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No Commencement as Usual! “You Can’t Hide from Genocide!”

Campuses Continue to Roil as School Year Draws to an End

Barnard seniors stood and turned their backs to President Rosenbury and Dean Grinage as they spoke at Barnard graduation, May 15, 2024.


Barnard seniors stood and turned their backs to President Rosenbury and Dean Grinage as they spoke at Barnard graduation in an act of solidarity with Palestinian people, May 15, 2024.   

As the academic year winds down or has ended, students have continued to find bold and creative ways to express outrage against the U.S./Israeli genocidal slaughter in Gaza. The powers that be claim that pro-Palestinian protesters have spread “violence” on campuses and slandered them as “antisemitic”—when in fact these students, including many Jewish people, have acted with principle and determination against a towering injustice and crimes against humanity. The rulers of the U.S., the main backers of Israel in its genocide against Palestinians, are the real source of reactionary violence on campuses—unleashing violent police raids, arresting nearly 3,000 protesters, punishing thousands with suspensions or expulsions, and encouraging attacks by Christian fascists, Proud Boys, Zionist thugs and others.

What has gone on in these past five weeks or so has been extremely important. In mid-April, the president of Columbia University, Nemat "Minouche" Shafik, was dragged before a congressional hearing on “anti-Semitism.” This was a major attack on pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses, aiming to slander them with the lie that standing up against the crimes of Israel is the same as attacking Jewish people. And it was a major attack on free speech and academic freedom. Instead of taking on the false premise of the hearing, Shafik basically belly crawled before Congress—promising to be highly repressive against students and faculty speaking out against the U.S.-backed Israeli genocide on Palestinians.

The fascists and liberals may have thought this would put an end to the protests. They were wrong!

That same day, Columbia students answered by escalating in the face of repression. They started a Gaza Solidarity Encampment, and when Shafik moved to send the police on campus, arresting over 100 people, students came back with a second encampment that very same day! This set off a wave of resistance at campuses across the country that sent a political jolt through the U.S. and way beyond. As one token of this, look at this week’s cover of the prominent mainstream cultural magazine The New Yorker:

May 20, 2024 New Yorker magazine cover, with cartoon of pro-Palestinian graduate with wrists tied.


New Yorker

Toward the beginning of this upsurge, the revolutionary leader Bob Avakian answered why the repression was coming down so harshly on the students, especially at elite colleges: 

because fundamental interests of U.S. capitalism-imperialism are at stake. Because Israel plays a “special role” as a heavily armed bastion of support for U.S. imperialism in a strategically important part of the world (the “Middle East”).  And Israel has been a key force in the commission of atrocities which have helped to maintain the oppressive rule of U.S. imperialism in many other parts of the world.

And this repression is happening because representatives of the ruling class in this country have a definite sense that if youth especially at “elite” universities begin to seriously question and act against what this system is doing—if the system “loses the allegiance” of large numbers of those students—that can be a big factor in creating a real crisis for the system as a whole, as happened in the 1960s:  a crisis that, now more than ever, this system really cannot afford, when the whole country is already being torn apart by deep divisions, with bitter clashes right among the ruling powers.  So, at the same time as they are bitterly divided, the ruling powers of this country are firmly united in their determination to punish and intimidate especially students at elite universities who have stepped forward to protest the genocidal slaughter of Palestinians.  The ruling class is desperate to prevent opposition to its fundamental interests from spreading and involving masses of people, from all parts of society.

He went on to say that:

All this reveals, more “nakedly” than in “normal situations,” the actual dictatorship behind the outer shell of “democracy” of this country—and it shines a light on the strategic weakness of this system, when it does lose the allegiance of major sections of the people and this has the potential to spread to all parts of society, including among the dominant institutions of this system.

The importance of these protests—and the ways in which this repression continues unabated—can be seen in what we report this week, with a focus on the ways in which commencement ceremonies were disrupted as students—sometimes in their hundreds, sometimes in small numbers—made sure there was no “business as usual.”

Authorities Try to Hide from the Charge of Genocide—But Graduates Won’t Let Them!

