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Nakba Day: CUNY Faculty Stand Against Repression and for Palestine

On Nakba Day, faculty across different CUNY schools mobilized for Palestine and against the repression of protesters. The actions, organized through an assembly of workers, point toward the solidarity needed to continue and expand the student movement and fight for a free Palestine.

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“Thank you so much. I am so glad to see faculty standing for Palestine”

This sentiment was echoed across campuses at the City University of New York (CUNY) on Nakba day, as faculty and staff organized cross-campus Nakba Day tabling event to support the five demands of the Gaza Solidarity Encampment, stand for a free Palestine, and call on Chancellor Felix Matos Rodríguez to act to drop the charges against CUNY students, faculty, and community members who are facing felony charges after the brutal police repression of the City College Gaza Solidarity Encampment. 

This Nakba Day event was organized via an assembly of the rank and file of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), the union which represents CUNY faculty, grad workers, and some staff. On Monday May 6,  nearly 200  rank and file union members gathered at an assembly organized by CUNY on Strike and voted to participate in Nakba day mobilizations. A week later, the assembly discussed and voted on a concrete proposal: faculty and staff would table across CUNY campuses with information about the five demands of the City College Gaza Solidarity Encampment encampment and with a call to flood the CUNY chancellor’s inbox with demands to drop the charges that students and members of CUNY community face at the hands of the racist NYPD.  

The Nakba, or “catastrophe” in Arabic, refers to the process of ethnic cleansing that followed the establishment of the Zionist state of Israel in 1948. This included the  forced displacement and dispossession of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from their homes and their land. Read more about the history of the Nakba here. On this anniversary of the Nakba, as the genocide in Palestine continues, it is essential for faculty, staff and students to stand up for a free Palestine.

This ideas was at the center of the third rank-and-file assembly of CUNY faculty and staff, the first one having taken place on April 29 at the encampment, where students and CUNY alumni organizers spoke to the assembly about the fight to divest CUNY from Israel, as well as the necessary unity of faculty, staff and students. In the first assembly, over 200 faculty and staff gathered, voted to express active solidarity with the encampment, organized a sick out, and called on the PSC to defend the five demands. The sickout, which occurred on May Day, is the first sickout in the history of the PSC. The second assembly took place on May 6, six days after City College president called Mayor Eric Adams and the NYPD to brutally repress CUNY students, faculty and members of the community, with 170 arrests at CCNY(link) – over 280 between the arrests at City College and Columbia. 

CUNY students and members of the CUNY community are still facing felony charges, in clear contradistinction to Columbia and NYU students, who are facing misdemeanors for similar actions.  While any kind of repression is outrageous –  and we stand with NYU and Columbia students in the fight against the charges brought against them – it is clear that Eric Adams and the NYPD, with the consent of Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez, have been laying a heavier hand against CUNY students

Yesterday’s Nakba Day action highlighted and uplifted the need to fight repression, as well as the need to continue to fight for Palestine and to divest CUNY from Israel. It took place at campuses across the city including Brooklyn College, Baruch College, Hostos College and more. 
As Sarah Wolf from Brooklyn College explained: 

Students eagerly approached the table, took literature, spoke with us, agreed to call [CUNY Chancellor Matos Rodríguez] and [City College President Vincent] Boudreau and signed up on the mailing lists. Many were thankful that we as their teachers were out there being visible, and many others were just so happy to be able to contribute in some way. Some took flyers to pass out in their classes and others sent friends from group chats.  I got this strong sense of hunger from students to be part of something meaningful to support their fellow students in their fight against the genocide in Gaza.

Many tabled at the CUNY Graduate Center as well, where on May 14, students occupied the library demanding that the Graduate Center President call to drop the charges and support the five demands of the encampment. After a several hour stand-off, the President agreed to email the Chancellor about the demands and to give full amnesty for the Graduate Center organizers of the library occupation. 

At City College, students organized a sit-in for Nakba Day in the lobby of the main academic building, calling for divestment and for CUNY to ask prosecutors to drop the charges against those arrested at both the City College encampment and the protest outside on April 30. The students participating in the sit-in painted their hands red and led supporters in chants such as, “CUNY puts its rubber stamp/on concentration camps,” “Drop, drop the felonies/let, let our students free,” and “Vince Boudreau, see you later/we don’t want no fucking traitors,” referencing City College President Boudreau’s decision to invite the NYPD onto campus despite being arrested himself several times during graduate school for participating in anti-South African apartheid protests and occupations. Even though the students were deliberately not blocking any walkways to or within the building, campus security threatened the students with arrest if they did not move outside. The students rallied outside the administration building for another hour or so, and after the demonstration was over, faculty began tabling for Nakba Day in the lobby of the main academic building.

Noelle Mapes, a member of CUNY on Strike said:

After President Boudreau called the cops on CCNY protestors, there’s been widespread anger, disappointment, and energy to do something more. PSC rank-and-filers had our third assembly this past Monday so this was a super last minute resolution, but the assembly voted unanimously to table on each campus for Nakba Day. It was a magical day. We talked to so many people and everyone asked how to stay connected. There was one student who came up to us and, when I said we were faculty, her face lit up and she said, “Oh my god, finally!”.  Students asked to take pictures of us and the table to tell their group chats to come by. They expressed a lot of gratitude seeing their professors out sharing info about how to support arrestees, fired adjuncts, divestment, etc. A few workers who came up didn’t know we were in a contract fight and they were happy to connect with other workers who see Palestinian liberation tied up with our own.

Faculty and students have been standing with the movement for Palestine and will continue to be on the right side of history, fighting not only against the genocide and for a truly public university, but against any repressive measure of the state. We end the academic semester tabling at several campuses, with an incredible response from faculty, students, and staff. This semester has been marked by a resurgent student movement all across the country that goes into the summer with no signs of stopping. 

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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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