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Dispatch from the Rutgers Encampment for Palestine

A report from a pro-Palestine union teacher at Rutgers.

Jason Koslowski

April 29, 2024
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Photo credit: Twitter (@bulat666)

 “There is only one solution, intifada revolution!” “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” and “Gaza children, don’t you cry! The students here are at your side!” and “Whose streets? Our streets! Whose campus? Our campus!” We chant. 

Another encampment for Palestine has started.

This one’s at Rutgers University’s New Brunswick campus where I’m an adjunct teacher. We marched across campus and took the streets. I was chanting next to one of my students, when we saw each other we were both grinning ear to ear. 

Now I’m sitting at a beautiful encampment in the sun and shade typing. The sun just slipped behind clouds. An ice cream truck parked nearby so some of us are eating ice cream. My neck is sweating from the keffiyeh. 

Rutgers — the largest public university in New Jersey with campuses in the north, south, and center of the state — is the latest university to join the fight for Palestine with an encampment. At Columbia, which has inspired so many, a hundred were arrested but others set right back up anyway; the same happened at NYU. There’s a camp at CUNY, UPenn, and at campuses across the country too. Encampments are even popping up around the world.

This one has been organized by Rutgers’ Students for Justice at Palestine and the Endowment Justice Collective. They’re amazingly mobilized; when SJP was suspended recently, the students organized, fought back, and won their reinstatement. This was accomplished through a campaign which united hundreds of other student organizations —many representing oppressed communities — behind the line “We are all SJP.” The wide support from different sectors of the student body was publicized on the SJP’s social media pages. The university had to back down, though they still wield “probation” of student activists as a threat.

The students organizing the camp put out some muscular demands a minute ago. They want Rutgers to divest from every company connected to Israel and its death machines; terminate a connection to Tel Aviv University; display the Palestine flag across campus; and more.

I’m sitting folding some Left Voice pamphlets to hand out. A grad student comes over and starts helping me. We talk about how big the camp is already and how important. Later, as I’m writing this, an undergrad sits next to me eating ice cream. I asked him what he thought of the new camp:

I think that the people here are just — amazing. I’ve never seen a movement this big, ever. It’s amazing we’re just a unit. We all have a single purpose, to Free Palestine. The kids of Palestine are being slaughtered. … Seeing the youth come out, they know more information than people who are way older than us. People who aren’t even from Palestine, never been to Palestine, are here supporting.

There’s barely any cops yet. They’re staying away, I think they’re spooked at how the repression of students at the point of batons wielded by heavily armed cops (and state troopers at UT Austin and Emory University) actually helped spread the revolt more. There are a good number of faculty here. 

(Now two students are walking by asking: “Do you want chicken? You have a preference?” They’re holding a massive container of chicken fingers. They smell good.)

Just a minute ago my phone dinged because my union leaders here at Rutgers put out a pretty good statement. They defend the right of our students to speak out, their democratic right to protest. And they’re right that we have to surround these students with big numbers to protect them from more savage repression like at Emory, Columbia, USC, Emerson, Indiana University, and so many other schools that have unleashed cops on their students. 

But the statement was disappointing too. Yes, surround the students. But their fight is our fight; we can and we should join the struggle fully, as part of the encampment. Call us all by the thousands into the student space!  

But more than this: we’re workers; we make this university function by teaching and grading, just like the janitors keep it going by cleaning and the cooks by cooking. That means as workers, and as a union, we have a special weapon. Call us to do a picket, a work stoppage, even out on strike! 

You can feel the resistance to this inside the letter from the union. And there’s a long history of unions trying to control from the top down the unruly power of the rank-and-file. So as a union, and in Faculty for Justice in Palestine, we’ll have to organize ourselves to get the union to put the full weight of all our resources into this struggle — workers and students united. We can organize ourselves to join the encampment. We’ll need some spaces to coordinate all of us and our fight against the cops and school bosses, to really organize worker and student power here to win our demands. We need assemblies, democratic and deliberative, to organize the encampment, discuss our problems together, and decide on a course of action to sustain the movement.

Another announcement, a Passover celebration is starting now.

The fight is raging, and workers and students united can win this battle

Free, free Palestine!

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Jason Koslowski

Jason is a contingent college teacher and union organizer who lives in Philadelphia.

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