Columbia University in NYC and many other schools moved ceremonies far away from their campuses or canceled large commencement ceremonies altogether (breaking them up into smaller ceremonies) in an attempt to avoid protests. Xavier University in New Orleans and the University of Vermont canceled invitations for the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield (who repeatedly sabotaged efforts to pass UN resolutions for a Gaza ceasefire and to condemn Israel’s genocide) to speak.

Here's just some of what happened across the country: 

  • Emerson College, Boston: On May 12, about 200 of the 1,000 graduates walked up for their degrees with fists in the air, many opening their gowns to reveal Palestinian flags and other symbols of protest. Many refused to shake the hand of university president Jay Bernhardt because of a police raid in which 100 were arrested. One graduate, wearing no robe but in all-white clothing covered in red writing about the genocide in Gaza, threw her diploma across the stage and held up her hands, covered in red paint. Senior class president Joe Nalieth was cheered when he spoke, “Our voices echo on campuses across the world, especially those campuses which have been reduced to rubble [referring to Gaza’s universities that have been destroyed by Israel]. Let us not forget, we are creatives, innovators and revolutionaries.”
At Emerson College in Boston, graduate wears Palestine flag cape, May 12, 2024.


At Emerson College in Boston, graduate wears Palestine flag cape, May 12, 2024.    Photo: Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via AP

  • Columbia University, NYC: “Refuse to accept hell as normal”—this was what commencement speaker Amira Hass, an Israeli journalist who spent 30 years stationed in Gaza and the West Bank and who has spoken out against Israeli apartheid and the genocide in Gaza, told students at the Columbia School of Journalism. Columbia has been the epicenter of a worldwide student movement against the Gaza genocide, with more than 200 student protesters arrested and suspended or expelled. After calling in the NYPD against the protest encampment, the administration canceled the single university-wide ceremony and held separate ceremonies for each component college. There were protests at many of those separate ceremonies. 
  • At the School of Social Work, Tarsis Salome tore up her degree on stage, while other students came up with their hands zip-tied together or with tape over their mouths. At Barnard College, graduates wore red poppies on their gowns with the names of slain Palestinian children and turned their backs on the college president and dean as they spoke, while a “Parents for Palestine” banner was hung from the balcony. 
At Barnard College graduation Parents for Palestine drop banner that says "Divest-Parents for Palestine"


At Barnard College graduation Parents for Palestine drop a banner that says "Divest."    Photo: via X @ColumbiaSJP

  • At the Mailman School of Public Health, student Saham David Ahmed Ali was giving a speech calling for Columbia to take action to oppose Israel’s bombardment of Gaza when her mic cut off… twice. It is not known whether this was a technical issue or deliberate censorship, but given the heavy-handed repression of the administration, students chanted, “Let her speak!” Graduates at Teacher’s College came up to the stage with protest signs and banners.

  • On May 16, 550 students, professors and religious leaders attended an “alternative” commencement—the People’s Ceremony—at nearby St. John the Divine Episcopal church. Hind Khoudary, a Palestinian journalist, sent a video from Gaza, with appreciation of the protesters: “We never imagined that anyone is gonna ever give us hope the way you guys did.”
  • As these commencements were taking place, Columbia’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences passed a no-confidence resolution, signed by more than 450 professors, condemning President Shafik for violating the “fundamental requirements of academic freedom and shared governance,” and engaging in an “unprecedented assault on students' rights.”  The Columbia Spectator reported, “Over 200 independent student workers pledged to withhold their labor—which includes withholding final grades—until the University grants amnesty to all students, faculty, and staff disciplined for their involvement in pro-Palestinian protest activity and permanently removes New York Police Department personnel from campus.”
  • Pomona College, Claremont, California: Pomona, a small liberal arts school, has been the scene of fierce protests since March. The college administration decided to hold the commencement ceremony 40 miles away in Los Angeles. About 100 protesters outside unfurled banners reading “Pomona College divest from genocide now” and chanting “Shame.” Dozens of LA cops in riot gear moved in to disperse them, and protesters have posted video of cops brutalizing people.
Pomona College, California, police attack pro-Palestinian demonstrators outside the commencement ceremony, May 12, 2024.


