College Occupations and Walk-Outs Spread to Chicago

Peter Hudis

Summary: On student liberation zones and walk-outs in the Chicago area in response to the nationwide protests in support of Palestinian self-determination and against Israel’s ongoing genocide — Editors

The national impact of the student encampment at Columbia University in New York, which led to over 100 arrests and dozens of students barred from campus, is especially evident in developing events occurring in the Chicago area over the past several days.

On the morning of April 25, several hundred students occupied a section of Northwestern University in Evanston (just north of Chicago) to express solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people and demand that the University divest from holdings in companies doing business with the state of Israel. A broad array of on-campus chapters of groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine and Jewish Voice for Peace were among those helping to organize it.

As news of the liberation zone spread, the numbers of students setting up tents grew, as did those coming out in support of them—to the point that by that evening over 1,500 had gathered, with many spending the night. As of this writing, the encampment has gone on for three days and counting.

The Evanston police had a tussle with some students early on April 25 but made no arrests, saying they said would soon be back with the support from the Chicago Police Department if the encampment were not taken down. Three days later, the police have still not arrived—though it is clear a good deal of surveillance is being done by them. It is possible that the NU administration has taken note of how the brutalization of students at Columbia University, Emory University, and at other places has backfired, making the movement even stronger. Or they just might be biding their time before calling in the attack dogs.

The encampment is a magnificent display of the creativity of mass action: students coming together to create posters, art, and music in support of the cause; numerous workshops and discussions held in and around the tents on such issues as the history of Palestine and Zionism, the role of the state in suppressing dissent, and discussions on theoretical issues such as decoloniality, necropolitics, etc. Many of the posters created by students (dozens hung up on the college’s outside fence) linked the struggle in Palestine to immigrant rights, prisoner support, defense of democracy, etc.

A small number of pro-Zionist students and professors opposed to the encampment hung out near its edges for a spell, but they soon left (there were barely two dozen of them). The vast majority driving or walking by the campus expressed support for the protest. It marks the largest such event at NU since the anti-war demonstrations there in 1970.

Despite the ongoing efforts to paint these protests as putting Jews in potential harm’s way, the complete opposite is in fact the case. On Friday night (April 26) Omar Suliman led Friday evening Muslim prayers, while Jewish students held an outdoor Passover Seder the next day in which students of many different faiths and backgrounds participated. The atmosphere is one of complete solidarity and comradeship with all those who oppose Israel’s genocidal war and the Biden administration’s disgusting support for it.

To be sure, these protests are discomforting to many people—just as the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s was to many whites who viewed racial segregation “as their way of life” and the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 were viewed by those who applaud racist police as their “protectors.” And they are meant to be discomforting—because the U.S. complicity with Israel’s outright genocide demands that all links to the Israeli state be broken NOW.

The same sentiment drove the walk-out held at three downtown Chicago colleges on April 26—Columbia College, Roosevelt University, and the School of the Art Institute. None of these colleges has an outdoor space that can house an encampment, but an initial group of about 100 students from Columbia College quickly grew to several thousand from the three colleges as news of the walkout spread. Students and their supporters then shut down Michigan Ave (without a march permit). There was a heavy police presence, but they let the march continue.

It was great to see the energy and creativity displayed by these young students—the range of chants and posters was the best I have seen in the many protests I have attended since Oct. 7. The main one, of course (as in so many other places) is “Disclose and Divest, We Won’t Stop and We Won’t Rest.” Meanwhile, teach-ins occurred this week at two other area colleges—at the University of Chicago and Loyola University.

Chicago has not seen this level of student activism in many years. and plans for further actions are planned at other colleges and universities. Something like this comes along once every few decades—so now is the time to get out there and support these and related actions.


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