[DEBATE] : UofR Students Win Campus Building Occupation in Solidarity with Palestine
tony roshan samara
straightup00us at yahoo.com
Thu Feb 12 05:00:41 GMT 2009
Published on Iraq Veterans Against the War (http://www.rochesterivaw.org)
Home > UofR Students Win Campus Building Occupation in Solidarity with Palestine
UofR Students Win Campus Building Occupation in Solidarity with Palestine
By Bryan Casler
Created 02/10/2009 - 11:30
Rochester, NY – On February 6th Students For a Democratic Society (SDS), the Campus Antiwar Network (CAN) and community members occupied the Goergen Atrium and Auditorium on the University of Rochester (UofR) campus in solidarity with the victims of Israel’s siege on Gaza. Between 85-100 people participated throughout the day.
Leading up to the occupation, SDS printed an editorial in the campus newspaper and issued a letter to the administration to demand: that UofR divest from corporations that manufacturer weapons and profit from the siege; commit to fundraising humanitarian aid for Gaza; donate extra computers and books to students and educational institutions in Gaza; and scholarships for Palestinian students.
In the interest of “dialogue” and “freedom of expression”, the administration agreed to allow SDS to reserve the Goergen building for a peaceful occupation between 1pm and 12am. They also agreed to provide the Dean of Students Matthew Burns to meet with for negotiations throughout the event.
Around 3pm, students and community members began assembling in the atrium. Organizations set up informational tables with pamphlets, literature and leaflets to educate and facilitate discussions. One participant, Kevin Gustina made Palestinian flags with his two children out of construction paper and delivered them to be distributed in solidarity with the occupation. Musicians preformed impromptu songs that turned into collective chanting, “Free Free Palestine” along to the music. And food was provided throughout the day by the local Food Not Bombs Organization to feed the participants.
Throughout the day, meetings of 30-50 people convened in the auditorium for education on Israel’s siege of Gaza, US support for Israel, possible solutions, and to plan collectively on how to win demands from the University.
The strategy discussions took on particular importance when the Administration changed its policy and tone from cooperative to demanding that the students pay $600 for a security guard to protect “both the building from the occupying students and the students from potential dangers.” Further, the Administration declared that students would be doubly punished for both staying in the building after 12am and for any civilians that were in the building as well.
Occupiers discussed that the administration was trying to divide students from community supporters. Hannah Taleb of SDS pointed out that, “If we are going to win our demands, we need solidarity” and proposed that no one show their identification cards “so they cannot divide us”. Others proposed that students of UofR stay inside and occupy while community supporters rally outside to guard the building.
While specific tactics for 12am were not decided, everyone unanimously agreed to add the demand that no disciplinary action be taken against students, workers, or community supporters. Everyone also agreed that getting as many people to participate in the occupation between 11pm and 12am would create the best position and most leverage to both win the demands and defend against disciplinary action.
A publicity team was created to forward a press release to the local media and coordinate the mass distribution of a request for student, worker, and community mobilization at the Goergen building between 11pm and 12am. Quarter-sheet handouts were produced with the announcement to send into the community via marches around the campus and carloads of occupiers to the local coffee shops.
As the evening progressed, organizers received word that Dean Burns would be coming to negotiate with the occupation at 10pm to create a joint statement and plan of action to address the demands. Another meeting was assembled and the occupation voted for two SDS UofR delegates and one community delegate to negotiate with Dean Burns. The group also agreed to demand that Burns meet in the auditorium to negotiate transparently in front of everyone and that the joint statement would be voted on by a simple majority of the occupiers.
The first round of negotiations took place in front of the crowd shortly after 10pm. At this point, the occupation had swelled to 75 participants. The delegates presented the Dean the demands and negotiated until he stated “what he could do” regarding each of the demands. The occupiers then kicked the Dean out of the auditorium to discuss and draft the joint statement and plan of action to present in a second round of bargaining.
After much discussion and debate, a strong majority voted to present the Dean with the following demands: that he helps to organize a public forum with the UofR investors, SDS and the community on UofR investment policy and UofR investment in Israel; that UofR commit resources and provide any needed information for a campus-wide fund drive for Palestine; that UofR work to assess needs in Gaza and donate surplus supplies to universities such as computers, books…etc.; and that UofR commit to reaching out to Palestinians with international student scholarships.
The second round of negotiations took place around 11:40pm, Dean Burns agreed to and signed on to each of these demands around 12am. Dean Burns left the auditorium one final time, the group overwhelmingly voted to accept the signed plan of action, and declared victory for the occupation.
After nine hours of organizing, occupiers marched passionately through campus chanting “Occupation is a crime, from Iraq to Palestine!” The march ended at the library where a final meeting was pulled together on the spot to assess the victory and discuss next steps.
Occupiers agreed that this victory marks only the beginning of a Rochester-wide campus solidarity campaign for Palestine and divestment campaign from Israel. Ryan Acuff of SDS reminded the group that this occupation has spread the wave of similar occupations in Britain to the US. Kristin Wierman of CAN explained that organizers not only want to spread the model throughout Rochester, but are “hoping to inspire and spread this movement across the US”. And Mike Iannacone, student at RIT pointed out the potential for linking this example up with the labor movement by referencing the South African dock workers that refused to unload Israeli cargo in solidarity with Palestine on February 6th, 2009.
The victory at UofR is confirmation that concrete victories can be won inside the US even with the mainstream media and the US government firmly in Israel’s corner.
Activists around the country and around the world should take this victory as a call to action: “Occupy your campus, fight for reforms the movement can sink its teeth into, and inspire everyone around to organize for justice in Palestine!”
VIA: http://www.thesitch.com/activism/2009/02/uofr-students-win-campus-buildi... 
Source URL: http://www.rochesterivaw.org/story/uofr-students-win-campus-building-occupation-solidarity-palestine
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