Pomona College, California, police attack pro-Palestinian demonstrators outside the commencement ceremony, May 12, 2024.    Photo: AP/Ryan Sun

Students at the University of Minnesota, one by one, stand up for Gaza during their graduation.

Crackdowns and Mass Arrests Continue 


Police breakup Pro-Palestine encampment at UC Irvine, May 16, 2024.


Police breakup pro-Palestine encampment at UC Irvine, May 16, 2024.    Photo: via X @tarantulaarms

Even as most schools across the country are winding down, the repression aimed at shutting down student encampments has not:

University of California, Irvine: Students in the Gaza solidarity encampment had been negotiating with the university over their demand the school divest from Israel and amnesty for protesters. On May 15, the 17th day of the encampment, the university suddenly suspended members of the negotiating team! That same afternoon, several hundred students and supporters surrounded the Physical Sciences Lecture Hall while a group of students occupied the building. No classes were in session and nobody had been injured, but the university quickly declared the action a “violent protest” and called in the police. 200 baton wielding cops descended from eight police and Sheriff's departments from around the region. Within a few hours police had forced their way into the building and surrounded (“kettled”) the students, faculty and supporters demonstrating outside, as campus personnel tore down the encampment. 47 people were arrestedAs she was being arrested, a global studies professor was asked by reporters, “Are you worried about your job?” She answered, “What job do I have if the students don't have a future?!” 

California:  At UC Irvine, cops restrain a pro-Palestinian protester as they began to raid encampment, May 15, 2024.


California:  At UC Irvine, cops assault a pro-Palestinian protester as they began to raid encampment, May 15, 2024.    Photo: Leonard Ortiz/The Orange County Register via AP

DePaul University, Chicago: At 5:30 am on May 16, hundreds of police in riot gear stormed and dismantled the Gaza solidarity encampment, arresting two students and injuring several. The encampment had been in place for 17 days and included about 100 tents.  Students immediately gathered across the street in protest, holding signs like “You can’t pray for ‘both sides’ while arming one” and “Jews against genocide.”

UC Berkeley: Protesters occupied Anna Head Alumnae Hall, an abandoned building two blocks from the main campus, in May 15. They said the takeover was in memory of Al-Shifa Hospital, the largest medical center in the Gaza Strip that is now in ruins from Israeli attacks. This action came the day after the 22-day encampment in front of Sproul Hall was disbanded after the university agreed to examine its investments in Israel. UC officials immediately denounced the non-violent occupation of the unoccupied building as “a crime scene,” and within hours deployed police to clear it. At least 12 demonstrators were arrested. 

Protests have continued—and been met with brutality, arrests and threats of suspension—at the New School, City University of New York Graduate Center, City College of NY, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and many more places.

In response to the vicious repression, University of California Workers authorized a strike. Members of the union representing some 48,000 graduate students and other academic workers at 10 UC campuses have voted to call a strike, not over wages and benefits, but to oppose any use of force against protesting students and faculty members and protect campus free speech and political rights. (Eight UC campuses have another month of instruction before summer break.) The union president said, “If members of the academic community are maced and beaten down for peacefully demonstrating on this issue, our ability to speak up on all issues is threatened.”

Repression Aimed at Keeping Faculty and Staff in Line

In addition to professors being brutalized and arrested, from Dartmouth to Emory University, a university president from Sonoma State University has been forced to go on leave and a professor from Texas has been fired.

Sonoma State University President Forced on Leave After Agreeing to Academic Boycott of Israel: Mike Lee, president of Sonoma State University, has been charged with insubordination and placed on administrative leave by the California State University chancellor. His infraction? Announcing that Sonoma State talked with students at the university’s protest encampment and agreed to an academic boycott of Israel, moving toward divesting from Israel, and giving a pro-Palestinian group more say in decision-making. “The punishment marks perhaps the harshest disciplinary action against a campus chancellor or president in California over the handling of protests of the war in Gaza,” Politico reports. This again demonstrates that Universities are not some independent institutions, answerable to the wishes of their faculty, students and staff, but like other major institutions of society, subject to the workings of the ruling dictatorship of this capitalist-imperialist system and its needs and demands.

