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Temple University Students are Escalating Their Fight for Palestine

Students at Temple University in Philadelphia are ramping up the movement for Palestine on campus.

Jason Koslowski

November 11, 2023
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Students at Temple University in Philadelphia walk out for Palestine in November 2023.
Image: Jason Koslowski

I don’t hear about the student walkout until a student shows me the Instagram post. She’s going, she says. She saw me at the last one and thought I’d want to know.

This walkout, like the last one, is also by Temple University’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). That one was pretty big. Probably around 350-400. It’s part of a movement waking up and stretching across the country. In Philly a few weeks ago, 10,000 took the Art Museum steps. Then, in DC last weekend, tens of thousands flooded the capital. Somehow, it didn’t make the front pages of corporate-owned newspapers. This is the biggest movement since the massive 2020 BLM uprisings.

My next class starts at 11.The walkout’s at 11:30. I tell that class about it, I tell them I’m going. They’re welcome to join me. They probably suspect at this point I’m a communist. Class is going to be pretty short today.

The walkout this time is a lot bigger. At least 500-600. We meet at the Belltower at the center of campus, at first 300 hundred of us. Another big contingent shows up, another hundred, walking out of their classes, and more keep coming. I see a bunch of my students. I grin and say hi. They smile back. We both know: this is a lot better than being in class.

Students at Temple University, Philadelphia rally for Palestine.

This walkout’s louder. A lot louder. “Biden, Biden, you can’t hide! You’re supporting genocide!” “Not another nickel, not another dime! No more money for Israel’s crimes!”

We march through campus. Crashing echoes slam off windows. We sound like a huge engine, revving. It gives you goosebumps. The movement is getting stronger: at the last walkout we shied away from taking the streets. This time we step down off the sidewalk right away. It’s fun to watch the Temple cops scrambling when we shut down traffic. They didn’t expect us to do this. No one in the cars look mad. They’re clapping and smiling. “Whose streets? Our streets!” keeps echoing. Some idiot shows up and tries to disrupt the protest with a “Fear God” sign. He’s totally drowned out. He looks pitiful amid the screaming mass and waving Palestine flags.

I see a few of my union siblings in the crowd, but not many. There are a few more from the grad union. We’re not organized like the undergrads. They’re putting us to shame. My intrepid union leaders won’t utter a syllable about the genocide. It’ll take rank and filers taking our cue from students, walking out with them.

We end outside the president’s office. We’re chanting and cheering. Not enough cops here to stop us, if we wanted to take over this building, take the president’s office, keep it from running — we could. Students are doing that in New York. The office lights inside the building are on. But the rooms are empty. I guess the people in them didn’t want to be seen in the same building as the president.

The Temple students take your breath away. The SJP organizers are being harassed and doxxed. A professor has been calling the students “terrorists.” A lot of them though aren’t even wearing face masks. They’re not afraid, they’re furious and organized. They also happen to be very good at organizing walkouts. If I were Temple’s president, a millionaire named Richard Englert, I’d be scared.

In the middle of the walkout, he sends an email to all of us about how diverse the student body is. We’re still waiting for an email on the genocide. When I get his latest email, I’m standing with hundreds of students. We’re very diverse: anti-Zionist Jews, white, Black and Brown people, Palestinian students leading the whole thing. We’re screaming at Dick Englert’s window: “Temple, Temple, you can’t hide. You’re supporting genocide.”

SJP Temple shouts its demands at the president’s windows. They’re calling for an immediate ceasefire. They’re targeting the complicity of our school’s bosses the genocide. They call on Englert to publicly stand in solidarity with Palestinians and the harassed Palestinian activists on campus. And they’re demanding Temple’s immediate divestment from corporations arming Israel, like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, and Elbit Systems.

This isn’t the first time Temple students flexed their muscles this year.

In the spring, Temple’s grad student union — TUGSA — went on strike. That dragged on for about six weeks. The undergrads tipped the scales. They held two separate walkouts in solidarity with the union. Before the strike, the bosses were offering a 2% raise. TUGSA won a better deal — a 30 percent raise. That happened just a few days after the second student walkout. Then, the Board of Trustees fired the president at the time. That’s some coincidence.

The movement at Temple is getting stronger and sharper. The student speakers are calling out capitalist imperialism by name: the U.S. ruling class, and their Republican and Democratic Parties, need Israel and its genocide because it’s good for U.S. power and profits in the Middle East.

We hear in the news about a couple Democrats pushing back for Palestine, like Rashida Tlaib. But she’s being censured — including by her own party — for saying “From the river to the sea.” That’s the whole issue: the Democratic party is part of a huge governmental machine that feeds off of imperialism around the globe. The party runs on money by billionaires who need global imperialism for their profits. It’s no surprise the leaders of the Democrats support Israeli violence without question. In Breaking the Impasse, Kim Moody talks about how party leaders discipline rebelling party members. Dissidents aren’t helped with reelection; they’re put on meaningless and poweless committees; any bills they introduce are being put in a drawer until they die. Maybe more than ever, it’s clear: The fight for Palestine has to come from from the bottom up, from working-class and oppressed people — including students, who are marching squarely at the front of the movement.

The students here are chanting “If we don’t get it, shut it down!” The walkout is a small taste of their power — as students who take classes, but also as workers who make the university run.

The university will have a hard time running when this movement gets bigger, if it can attract more students, and more workers like teachers and grad students to join in. We make Temple run with our work, our schoolwork, and other labor. If we’re going to win those ambitious demands, we’ll have to level up, from marches and walkouts to strikes and disruptions that draw in even more students, more teachers, more workers on campus and more people from the North Philly neighborhoods around Temple.

This movement at Temple is part of a much bigger one in the U.S. and across the world that can play a major part in shutting down the Israeli war machine. The parties of billionaires won’t help us; they’re attacking us and calling us terrorists. Students are showing us how to organize ourselves, from the bottom up, to fight for a free Palestine. From the river to the sea.

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Jason Koslowski

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

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