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CUNY Joins Universities Around the Country, Sets Up Gaza Solidarity Encampment

Today, New York’s largest public university set up an encampment for Gaza, calling for divestment, cops off campus, an end to McCarthyist repression, and for a People’s CUNY.

Tatiana Cozzarelli

April 25, 2024
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Encampment at City College, CUNY, in solidarity with Palestine on April 25, 2024.
Image: Luigi Morris (@luigiwmorris)

Across the country, dozens of encampments have been set up in solidarity with Gaza. Students are demanding an end to the genocide, that their institutions divest from Israel, and amnesty for all those speaking out for Palestine. 

Today, New York City’s largest public university, the City University of New York (CUNY), has joined the wave of encampments. Over 200 people descended on City College and have set up camp, erecting tents and putting up banners that read “No More Investment in Apartheid,” “Teachers for Palestine Liberation,” and “No Business as Usual Until CUNY Divests.”

The five demands put forward at the CCNY encampment in solidarity with Palestine: 1. Divest, 2. Boycott, 3. Solidarity, 4. Demilitarization, 5. A People's CUNY. 
April 25, 2024

The CUNY encampment has five demands:

1) Divest! Immediately divest from ALL companies complicit in the imperialist-zionist genocide, including weapons, tech and surveillance, and construction companies. Commit to full financial transparency regarding CUNY’s institutional investments. 

2) Boycott! Ban all academic trips to the Zionist state, encompassing birthright, Fulbright, and perspective trips. Cancel all forms of cooperation with Israeli academic institutions, including events, activities, agreements, and research collaborations.

3)  Solidarity! Release a statement affirming the right of the Palestinian people to national liberation and the right of return. Protect CUNY students and workers who are attacked for speaking out against the genocide in Gaza and in solidarity with Palestinian liberation. Reinstate professors who have been fired for showing solidarity with Palestine.  

4) Demilitarize! Demilitarize CUNY, Demilitarize Harlem! Get IOF and NYPD officers off all CUNY campuses, and end all collaboration, trainings and recruitment by imperialist institutions, including the CIA, Homeland Security and ROTC. Remove all symbols of US imperialism from our campuses: Rename the Colin Powell School of Global and Civic Leadership at CCNY and reinstate The Guillermo Morales and Assata Shakur Community and Student Center!

5) A People’s CUNY! We demand a fully-funded, free CUNY that is not beholden to zionist and imperialist private donors! Restore CUNY’s tuition-free status, protect the union and adopt a fair contract for staff and faculty.

This encampment is taking place at City College, which is no stranger to radical student action. In the 1940s, students and workers mobilized against the arrests and firings of anti-fascist organizers. In 1969, Black and Puerto Rican students occupied the campus for two weeks. These students put forward five demands including ensuring that the university reflected and served the Black and Puerto Rican population of New York City schools. 

There are currently two other encampments in New York City. Columbia University, just a 15-minute walk from City College, began the wave of encampments when the university president Minouche Shafik ordered the New York Police Department (NYPD) on campus and arrested over 100 students. Students then set up a second encampment which has continued thanks to support both inside and outside of Columbia, despite the university administration’s threats of further repression. An encampment also sprung up at the New School which is also holding pickets outside for both the demands of the Palestine movement, as well as for a new academic workers’ union. At NYU, the NYPD arrested over 150 students, as well as several faculty who had surrounded the students to defend them. 

The encampment’s demands for a People’s CUNY harkens back to the radical movement that created a free public institution in New York City. This encampment is for all of us: faculty, staff and students, and for the free CUNY that New York City needs. 

Black-and-white image from the 1969 occupation of CCNY.

It is clear that, with the radicalized student movement across the country, the spirit of the 1960s is being revitalized in the encampments across New York City. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. just sent over $26 billion in aid to Israel, with President Biden continuing to live up to the name “Genocide Joe.” Every university in Gaza has been bombed, and there has  been a tremendous loss of resources in libraries across the Strip. An invasion of Rafah looms, and a mass grave of over 300 people — some of whom were stripped and had their hands tied behind their backs — was found near a hospital in Khan Yunis. In this context, students in the U.S. are standing up against the genocide. 

Universities all over the country have also set up encampments with similar demands. The encampments are being organized by students of different religious backgrounds, including Muslims and Jewish students. In fact, encampments all over the country celebrated Passover, contradicting the media lie that these encampments are antisemitic. In fact, many of the students being arrested and evicted are Jewish. 

And today, a sector of faculty at the University of Texas, Austin will refuse to teach or grade, saying “no business as usual” and instead join the student protests. Faculty and education workers across the country should follow their lead, defending the encampments and the movement for Palestine. 

We are witnessing what has been dubbed the New McCarthyism, with university administrations suspending and evicting students, as well as calling the police on those peacefully protesting on campus. In addition to regular doxxing of students, two adjuncts have been fired for standing up for Palestine. The fight against this repression goes hand in hand with fighting against the genocide, for a free Palestine.

We need our unions to stand up and play a role in this strong student movement. Already, we have seen the Student Workers of Columbia issue a statement against repression that has been signed by multiple unions including UAW locals, and Columbia Faculty organized a massive walkout against repression, holding signs that read “hands off our students.” UAW Region 9A is calling an action for Gaza on Friday in Washington Square Park. And students who were arrested at Columbia are explicitly calling on faculty to organize a strike in solidarity with the encampments. 

As CUNY students begin an encampment, it is essential that our union at CUNY, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), stands with the CUNY student encampment and against the incursion of the police on City College. PSC-CUNY must also fight for all student demands and against all repression of students, faculty and staff, following the examples of faculty at NYU, Columbia, and University of Texas. Our staff union, DC-37, must also stand up alongside students.

Amid this brutal genocide in Gaza, a new generation of student activists is rising up at CUNY and all over the country. This generation says clearly that we will free Palestine within our lifetime. Stand with them.

Down with all repression of the encampment!

Divest now!

Free Palestine!

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Tatiana Cozzarelli

Tatiana is a former middle school teacher and current Urban Education PhD student at CUNY.

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