University of Texas (UT), Austin Professor Fired for Protesting: Professor Rich Heyman has taught urban studies as a lecturer for 18 years. On April 29, he joined hundreds of others to protest the genocide in Gaza and the repression unleashed by the State of Texas and campus administrators against campus protests. Heyman was arrested on misdemeanor charges for allegedly “interfering with the public duties” of a state trooper and yelling “Fuck you, you don’t belong here” at troopers—a free speech right supposedly protected by the U.S. Constitution. Heyman was charged and arrested over a week later. He received notice from UT while sitting in jail that he was fired. During commencement at UT Dallas, the President of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) was ushered offstage and threatened with arrest as he held up a Palestinian flag with “Divest from Death” written on it.  

Pro-Israel and MAGA Fascists Protest Student Encampments

University of Washington (UW), SeattleProtesters refused the university’s demand to end their encampment, which began on May 1 and had grown to over 100 tents. They also refused to back down in the face of threats by fascist and Christian fascist forces, including the Proud Boys and Pursuit NW, who planned to march thorough campus in support of Israel. On May 12, several hundred fascist protesters did approach the barricades on one side of the encampment, yelling the protesters were “terrorists from the gates of hell.” But the protesters stood their ground. "Israel Is a Terrorist State!" one of their main banners said.

Stanford University: On April 25, hundreds of students re-established a Gaza solidarity encampment at the center of campus demanding Stanford divest investments in Israel and “Hands Off Rafah.” (An earlier “Sit-in to Stop Genocide” ended in February after several months.) On May 12, hundreds of supporters of Israel marched through the campus to the encampment. This “Interfaith Rally Against Terror” brought together Zionist Jewish people, Christian fascists, anti-Muslim Hindu nationalists (“Hinduvata”) and others, yelling that supporters of Palestine were “rapists” and “terrorists.” They were met by hundreds of pro-Palestinians defending the encampment, shouting “Free Palestine” and displaying huge banners including “WE [the U.S.] FUNDED ISRAEL TO KILL CHILDREN."

Going Forward

Right now, as the genocide against the Palestinian people intensifies to new and more horrific levels, three things need to happen:

1. The resistance must spread throughout all of societyuniting all who can possibly be united to demand the U.S./Israeli genocide of the Palestinian people stop NOW!

2. ALL the anti-genocide students & protesters must be defended! 

3. To all those who have been in the thick of this struggle, and who have been inspired by itas you engage in this crucial fight in the interests of humanity, open up the debate and discussion about what is driving this genocide, and all the other horrors in the world around us... and what is the solution. 

Talk with the revcoms about how all this oppression is rooted in the system of capitalism-imperialism.  And while we unite together to build the resistance we need, dig into the revolution that is required to overthrow this system, and bring into being a radically different and far better system, to really end all this injustice and oppression.

Talk with, and join, the Revcom Corps for the Emancipation of Humanity. Bring your spirit of defiance and your desire to get to an emancipating world. With this whole system in crisis and society being ripped apart, the revolution that's needed to overthrow this system could happen not just in some far-off place and time, but right here and right in this time we are living in.

Revcom Corps for the Emancipation of Humanity, LA at protest against the US/Israeli genocide of the Palestinian people, commemmorating the 76th Anniversary of the Nakba.


Revcom Corps for the Emancipation of Humanity, LA at protest against the U.S./Israeli genocide of the Palestinian people, commemmorating the 76th Anniversary of the Nakba.    @therevcoms

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From the genocide in Gaza, to the growing threat of world war between nuclear powers, to escalating environmental devastation… the capitalist-imperialist system ruling over us is a horror for billions around the world and is tearing up the fabric of life on earth. Now the all-out battle within the U.S. ruling class, between fascist Republicans and war criminal Democrats, is coming to a head—likely during, or before, the coming elections—ripping society apart unlike anything since the Civil War.

Bob Avakian (BA), revolutionary leader and author of the new communism, has developed a strategy to prepare for and make revolution. He’s scientifically analyzed that this is a rare time when an actual revolution has become more possible, and has laid out the sweeping vision, solid foundation and concrete blueprint for “what comes next,” in the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America.

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