Alumni: Disconnect from CUNY's Complicity and Invest in the Liberation of Palestinians - Latest Global News

Alumni: Disconnect from CUNY’s Complicity and Invest in the Liberation of Palestinians

As graduates of the City University of New York (CUNY), we have always been proud. CUNY is the largest public urban university system in the country and has a majority of Black and brown students.

As working-class students, we felt that CUNY better reflected the diverse demographics of our city than the private and elite universities. The inherent diversity of our campus communities provided us with an invaluable education that went well beyond the curriculum – we learned from the realities and histories of our fellow students. At CUNY we learned how to build community. We have learned to organize ourselves. And we spent our time mobilizing for the liberation of the Palestinians.

Last month, students and workers set up a solidarity camp in the Gaza Strip, demonstrating CUNY’s true potential to become a people’s university. Years after we graduated, we returned to campus to help organize and witness this historic event.

The camp presented five demands to the CUNY government: divestment from companies and military contractors involved in the Zionist genocide and occupation; boycott academic institutions involved in Zionist settler colonialism; solidarity with the Palestinian national liberation struggle; campus demilitarization; and a return to a fully funded, tuition-free people’s CUNY.

While the focus was on ending CUNY’s complicity in the Gaza genocide, the camp built a community based on solidarity and care. Clearance crews organized daily meals, an accessible pantry, and a 24-hour medical tent for emergencies. Political education, film screenings and activities for children were offered in the camp every day.

The camp also paid homage to the rich history of radical organizing at CUNY and in Harlem. It drew on the legacy of our elders who took a similar initiative in 1969 to demand educational equity for Black and Puerto Rican students through their “Five Demands.” The students publicly renamed City College the University of Harlem. In 2024, following this mobilization, we also made five demands and declared on a banner: “Harlem University: founded in 1969, refounded. 2024”.

We also wanted to revive the legacy of the student protests of the 1980s and reclaim the Shakur-Morales Student and Community Center, which was founded then and forcibly closed by the university administration in 2013. We called the camp’s political education program “Shakur-Morales.” Morales Kanafani People’s University” and added a reference to the late Palestinian intellectual Ghassan Kanafani, who was murdered by Mossad in 1972.

At the camp, students and CUNY alumni, faculty and community members have created something extraordinary: a collaborative, safe and transformative space rooted in radical love and a commitment to Palestinian liberation.

But the camp was not intended to be a utopia that alone offered peace. It was an escalation that threatened the hegemony of the university administration and its pursuit of profit from colonization and war. In other words, the camp threatened the status quo of the university, and that is never fundamentally a peaceful process.

As Palestinian intellectual and martyr Basel Al Araj said: “The beginning of every revolution is an exit.” An exit from the social order that has entrenched power in the name of law, stability, public interest and the common good.” The Solidarity Camp CUNY Gaza marked the rise of the student movement from struggling with the constraints of a neoliberal, for-profit university to open resistance to university authorities and a complete refusal to be policed ​​and governed.

When campus police were dispatched by the university administration to disperse the eviction, the protesters spontaneously dispersed them. This moment was a demonstration of collective power that we as former student organizers on campus never expected. The collaboration of students, workers and the community had expanded the possibilities of resistance in the belly of the beast.

The camp continued to demand that CUNY cleanse its hands of Palestinian blood and become a CUNY of the people again. Instead, the university administration responded by calling on armed police to shed more blood—that of black, brown, working-class CUNY. According to the protesters, the NYPD and public safety broke bones and shattered teeth. The campus where we had united for liberation turned into a battlefield as hundreds of police violently invaded.

As alumni, scholars, activists and organizers, we have never been under any illusions about the conservative politics and profit motive that drive the CUNY administration. Since 2018, CUNY students have been organizing against CUNY’s $1.09 million investments in weapons and surveillance technology companies. Instead of heeding our calls for divestment years ago, and despite student governments voting for divestment, CUNY responded by expanding its genocidal investments. In 2021, we learned that CUNY had spent a whopping $8.5 million on contracts with companies that were involved in or profited from supporting Israeli apartheid and war crimes.

When the Zionist entity escalated its 76 years of colonization and dispossession into a full-scale genocide, the students had no choice but to react more decisively and set up protest camps and occupations.

Although we expected CUNY to respond to the camp with repression, we were surprised by the sheer violence of their response. Instead of heeding its students’ call, CUNY sent the NYPD to brutalize protesters and arrest nearly 200 of them, with 28 protesters charged with life-altering crimes.

And in an extreme act of betrayal, the CUNY Board of Trustees, following the crackdown, just passed a resolution to spend $4 million on a private security firm that advertises its services to police pro-Palestinian protests and “experts” hired by the Zionists were trained as legal entities.

Students who set up camp and decide to emigrate to Palestine now do so as a recognition of their ancestral heritage. Over the last century, U.S. students have escalated their opposition to the Vietnam War and South African apartheid. The cause of Palestinian liberation is also a just cause, and the University Intifada is just a fulfillment of its duty.

This is why we say: Escalations are noble and necessary to end university involvement in the Gaza genocide. The best time for escalation was yesterday. The second best time is now.

We also reject the “outside agitator” dog whistle. We are all affected by the university management’s decision to finance the genocide with taxpayers’ money and student fees. There is no dividing line between students and community. CUNY campuses should be accessible to all, without gates sealing off education from surrounding communities.

This racist rhetoric is only used by the CUNY administration to deprive current students of the collective wisdom of the larger pro-Palestinian movement. As alumni and organizers, we can share with students our experiences of ignoring past demands; that Israeli occupation forces were welcomed to campus well before October 7; Exploratory committees and meetings with the administration waste organizers’ time while Palestinians die. In return, we are inspired by and learn from new escalations that student organizers boldly introduce. The struggle for liberation depends on knowledge developed together from one generation of resistance to the next.

However, the administration is betting that student movements have short institutional memories. They seek to alienate student organizers from the rich legacy of Palestinian and anti-colonial resistance by sealing this knowledge away in books that are intended to be read but never put into practice. Collaboration between alumni and students poses a direct threat to the administration’s strategy of waiting for student movements until organizers graduate.

Given CUNY’s complete inability to meet this historical moment despite presenting itself as a social justice university, we invite our fellow alumni to join and strengthen the campus movement – a people’s movement – for Palestine. Separate from CUNY until CUNY refrains from genocide.

Stop all donations and collaborations with this university that uses alumni influence to reinforce its false image of social justice education and inclusion. Instead, invest in Palestinian life, liberation and the student movement that has courageously paved the way for our collective liberation.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.

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