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NYC School Walkouts Show How Students Are Leading the Movement for Palestine 

Students led hundreds of school walkouts in NYC converging into a rally in Bryant Park which was attended by thousands of pro-Palestine activists. These walkouts show the importance of young activists leading an anti-imperialist movement and the need for workers to join in solidarity.

Samuel Karlin

November 9, 2023
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A crowd of activists holding signs with slogans like "Palestine Will Be Free" and "Defend Gaza Against Israeli Terror" gather in front of the NY Public Library
Photo Credit: Sam Carliner

Students and educators from hundreds of schools across New York City converged in Bryant Park on Thursday afternoon. This was part of a national day of mobilizations to “shut it down” in solidarity with the Palestinian people who are suffering a genocide at Israel’s hands; a genocide that is being backed by the United States. As this action and countless others over the past weeks have shown, the world is witnessing the emergence of a massive movement against Zionism and imperialism, with student activists at the forefront.

20 minutes before the official start of the rally at 3pm, hundreds had already crowded the stairs of the New York Public Library chanting “Free free free Palestine!” and “One two three four, we don’t want your bloody war!” It didn’t take long for the crowd to grow into the thousands. Like countless rallies before it, this one showed the diversity of the movement which is uniting Palestinians, Arabs, Jews, Black people, white people, Latin Americans, Asians, and so many more communities.

Kaleem Hawa, an organizer with the Palestinian Youth Movement — one of the main organizations behind the November 9 day of action — said that, since the call was announced just five days earlier at the historic march for Palestine in DC, over 500 actions have been registered in support of the shutdown. He spoke about why young people in particular are taking up the movement to Free Palestine.

“For many of the younger generation, they’ve grown up in America only knowing war,” Hawa said. “They’ve only known an America that has oppressed and dispossessed the people of the world who dare to rise up against that imperialist system. So there’s a fundamental understanding for them that Palestine is part of a larger structure of violence that blankets the globe.”

There were other important student protests leading up to this organized day of action. On November 8, ten students from universities across the country were arrested for disrupting a Republican-led hearing of the House Judiciary Committee. The Mycarthyist GOP spun the hearing as one to protect free speech, when it was in reality about reinforcing Zionist voices that are silencing and even doxxing pro-Palestinian students. Some of the protesters pointed out that the GOP had not invited any Palestinians or anti-Zionist Jews to testify at the hearing. In fact, the GOP has gotten so extreme that, in their November 8 presidential debate, candidates called to revoke the student visas of people who support Palestine and threatened to cut university funding for universities not seen as sufficiently Zionist.

But the repression that students are facing is bipartisan. Recently, the Senate unanimously passed a resolution which falsely depicts the pro-Palestine movement at universities as antisemitic. Every Senator from Josh Hawley to Bernie Sanders voted in favor of the resolution.

In New York, Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul has dedicated $75 million to policing and surveilling university protesters. School administrations are also doing their part to silence the student-led movement. Students at the Columbia School of Social Work were threatened with a suspension as they held an on-going sit-in which began on November 8 to demand that the dean acknowledge the genocide in Palestine and hold a town hall to discuss the situation and the university’s response.

Ahead of the school walkouts, the NYC Department of Education issued a statement clearly meant to suppress participation from education workers in solidarity with the movement their students are organizing. It states that “expression of one’s personal views, even outside of the workplace and via social media posts or otherwise, crosses a line.”

A middle school science teacher who supports the action but was unable to attend spoke with Left Voice about how Palestine is a workers issue, especially for teachers. They asked to remain anonymous due to the risk of repression.

“When students are having to watch a genocide that’s being livestreamed — many of whom have connections to this land and to this region… this is impacting our students’ learning conditions and effectively our working conditions.”

They added that the IDF trains the NYPD, which goes against the work that many teachers in the city have taken up to remove the police presence in their schools.

The teacher is an organizer with MORE Caucus, a progressive rank-and-file caucus within the United Federation of Teachers, and Teachers Unite, a group organizing public school teachers in NYC to oppose racism and oppression. MORE has criticized the leadership of the UFT for being silent on the genocide, and as a result, making it more difficult for educators to organize in solidarity with their students.

“There’s a lot of fear for folks that if they speak out they’re gonna face personal and professional repercussions. I know of plenty of teachers who have been doxxed online or blasted by the New York Post.”

Despite the silence from many union leaders, there is an increasing amount of action by rank and file workers to support the movement, including healthcare workers who held a vigil for victims of the genocide, and port workers across the world who are refusing to load weapons to be sent to Israel. The American Postal Workers Union recently issued a statement calling for a ceasefire and acknowledging that Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of Gaza has killed more than 10,000 civilians, including 4,000 children.

As Left Voice member and CUNY adjunct Tatiana Cozzarelli explained at a recent panel on labor solidarity with Palestine, “The power of the labor movement is not just in our ability to take to the streets and organize protests. The real power of the labor movement is in the ability to shut it down, to stop arms shipments to Israel, to stop producing arms, to stop U.S. aid to Israel.”

Despite the repression that students and workers are facing, Hawa and many other activists in the movement are inspired by the current moment and the displays of solidarity that have been taking place.

“It’s very powerful to see a total shift across society in support for the Palestinian liberation struggle,” Hawa said. “This is a moment that calls for courage and we need to do everything in our power to end this genocidal violence against the people of Gaza, but more broadly as well, a system of impunity and dehumanization… I think slowly that system is going to crumble because of the leadership of the youth.”

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Samuel Karlin

Samuel Karlin is a socialist with a background in journalism. He mainly writes for Left Voice about U.S. imperialism and international class struggle.

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