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SJP and UC Divest Coalition Demonstrations at UCLAUCLA chancellor appointment

Need for political engagement, protest amplifies amid administration’s suppression

By Nick Levie

June 10, 2024 4:20 p.m.

Flash bangs, rubber bullets and patrolling security forces have made it clear that political engagement in current affairs is no longer a novelty, it’s a necessity.

Historically, UCLA has been a place for political activism across many national and international movements. In 1965 during the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke in Wilson Plaza to hundreds of students and faculty. In 1995, thousands of students boycotted class to march into Westwood protesting the dismantling of affirmative action by the University of California.

A few weeks ago, another political movement took shape – the Palestine solidarity encampment in Dickson Plaza.

Palestinian liberation protests on campus demanded that the UC divest from corporations funding the Israeli military or selling munitions to assist in their arms development, which aid Israel’s occupation and genocide in Palestine.

“Our university – where we are attending school, we are active participants of this institution – their money is aiding and abetting the Israeli genocide,” said Marie Salem, a first-year health policy and management doctoral student and media liaison for the UC Divest Coalition at UCLA.

On April 30, a mob of violent counter-protesters armed with mace and metal poles barraged the encampment with fireworks as they infiltrated the barricades, harassing peaceful protesters.

At the onset of the violence inflicted upon the encampment, the police took hours to respond. However, when called upon by Chancellor Gene Block the following day, they quickly swept the encampment with excessive force and arrested over 200 people – including students, faculty and staff – who had been protesting peacefully.

Violence came from the hands of those who are supposed to “protect and serve” our community, as law enforcement fired stun grenades into the air and rubber bullets at students’ chests.

UCLA has made it abundantly clear that peaceful protest has no place on its public campus with the disbanding of the encampment – and another one subsequently set up at Kerckhoff patio – and the hiring of security to surveil its students.

The necessity of political education and activism is critical now more than ever. Students cannot choose to disengage from the situation at hand.

UCLA has seen various pro-Palestine protests, including walkouts, rallies and educational teach-ins. Most notably, the Palestine solidarity encampment represented a utopia detached from the university’s control. It offered not only a forum to protest against the university’s complacency in genocide, but a space for students to grieve, celebrate, learn and even study for midterms with the collective support of their peers.

“It is an attempt to imagine a different world,” said Vincent Doehr, a third-year political science doctoral student. “One without exploitation. One where, if you’re hungry, you can go to the kitchen team who have meals prepared and snacks available. One where if you need a book, you can go to the community library and check one out.”

Political engagement through peaceful protest unites our grievances under a collective passion. Yet, just as protest forges community, the university – which is supposed to foster this concept – seeks to divide it for its threat to regular campus proceedings.

“It has made it obvious to a lot of students that the university would much rather have us arrested, beaten – both by Zionist aggressors or by the police – than to even consider our asks of the university,” Doehr said.

The violent undertakings of the police attack – authorized and perpetuated by UCLA toward its own students – has only heightened the power of education and activism in support of Palestine. The university has made this fight against not only UCLA’s investment in genocide, but also the administration’s repression of its students, staff and faculty.

“We will not be silenced. This is our campus, these are our voices, and this is what the overwhelming majority of students want right now,” Salem added.

This February, the UCLA Undergraduate Students Association Council approved a resolution in favor of the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement against Israel in a landslide 10-3 vote. The document primarily called for the UC to divest from corporations assisting in violations of international law in Palestine.

The growing need for political engagement illuminates the drawbacks of disengagement. An academic dialogue that promotes checks and balances on unjust administrative actions is vital and must be sustained by community support and interest.

“Ignorance and disengagement benefit the status quo, and they actually conceal the workings of power,” Doehr added.

Thus, political engagement, whether that be physically participating in walkouts and encampments or adding your voice to political discourse, has become evermore pertinent.

Hero Jay, a first-year comparative literature student, said the real harm of disengagement is neutrality, which continues to support whichever figures are in power.

“There are no universities left in Gaza, which means that the work of your Palestinian peers – if you’re a mathematician, the work of Palestinian mathematicians, if you’re a writer, the work of Palestinian writers – their work has been demolished,” Jay said. “So at the very least, you have that point of solidarity.”

As students, we are obligated to have a political stance. But at a certain point, it goes beyond politics and becomes a question of human rights.

As our tuition and research benefits an institution that invests in human rights abuses, our existence at this university is irrevocably tied to the oppression of Palestinian people.

Apart from our monetary and institutional obligation to be politically engaged, it is morally righteous to stand in solidarity with our Palestinian peers. Sometimes, it may feel as though it is easier to separate our own lives from Palestinian lives, maybe culturally or even geographically, as Palestine is halfway around the globe.

However, it is of our utmost responsibility to advocate for oppressed voices, especially whose lives are hardly different from our own, other than in privilege.

Moreover, it is necessary to acknowledge that college campuses, while garnering attention for its politically active student bodies, should not be politicized for the pity of its students. Rather, the focus should lie in the principle of protest, which is not isolated to merely college campuses.

“We talk about the campus like it’s this isolated place, and the only people we should care about are the students,” Doehr said. “But, the students are saying that we should care about where our money is going and the fact that it’s going towards the murder and dispossession of the Palestinian people at the hands of the Israeli government.”

While examining the necessity for political activism and education, it may be tempting to place blame on individuals partaking in less physically engaging forms of protest – for example, solely vocal contributions. But, not every form of protest is accessible and safe for everybody, and some may face restrictions on their ability to contribute based on their intersectional identities.

“Different people are going to have different ways that they can protest,” Jay added. “Particularly, something to keep in mind is that disabled people often cannot be marching around rallies for a long period of time.”

Although standing on the frontlines may be viewed as optimal, it may not be practical for everyone. While some students may be able to risk arrest, others simply cannot. As a result, they should not be held in lower regard or scrutinized. Each student should evaluate the risks for themselves and participate accordingly.

Nevertheless, after Gene Block’s lackluster Congress testimony, and now that a second encampment has been dispersed by law enforcement, students should seek forms of protest most sustainable for themselves.

“We need people more than ever to stand up right now, while our University and other institutions are trying to suppress us,” Salem said.

Each act of brutality and suppression by UCLA only underscores the power of students’ political engagement. Pay attention, stay informed and protest because “We will not stop, we will not rest.”

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