When Students Are a Shock to the System

Originally appeared at TomDispatch.

Once upon a time, in another era, maybe even another universe, the head of a university refused to call on the police, the National Guard, or even federal troops in the face of student and other protests. Instead, he opened the doors of his school to the demonstrators.

I’m thinking of Kingman Brewster, who was the president of Yale University on May 1, 1970, as peaceful protests over racial justice and against the Vietnam War were taking place in New Haven, Connecticut. It was just days before, thanks to the killing of four demonstrators by the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University, anti-Vietnam War protests would — rather like the present Gaza ones — spread across hundreds of college campuses nationwide. Yale avoided the worst of it, when Brewster, among other things, said: “I am skeptical of the ability of Black revolutionaries to receive a fair trial anywhere in the United States. In large part, the atmosphere has been created by police actions and prosecutions against Panthers in many parts of the country. It is also one more inheritance from centuries of racial oppression.” I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that Republican Vice President Spiro Agnew promptly and publicly called for Brewster’s ouster, while the students united behind him.

No such luck these days, of course. The police are being called onto ever more campuses, starting with Columbia University where the Gaza demonstrations were first launched. Had its president, under pressure from the Spiro Agnews of this day, not called in the police to arrest students, there might be no nationwide Gaza protest movement today. Instead, as I’m writing this, more than 2,000 students have been arrested across the country, including — yes! — 44 for “trespassing” at Yale.

Rare indeed has been Brown University, where “only” 61 were arrested after two sit-ins and a hunger strike before its president finally agreed to let its governing body vote this fall “on a proposal to divest the school’s $6.6 billion endowment from companies affiliated with Israel” and the Gaza Solidarity Encampment there ended peacefully. With that in mind, let TomDispatch regular Norman Solomon, author of War Made Invisible: How America Hides the Human Toll of Its Military Machine, fill you in on the ways in which American students have bravely risked their college careers and their futures to reject what he calls an all-American death culture amid a horrifying war in Gaza to which this country continues to supply the most devastating of weaponry.

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