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SFSU Joins Campuses Across Country Demanding Divestment

Student organizers from the General Union of Palestine Students at SFSU spoke in front of a crowd of more than 400 students, faculty, and community members at a “Solidarity with Gaza” rally held on April 29, 2024. SFSU is one of the latest universities to join the student-driven protests popping up across the country in support of Palestinians in Gaza and the divestment of university funds from companies with ties to Israel. Photo by Kyra Young/The Guardsman.

By John R. Adkins

jradproduction@gmail.com

At least 400 students and faculty members congregated in front of San Francisco State University’s (SFSU) Cesar Chavez student center on Monday in protest of the war in Gaza. SFSU joined more than a dozen other Universities across the U.S. in setting up an encampment to demand financial transparency from the California State University (CSU) Board of Trustees and divestment from companies with financial ties to the state of Israel. 

Students, faculty members, and community members participated in a “Solidarity With Gaza” rally on SFSU’s Malcom X Plaza, making SFSU the third CSU to join the student-driven movement on April 29, 2024. Photo by Kyra Young/The Guardsman.

Student representatives of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, distinguishable by their red T-shirts, provided sound and logistical support for the protest. Two vehicles pulled up on Holloway Street behind the J. Paul Leonard library to discreetly unload banners and the PA system necessary to start the rally. Speakers were wheeled to the front of the student center on skateboards along with a small generator to provide power to the equipment.

“Mostly we’re trying to let the students speak for themselves,” said Scott Brown, a student at SFSU and member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.

“We want to give them the apparatus and organization so they can do that effectively.” 

The generator choked to life as the equipment was set up on the concrete platform in Malcolm X Plaza. The attendance in the courtyard steadily grew into the hundreds. Masked students in yellow vests referred to themselves as the “Students for Gaza” security team and could be seen surveying the crowd throughout the event.

“We have our own security presence here to ensure that we have a safe and peaceful rally,” a media representative for Students for Gaza said.

Students and faculty took to the stage to lead the crowd in chants and speeches.

“We’re here joining thousands of universities across the country that are standing up and demanding an end to the Genocide,” said Ali, a history student at SFSU and organizer for Students for Gaza.

A helicopter circled overhead as the audience cheered and threw fists in the air, many of whom wielded flags and signs that read phrases like “Stop the Genocide”, and “Resistance is Justified When People are Occupied.”

“SFSU students have and will always stand against injustice here, and everywhere,” said Ziniab Imtair, the current president of SFSU’s general union of Palestinian students. “Students in this country have been suspended, arrested, harassed by outside agitators, and vilified by the mainstream media apparatus for holding their administration accountable…”

Protesters form a circle around SFSU’s quad to protect students as they erect more than 20 tent structures on the campus green on April 29, 2024. Photo by Kyra Young/The Guardsman.

The crowd cheered as Imtair continued her speech to demonstrators.

Imtair stated that she was not in attendance on behalf of any organization, and was strictly there to speak as a Palestinian voice on campus.

 “We call ourselves Students for Gaza because this belongs to students, not just an organization. Conscious students at SF State are a majority pro-Palestinian, and we’ve showcased that today,” said Imtair.

“The repression that’s happening on college campuses is actually quite dangerous,” said SFSU student Sarah Doyle. “ I’m an anti-Zionist Jewish person…To me, it’s very dangerous to conflate anti-semitism with critiquing the Israeli occupation. And actually, it puts Jews at even higher risk of anti-semitism with that conflation. To me, the liberation of Palestinian people is deeply within the Jewish values that I was taught.” 

Doyle was a participant at the rally who is currently enrolled in SFSU’s masters in social work program and was there representing the Bay Area Payment for Placement labor organizing group. The Bay Area chapter of Payment for Placement had just finished signing onto a national letter of solidarity to end the genocide in Palestine with 21 other P-4-P chapters around the country.

Volunteer faculty members at the protest were made visible by their green hats and were armed with notebooks and pens.

“We’re here taking notes on what happens here to provide support for students in case legal action is needed,” said a faculty member who did not wish to be identified. Many students and faculty members donned masks and kept their identities private for fear of retaliation from the University.

SFSU administration stated in an email it plans to honor the student’s right to protest peacefully while also preserving the safety of the campus. Campus police presence was not visible to demonstrators in the immediate area throughout the duration of the protest.

Passions ran high as members of the community continued to take to the stage with speeches prepared and hundreds hanging on their words.

“As students of history…we all know that student movements were a vital component of liberation struggles the world over. And today, seeing all of you in all of your splendor, and all of your numbers, only confirms this fact…It is time to not only stop this humanitarian atrocity, but to finally call for total institutional divestment from any material investment in settler colonialism, imperialism, and apartheid in Gaza…” said Omar Zahzah, a Palestinian professor in the AMED (Arab, Muslim, Ethnicities and Diaspora Studies) department.

History student Ali took to the stage again to outline and reiterate the protest’s demands.

“We are asking CSU leaders, ‘Which side are you on?’ ” Ali said.

Students of San Francisco State University set up one of more than 20 tents on the campus quad on Monday afternoon. SFSU is one of the latest universities to join the student-driven protests popping up across the country in support of Palestinians in Gaza and the divestment of university funds from companies with ties to Israel. San Francisco, Calif. April 29, 2024 (Kyra Young/for The Guardsman)

He continued by demanding divestment from all companies and partnerships that actively participate in the colonization of the Palestinian people, as well as transparency about where tuition money is going.

President of SFSU Lynn Mahoney was also directly addressed during the protest, with students calling on her to publicly oppose any and all CSU investments complicit in the Israeli occupation, as well as publicly oppose Senate Bill 1287. 

This bill, SB1287, would require the student codes of conduct at the state’s public colleges and universities to “prohibit violence, harassment, intimidation and discrimination” that “interfere with the free exchange of ideas…” It was stated by student demonstrators that this bill attacks the student’s right to protest, speech, and assembly.

Guided by the yellow-vested Students for Gaza security team, participants in the protest were instructed to defend the installation of the encampment by forming a circle around the Quad. Protestors did so by linking arms while the rally continued inside the circle where students beat on drums and overturned buckets to the rhythm of more “Free Palestine” chants. The megaphone blared across the field and at least 10 tents and sleeping bags were laid out in the grass within a matter of minutes.

“We want to stake out here for as long as possible, until these demands are met, and to declare that illegal occupations can’t happen as they have been for the last 75 years, so we’ll be here as long as it takes…” An anonymous member of the encampment said.

“It is time to not only stop this humanitarian atrocity, but to finally call for total institutional divestment from any material investment in settler colonialism, imperialism, and apartheid in Gaza…” said Omar Zahzah, a Palestinian assistant professor in the Ethnic Studies department at San Francisco State University. Zahzah spoke in front of a crowd of some 500 students, faculty, and community members at a “Solidarity for Gaza” rally at San Francisco State University on Monday in front of the Cesar Chavez Student Center. San Francisco, Calif. April 29, 2024 (Kyra Young/for The Guardsman)

By nightfall, around 28 tents made up the encampment. One marked with red tape was designated as the medical tent stocked with snacks, water bottles, and first aid gear. Today, there are over 100 tents set up across the Quad, with students actively listing demands with a megaphone during class hours.

San Francisco State University was the third California State University (CSU) campus to join the student-led movement in California calling for divestment after UC Berkley and Stanford. The SFSU encampment was followed by encampments at the University of San Francisco and Sonoma State University this week.

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