Biden, Universities and Campus Protests

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

As President ‘Genocide’ Joe Biden continues to ignore the will of the people who are demanding an end to United States’ complicity in genocide, one of his spokespeople, Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates, issued this pearl of wisdom: “President Biden respects the right to free expression, but protests must be peaceful and lawful.”

He might well have added: “…so they can be ignored”.

Since Israel began its unspeakable genocide in the Gaza Strip in October of last year, the U.S. government, by Biden’s orders, has sent billions of dollars of weaponry to that apartheid nation, to continue its crimes against humanity. Around the world, millions of people have gathered to protest these crimes and demand an end to the unbearable, unimaginable suffering being experienced by the Palestinians in Gaza, and the accelerated repression by the Zionist entity of the already-suffering Palestinians in the West Bank.

It is reported today (April 30, 2024), that students supporting Palestinian liberation and an end to Israel and the U.S.’s genocide have now occupied Columbia University’s Hamilton Hall, last occupied fifty-six years ago – to the day – as an earlier generation of concerned students opposed the brutal, unjust and immoral U.S. war against the people of Vietnam and rampant racism in the U.S. In 1968, the university called in the police who arrested more than 700 people; about 150 people were injured in that police attack.

It took years of protests on university campus, the streets of major U.S. cities and cities around the world before top leaders of the United States government, under President Gerald Ford, finally acknowledged publicly what they had known privately for years: there was no way the U.S. could defeat the people of Vietnam. Those campus protests were peaceful until the university administrators made the mistake of summoning the police, the same mistake being made in many cases today.  CNN reporter Nick Watt, reporting from USC, commented on the situation during a demonstration, specifically when ‘public safety officers’ were called to the scene: “Before they moved in… it was a peaceful demonstration; there were speakers; it was peaceful. As soon as public safety officers from the university moved in, it very quickly got verbal, and then it very quickly got violent….” Another peaceful demonstration, this one at Emory University in Georgia, quickly devolved into violence when the police raided it, arresting students and facility members alike.

It appears that university administrators, like U.S. government officials, have not learned from history. The universities are fighting their own students, as the U.S. is fighting its own citizens, as those very students and citizens stand on the right side of history by opposing genocide. It is shocking to think that in 2024, opposing genocide can result in arrest in the United States. It can also result in suspension or expulsion from some of the country’s most prestigious universities.

Today, many universities that condemned Vietnam-era war protestors and students who fought for racial equality, attempt to re-write history, extolling the virtues of diversity on their campuses, and proclaiming their support for free speech. It is quite convenient to look back into the past, recognize that the U.S. war against the people of Vietnam was a moral outrage that resulted in the deaths of millions of innocent men, women and children, and whitewash the repression of those who understood that reality at the time. It is easy to overlook racist admission policies when our society today is, at least in some limited ways, more ‘enlightened’, and most university campus have many students with a wide range of ethnic backgrounds. It is said that with hindsight, everyone has 20-20 vision. What is lacking is the ability to learn from history, and not remake the same, old, deadly mistakes.

During the Vietnam War era, many universities benefited financially by having ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) offices on campus. These offices fed the war machine, providing trained men and women who, for reasons that are difficult to explain, were willing to be trained to kill innocent people. One of the demands by student activists then was the removal of ROTC offices, and many were eventually closed down (most have since reopened). Today, many universities benefit from ties with Israel. Columbia University issued a statement saying that it won’t divest from Israel. Protesters, however, are not satisfied with this, and have vowed to continue their protests until Columbia divests from companies with ties to the apartheid regime.

The Columbia University president, Minouche Schafik, also said “… protests must be conducted with advance notice of at least two days and in authorized locations as outlined by the university’s policy.”

Could it have escaped Ms. Schafik, many other university administrators and U.S. government officials that protest that is sanctioned and allowed by the authorities is really no protest at all? If the students – good little boys and girls that they are expected to be – follow the rules and don’t make any waves, then they – the students – know that nothing will change. One only wonders how long the war against the people of Vietnam would have lasted had the students then simply followed the rules and not misbehaved. A ‘protest’, time-delimited on a site permitted and using only methods approved by the authorities, is an exercise in futility. However, a protest that violates these ‘sacrosanct’ rules demands and gets attention, causes increased dialogue and, ultimately, can get results.

University officials make a huge mistake in attempting to repress the voices of their students. These are the young men and women who will be making the decisions of the future at these and other schools and in the government. If ‘institutions of higher learning’ want to be that, and not just factories producing workers, they must encourage not only critical thinking, but also the actions that accompany it. Today, many of those officials are failing badly, and history will record their errors of judgment.

Robert Fantina’s latest book is Propaganda, Lies and False Flags: How the U.S. Justifies its Wars.