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College administrators hope that the end of the school year will diminish the protests, but the activists are making plans for the summer and beyond.

By Tim Craig and Susan Svrluga, The Washington Post —

New York police had just poured into Columbia University, clearing protesters out of an occupied campus building and arresting more than 100 people in a far-reaching crackdown at the epicenter of the nation’s uprisings over the war in Gaza.

But within hours of the police moves Tuesday night, Mahmoud Khalil, a pro-Palestinian student leader, said he and others were already planning their next action.

“Or actions,” said Khalil, foreshadowing the continued resolve of the movement. “Until we finish this semester and come back next semester.”

Khalil’s determination to press the movement forward, repeated by countless students at universities across the country this week, showcases how protesters are determined that their calls for the end of the war and university disinvestments from Israeli companies won’t slow down much over the summer.

“No one plans on leaving this summer,” Selina Al-Shihabi, a Georgetown University student who is part of the still-growing encampment at George Washington University in Washington, said Wednesday. “That is very clear among the people with us today, and it’s something we meet about, something we chant in our slogans.”

The stakes over what this summer may hold has far-reaching consequences for students, college administrators, big-city mayors, police agencies and President Biden. Some Democrats worry that scenes of upheaval this summer, especially at the party’s August convention in Chicago, could damage Biden’s reelection campaign.

Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Biden appeared to recognize that there would be no quick end to the demonstrations, even as he sought to carve out a middle ground.

“Dissent is essential to democracy,” Biden said. “But dissent must never lead to disorder or to denying the rights of others so students can finish the semester and their college education.”

Yet at least for college administrators, many of whom have asked for police to break up their schools’ encampments, the end of spring classes leaves some room for optimism that their campuses will see a bit of break in the action over the summer. Just how much, however, is rooted in a more fundamental debate over whether the protests that rocked colleges this spring represent a sustained generational movement or a short-term political fad.

Answering that question is complicated because experts are divided over whether the student-led movement is really just getting started or destined to fail when most students scatter for the summer. Some experts point to the struggles other social movements, including the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests against corporate greed, faced once they no longer had an anchor or highly concentrated encampments and command centers from which to carry out their movement.

“Many of those students, except for the most die-hard activists, are going to go home — and that’s going to de-escalate and demobilize it,” said Dana R. Fisher, a professor at American University and author of a book about activism. “Any campuses where you have most of the student body in student housing … in the summer, you’re going to really lose people.”

The trajectory of a social justice movement has vexed historians and political leaders in the past. The most successful movements stay relevant by crowding out other news while melding into history books by continually challenging and surprising authorities, they said.

During the civil rights protests, young people found ways to step up their activism over the summer by congregating in specific communities to press their demands, such as the “Freedom Summer” voter registration drives in the South in 1964.

During the Vietnam War, student protesters congregated at music festivals and high-profile political events — including the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago — to continue pressing their demands. And fours year ago, when the nation was largely shut down due to the pandemic, the summer season did little to prevent students from mobilizing in their individual cities to condemn the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

But all those movements were far larger than the pro-Palestinian student movement remains today. At many colleges, a relatively small number of students are leading the calls for a cease-fire or changes to university investment policies.

To sustain and grow their movement, experts say, these students will have to find ways to align and coordinate with other left-wing interest groups and potentially shift their tactics farther away from campuses.

The failure to do that effectively was one of the downfalls of the Occupy Wall Street movement, said the Rev. Michael Ellick, a pastor who led the “occupy faith” component of the movement that took over New York’s Zuccotti Park until a series of police raids on the encampment in the fall of 2011. Even those camps that police allowed to remain operating for longer periods of time, such as the one on National Park Service land in Washington, eventually fell victim to internal divisions, filth, drug abuse and rats.

“The key to sustaining the movement was everyone being there in person and having a culture develop,” Ellick said. “As soon as those camps got wiped away, that movement was basically hard to keep going in the same way.”

“Then it depended on old-fashioned organizing,” Ellick added. “Like relying on community relationships, and building solidarity with different networks, which some aspects were really good at, but some were not at all so of course it faded away.”

Lisa Fithian, a veteran liberal activist who has been demonstrating since the 1980s and now teaches guerrilla tactics to younger activists, said she is fully confident in the pro-Palestinian demonstrators’ ability to press — and intensify — their movement over the summer.

Earlier this week, Fithian was at City University of New York (CUNY) and Columbia holding impromptu trainings about how protesters can place their bodies on the line to affect social change.

Source: The Washington Post
Featured image: Police and pro-Palestinian students face off during a demonstration on the campus of Portland State University in Portland, Ore., on May 2, 2024. (John Rudoff/AFP/Getty Images)


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