Nina Davis / Sun Photo Editor

April 26, 2024

Elfbar Ideology, Pt. IV: The Encampment at the End of History

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This week, President Biden signed a bipartisan military aid bill that would send $26bn to Israel. The day after, the Coalition for Mutual Liberation claimed a portion of our campus’ Arts Quad as a pro-Palestinian liberated zone, in solidarity with other encampments at universities across the nation. Will it matter?

Many students, if Sidechat is any indication, appear skeptical. CML’s demands include more than just the administration’s submission to the referendum results. They additionally call for the partial return of Indigenous lands and the replacement of campus police with first responders trained in de-escalation. We might question whether these demands isolate some ceasefire advocates from the movement. 

We must think about what it means for CML, or this national movement, to succeed. Does it end with a ceasefire? Does it end with divestment? No, these are band-aid solutions to a complete systemic failure that dominates all of our lives. I hear Zionists say, “If you claim to be against genocide, then why focus exclusively on Israel?” Here lies the proof that CML is not merely an anti-Zionist campaign — it is truly interested in mutual liberation, on a universal scale. The reality is that Indigenous people, including the Gayogo̱hó:nǫʼ Nation — whose people live less than an hour away from our campus — continue to live in abject conditions because of their treatment by our government and our university. We took their lands, starved them and now say, “That was centuries ago, we can’t do anything about it now.” What is stopping us?

While we blame Palestinian civilians for their complicity in the continued existence of Hamas, we do not blame ourselves for our own complicity in the millions of innocent lives taken by US misconduct across the globe. Those are our tax dollars, our tuition funds, that pay for the bombs that decimate the Middle East. There is blood on our hands.

So then what would it mean for these protests to succeed? We often compare this current movement to the anti-war protests of the ’70s, which resulted in the end of the Vietnam war. There was hope, at the time, that these protests would culminate in some greater revolution that would end the merciless overreach of American foreign policy. Hannah Arendt was skeptical: “At the moment, one prerequisite for a coming revolution is lacking: a group of real revolutionaries. …  [I]f power were lying on the street and they knew it was lying there, they are certainly the last to be ready to stoop down and pick it up.” 

These students, though, seem to understand what it means to have power. It means the freedom to govern oneself. Participants vote in a directly democratic system to determine important strategic decisions, such as whether to agree to the administration’s deal to move the encampment behind Day Hall for an additional week of protests without intervention, according to Jawuanna McAllister, grad. Students are free to leave and enter the encampment at will and determine their own level of engagement. They share resources according to need, provided voluntarily by themselves. They have invested in a movement of political protest that demonstrates not only for its cause, but also its methods. While the Vietnam protests were merely disruptive (i.e. sit-ins, like the kind that CML organized in Day Hall earlier this semester), the encampments demonstrate an alternate way of living and governing, in which underprivileged Jewish participants have greater freedom than they ever could in the US political system. In an encampment, every consenting individual matters. The same cannot be said for the United States or Cornell University. 

CML’s demands are only implausible if we, the students, judge them as such. I am tired of this sentiment: “I would support the movement, but I fear that they will fail to convince other students because of their outlandish demands.” It is a cynicism that submits to a vicious cycle of inaction. You can only make a demand plausible by deciding that it is worthwhile. We must recognize that this nationwide, grassroots movement does not only hope to save Palestine, but also ourselves from a political system that deprives us of the right to make moral decisions.

It is likely that the demonstrations will be crushed. It is also likely that they will lose steam and attention. I would not bet on them succeeding in the short term. I would bet, however, that our generation will remember. As the climate deteriorates and bureaucracy destroys all political life, we will more and more frequently find ourselves in the position to protest. Even if this movement fades, we will remember why and how we did it now, and we will owe our methods to the moral courage of these organizers that recognized the urgency of our situation before the rest of us. They know that we cannot afford to accept our disenfranchisement when the world is at stake. I only hope that by rallying alongside them now, we can change more minds before it is too late.

Eric Han is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].

Elfbar Ideology is a recurring series. Part Three is available now.