Three hours of student power in New York

7 May 2024 Ben Hillier –

Students take Park Avenue in New York’s Upper East Side PHOTO: Ben Hillier

In an emphatic display, New York students tonight (Monday 6 May) ruled the streets of the city’s Upper East Side.

Having endured defeat after defeat at the hands of police in the last week, Palestine solidarity activists turned the tables, humiliating the NYPD for several hours before the cops just gave up the ghost.

Billed as a “citywide day of rage in defence of Rafah”, called by the anti-Zionist group Within Our Lifetime, the protest began at 5pm outside Hunter College, a public university. Police cordoned off a small protest zone on the south-west corner of the Lexington and 68th Street intersection, marshalling participants off the pavement and into the crammed area.

But as the number of students swelled, officers lost control of the cordon and were forced to relinquish the streets.

“Students all over New York are gathered today in solidarity with Columbia students and CCNY students and NYU students”, Fatima, one of the organisers, told Red Flag. “All over New York City we set up encampments and those encampments have been brutalised by NYPD. But as you see, students in New York are coming out stronger.”

For four hours, demonstrators marched west to east and back again, into and out of Central Park, south to north, repeatedly doubling back in a game of cat and mouse with the police, who attempted to kettle, cordon and clear them from the roads.

The student bloc was split several times, losing its cohesion, as sections of the protest ran this way and that so as to not be flanked by NYPD. Yet the sections and splinters always found a way to reunite. And for a period their number seemed to grow.

“We will not stop, we will not rest!”, they chanted, marching through the opulence and ritz of one of the world’s wealthiest neighbourhoods.

At Park Avenue and 89th Street, two orthodox Jewish men, part of a larger anti-Zionist Jewish contingent, held up a small Israeli flag at the front of the now paused rally. One of them pulled out a knife and sliced away at it.

“Judaism, yes! Zionism, no! The state of Israel has got to go!”, they chanted. Then someone pulled out a “Trump stands with Israel” flag, pilfered from a counter-protester, and set the two alight.

If the students at times became disorganised, the cops degenerated into an absolute rabble. Madison Avenue and 73rd Street was bedlam come 7:20. A group of officers tried in vain to block the road, but the students pushed through them.

Skirmishes broke out between some of the police and protesters. One of the cops, a very big boy, had a hold of someone when another student flew in with a shirtfront—a perfectly timed malicious shepherd—to effect a de-arrest. Big boy spat the dummy but had no speed to pursue.

It was a total humiliation for the bullies of New York. Elated, the students chanted:

“Whose streets? Our streets! Whose roads? Our roads! Whose city? Our city!”

After a week of being beaten up, maligned, evicted, arrested, suspended, here was a small victory. A moment when the forces of good triumphed over the forces of evil.

They deserved this moment of light.

As the cops now mostly melted away, you’d have thought that they were regrouping, getting reinforcements, biding their time before coming back to restore some dignity to the biggest police department in the world. But that scenario never eventuated.

As the thing dragged on, altercations—arguments and exchanged insults—happened more and more at the margins.

“Go back to your own country!”, a wealthy-looking WASP screamed at some of the students.

“Shut your bitch-ass mouth!”, was one of several retorts.

Judging by many of the exchanges, one can be many things in New York City. But if any descriptor or noun is preceded by “bitch-ass”, then it becomes the most pointed of insults. The dial is turned to ten in this way on several occasions.

In a piece last week, I noted the “isolation” of the student activists. In hindsight, that estimation was a little over done. Tonight, despite the altercations with and interventions from Zionists, there is plenty of support offered from passersby and from cab drivers and others.

A new YouGov poll also finds that 28 percent of US adults support or strongly support the campus Palestine solidarity protests. That support rises to 40 percent among 18- to 44-year-olds. (Strangely, however, much smaller minorities believe that the universities’ responses to the protests have been too harsh.)

As the clock approached 9pm, it was clear that the students had won the night, after a horror week.

A depleted assembly filed into Grand Army Plaza at 59th Street, where the Muslim students performed their prayers. From there, some continued to the police headquarters to await the release of arrested comrades. Others were encouraged to join another protest at the Met Gala—a function for New York’s elite.

But before departures, one of the young women organisers delivered an incendiary speech from the base of the General William Tecumseh Sherman Monument, which was performed as a call and repeat. Part of it went:

As the world silently watches
Rafah invasion
We remind them
That history will remember them
And their silence is deafening
We will not be silent
No matter what they do
They can arrest us
They can harass us
They can suspend us
They can evict us
But we will not be moved
We will not be moved
We will not be moved
We are not scared
We are not scared
We are ready
To sacrifice
Whatever we have
For our people
We are not more worthy
Our dreams are not more worthy
Our jobs are not more worthy
Our futures are not more worthy
We are them
And they are us
And we will fight for them
Every second of every day
We will not rest
We will not rest
Our families
Are being killed
Our families
Are being murdered
Are being bulldozed

Trample the death machine
Trample the death machine
With whatever you have
By any means available
With whatever you have
By any means available