on April 30 came on the 56th anniversary of police breaking up a week-long protest blockade there in 1968.

At the time, students initially protested a racially segregated gymnasium on campus. But their anger later focused on the university’s ties to the Pentagon during the Vietnam War.

The police action was violent, and the university’s website states that “the fallout haunted Columbia for years.”

Hamilton Hall was also occupied in 1972 by anti-war students, who in 1985 called for divestment from South Africa over its apartheid policies and in 1996 demanded the creation of an ethnic studies department.

Republican politicians’ call for the National Guard to respond to the protests brings back memories of 1970, when members of the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of anti-war demonstrators at Kent State University, killing four people and nine were injured.

And at Yale University, historical documents and archives related to the Black Panthers, a political organization for racial equality led by young students, are relevant to the protests there today, says Prof. Roderick Ferguson. The national one.

Four pro-Palestinian demonstrators were forcibly arrested and arrested by police there this week.

Professor Ferguson says that, judging by the police response, being the custodian of the Black Panthers’ historical documents does not make Yale the champion of what the group stood for.

He described the Panthers’ main objectives as “an end to racial and colonial domination, the self-determination of minority communities, the critique of police repression and a commitment to the sanctity of the oppressed”.

“The current protests are attempts to extend these obligations to Palestinians,” Prof. Ferguson said.

Asked Thursday whether the protests forced him to reconsider his support for Israel, Biden replied: “No.”

“I think the world will look back on this moment as a failure of moral leadership on the part of government officials and university administrators,” Prof. Ferguson said.

“It will also remember the students as those who stepped into the gap to decry industrial-scale slaughter.”

Prof Naison added: “These young people will not give up no matter how many police or National Guards are sent to break up their encampments.

“For many, this protest is part of a life mission they discovered while in high school.”

Updated: May 3, 2024, 6:00 PM