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GW President Calls for End to Protest; Students Vow to Continue

by Phil Pasquini
Student protest leaders at George Washington University (GW) held an afternoon news conference today in the aftermath of an email letter sent out yesterday to the GW community from President Ellen M. Granberg regarding the ongoing campus encampment for Gaza protest.
Student protest leaders at George Washington University (GW) held an afternoon news conference today in the aftermath of an email letter ...
WASHINGTON (05-06) – Student protest leaders at George Washington University (GW) held an afternoon news conference today in the aftermath of an email letter sent out yesterday to the GW community from President Ellen M. Granberg regarding the ongoing campus encampment for Gaza protest.

The tone of the widely distributed missive was characterized by one faculty member as “very pre-emptively aggressive.” In it Granberg described the protest now entering its second week as “…not a peaceful protest protected by the First Amendment or our university’s policies,” describing the action that “has grown into what can only be classified as an illegal and potentially dangerous occupation of GW property.”

Granberg cited among her concerns a number of occurrences including that not all protesters are from the university community and that “When protesters overrun barriers established to protect the community, vandalize a university statue and flag, surround and intimidate GW students with antisemitic images and hateful rhetoric, chased people out of a public yard based on their perceived beliefs, and ignore, degrade, and push GW Police Officers and university maintenance staff, the protest ceases to be peaceful or productive. All of these things have happened at GW in the last five days.”

In a general statement regarding the university’s tolerance for protests, she went further in saying that “Conventional protests that abide by municipal law and university policy should and do receive protection and respect, no matter the message’s viewpoint. As I have outlined, this is not what is happening at GW.”

In foretelling the direction the university may be preparing to pursue regarding the continued presence of the protest encampment, Granberg wrote “When unlawful activities go beyond these limits, we must rely on the support and experience of the MPDC Metropolitan Police Department. At this time, the District is in communication with the university, and the DC Metropolitan Police are providing an increased security presence on and around University Yard.”

Speaking in response to the letter at the news conference, student spokespersons challenged much of its contents. One student addressed the lack of good faith negotiations including divestment from Israel and weapons manufacturers although Granberg in her letter stated that the university has “…conducted regular and sustained dialogues with GW students connected to the camp.”

The student noted that while “Students around the world call for divestment, George Washington University administration has failed to engage in good faith dialogue with our student negotiation team.” Characterizing the letter as “deeply misleading and inflammatory,” the student went on to say “We have been clear about our desire to negotiate and even clearer about the administration’s desire to ignore us.”

Students have been “waiting at the negotiations table from day one waiting for the administration to listen.” Not lost on students, too, was the fact that Granberg in the letter for the first time used the word “Gaza” while having thus far never used the word “Palestine” in any of her official communiques. Nor for that matter has she visited the encampment in person.

In answer to a question from a reporter about meeting with the university president, a student responded that Granberg has refused to meet with them and there has been no sustained dialogue, contrary to the statement in the letter.

Granberg’s assertion that the encampment is composed of some protesters that are not from the GW University community, a student responded that “From day one we have made it explicit that this encampment is a collective effort and composed of and led by students from across the DMV.”

Nothing that people have been harassed and chased out of the public yard, a student responded that “Anyone is welcome to walk through, anyone is welcome to partake in the community events and that’s not encampment rules that’s university rules.”

Regarding the large police presence on campus that has not been used to remove the activists, as has been the case at other student protests across the country resulting in violence and arrests, a student said “Every single attempt of the administration to mobilize the MPDC has failed while support from the community has allowed us to sustain this encampment. Granberg’s refusal to comply with the [protest] assessment of DC’s elected officials has led her to collude with the reactionary right-wing members of Congress to crack down on our encampment.”

Asserting that while Granberg has deemed the protest an “illegal occupation of university space,” a student spokesperson responded that Grandberg “Expends every ounce of the authority allowed to her as president to defend the illegal and genocidal occupation of Palestinian land.”

When asked about the various claims and accusations of harassment and antisemitism among others contained in the letter a student characterized them as “a distraction meant to be a diversion tactic to take the focus away from the genocide in Gaza,” calling them completely baseless while noting that “We remain steadfast and principled.”

As though on que, a middle-aged pro-Israel supporter arrived in the background carrying an American and an Israeli flag while walking through the encampment where he remained unmolested for the entire time he remained there. The only notice he received was from press photographers and a journalism student who interviewed him before he wandered away.

Indicating that students are in it for the long haul while facing suspension or arrest for their participation, a student responded that they were willing to endure that risk especially so when compared with what the people of Gaza are suffering daily. And when asked about when they will be leaving the encampment, the student responded that “When we leave that will mean that our goals have been met.”

While protests continue across the country for Gaza, some actions are utilizing creative ways to bring about their desired goals. On Friday evening in New York, the Whitney Biennial exhibition was disrupted by activists who surprised patrons by engaging them in a multimedia protest calling out the museum’s complicity in the Gaza genocide through use of some of its benefactor’s monetary endowments and donations to the museum. For the full story see: https://hyperallergic.com/911012/in-surprise-action-activists-decry-whitney-museums-ties-to-israeli-military/

Report and photos by Phil Pasquini

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