الحوار باللغة العربية

In recent months, a wave of student actions has swept universities in the United States and around the world, including an occupation and sit-in organized by students at California State Polytechnic University (Cal Poly) in Humboldt. The main driver of these student movements may be the continued silence, disappointment, and inaction that has afflicted societies around the world despite the intensification of the massacre. Perhaps some of us feel a little spark of joy knowing that, thousands of kilometers away, behind the Atlantic Ocean, there are groups of young people occupying buildings and setting up tents in the belly of the beast in support of Palestine... and with each tent raised, the empire and the colony receive another blow.

In this Q&A, Rehla we focus on the internal dynamics, tactics and local response more than the bigger picture of the ongoing University movements that swept the US and other countries. This Q&A was conducted with the group who were part of the initial occupation of Siemens/Intifada Hall. We responded to questions in a casual, group format, in a sort of open conversation. The answers provided are a combination of summary, synthesis of perspectives, and direct quotes. 

Last April, and for seven consecutive days, a group of students occupied the Siemens Hall at California State Polytechnic University, Humboldt, renaming the occupied building “Intifada Hall”. The direct action started five days after the Columbia University encampment began. When did the plan to occupy Cal Poly begin? 

Planning for the occupation started the night before. We were inspired by the occupation at Columbia and answered the call to join this growing movement. One of the members of our close friend crew expressed a "crushing" disappointment in their ability to stop the war in Gaza: " [I] was watching things happen for the past seven months [and was excited about] having this sudden action that didn't necessarily need coordination. All that was there was a sense that something had to be done." 

There was a rather short meeting in a local park of 50-60 people, where the decision to occupy a building the following afternoon was made. Those of us who were more experienced in certain types of autonomous organizing advocated that planning processes could stop us from taking action, because we knew that there were things that we would not be able to agree on. The group agreed with this perspective, and so it was decided to prioritize taking action soon rather than getting caught up in logistics planning, which we felt we would have time to do once we took the building. 

Why is it important for you that your university discloses and divests from Israeli investments?

Several opinions emerged from the participants who participated in this interview: 

“Seeing the connections between our university and the Israeli military gave people the extra push to do something”... “I think that the movement specifically for universities to divest is important because universities like to present themselves as progressive institutions. If we want other institutions to divest it's important for us to start at a place where the hypocrisy is incredibly visible and made seen easily.”

 “[We wanted] to disturb a sense of pacification that working class, first generation college students are lulled into by the offer of a degree, security, stability. This stability means far less to me than the lives and struggles of Palestinians.”

“There's a long history of occupying buildings at this university, and we wanted to follow in the footsteps of this movement.”

“Because of my personal relationships with folks impacted by this war, I feel compelled to do something.”

“Not only did we feel it was important to show solidarity with Palestinians, to create a crisis for American institutions funding genocide, but also to give people the experience of defying the American institution on our own soil.”

On tactics:

Compared to other campuses, the Cal Poly occupation was more disruptive and direct in its response to police brutality. What made you take this different, more radical approach? Was faculty and staff supportive?

In the first conflict with the police there was large contingent of people -- both students and non-students -- who had prior experience engaging in street combat with cops. Skills learned from these moments were displayed in the conflict, and were made immediately useful to everybody. Those who had not had experience in battling with police were able to jump in shoulder to shoulder with those familiar with these types of interactions, and learned in the moment by doing. There was enough trust in the building for people to engage with the skills that were being offered.

Faculty and staff were overwhelmingly supportive of the protests, multiple governing bodies of faculty have passed votes of no confidence in university president Tom Jackson. Various faculty spent long hours at the occupation. On the night of the raid on the encampment, a professor was arrested along with 30 other students and community members.

On April 24, a video surfaced on the internet showing around 20 student protestors holding the line and successfully blocking a violent attack by the police to enter the Simens hall. The police retreated while the students cheered. A water jug became a symbol of the protest. Can you tell us more about that specific event?

When the police arrived in force to the occupation, no one saw it coming. Occupiers expected to talk with each other, eat food, read, and plan for the future of the encampment. As it became clear that the police were planning to escalate, people responded mostly organically. The lack of formal planning prior to the occupation created a situation in which anything was possible. That, combined with a few people making the first moves to build barricades, yelling at police, and prepping people for a clash with cops set the tone. Some of us ran across town to get chains to secure doors. During the initial confrontation, a large crowd gathered outside, who eventually pinned the police between the building and the crowd. Police attempted to make arrests outside, but several de-arrests were successful. The combination of inside and outside clashes with police placed the necessary pressure on them to disperse.

We also wanted to note, that with the initial confrontation, our local police force had militarized equipment but did not know how to use it. Even though we were out-gunned, we had the tactical advantage.

One of the most powerful things about this was seeing people who had never been involved in anything like this before being compelled to act when seeing injustice occurring.”

Press and comms

While the occupation can be described as a local event in a “tiny California college”, it is a response to another event more than 10,000 km away: the ongoing genocide in Palestine. Despite being hyperlocal (campus-level news) one could argue that it sent shockwaves across the world. How did you ensure the message communicated through direct action was clear and transparent? How did the students engage with the media and the public?

Our actions were the message to communicate. The message was that the way to respond to the genocide of Palestinian people is to fight the state and build a new world out of these ruptures. The message is to escalate, to refuse to let normal life happen when the United States is funding war in our name.

There were certain key sympathetic local journalists, leftists media outlets, and autonomously organized media strategies that were important in the dissemination of information such as communiques, interviews or photos. Anyone was welcome to speak to press if they so desired. People formed ad hoc teams to make certain statements at times, but that was all done autonomously and no one group spoke for the whole occupation. 

Final message?

To our brothers and sisters in Palestine. Our struggles cannot be separated no matter how hard the state tries to. We will not stop until we both are free, and hopefully one day we will see eachother in person.

Just because the campus occupation is over doesn't mean were aren't thinking about this, that we aren't mobilizing, things are still moving, still happening.

This isn't over.

We understand that Palestine is a testing ground for Empire's murderous techniques and equipment. We know that whatever they use and succeed in in Palestine, they will use elsewhere, they will train US police forces in to use domestically. Including surveillance technologies, weaponry, urban warfare tactics. So, the struggle for Palestinian liberation is so incredibly intertwined with our own futures.

كن جزءًا من مشروع "رحلة"
وادعَم صُدور النّسخة الورقيّة الشهريّة

لمزيد من التفاصيل:
Patreon support button