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UC Berkeley students vow they won't leave campus pro-Palestinian protest until they get results

UC Berkeley students vow to continue pro-Palestinian protest until demands are met
UC Berkeley students vow to continue pro-Palestinian protest until demands are met 03:34

Students protesting the violence in Gaza have brought the Mideast conflict home with an encampment occupying the steps of Sproul Plaza on the Cal campus in Berkeley, and they say they're not leaving until their demands are met.

Overnight, the UC Berkeley campus once again became a place of occupation. Cal students protesting the bloodshed in Gaza created the encampment in solidarity with the large occupation happening at Columbia University and other demonstrations at campuses across the country.

"We are standing inspired by our students over at Columbia, who we consider to be the heart of the student movement," said student organizer Malak Afaneh. "But more importantly, we're standing in solidarity with our people in Palestine."

The campers say they will remain in the encampment until the University of California cuts ties with all Israeli colleges or companies connected to arms suppliers, and formally recognizes Israel's actions as "genocide." They also want the school to stop the alleged repression of student protesters.  

But on Tuesday, Christina Carasin brought her daughter to the encampment, precisely because of the school's proud legacy of embracing social protest.

"I think the youth of today are really socially active and socially aware of what's going on in the world," said Carasin. "The Free Speech Movement started here. Why are we surprised that this is springing up on college campuses all around, you know?"

It was on the Sproul Hall steps that Mario Salvio led a massive civil rights protest in 1964. Since then, the site has seen mass demonstrations over the Vietnam War, Apartheid and Occupy Wall Street. The current effort isn't gathering quite the same crowds, but it was enough to inspire Cal student "J.B." to spend an uncomfortable night in one of the tents.

"Last night, I was thinking, 'Hey, here's my position on the struggle there.' And I think it is also my duty to follow up on what I believe," he said.

How big the encampment will get is anyone's guess. For now, the administration is letting it continue. But in a statement, Cal spokesperson Dan Mogulof said, "With three weeks left in the semester, Berkeley is prioritizing students' academic interests. We will take the steps necessary to ensure the protest does not disrupt the university's operations." 

He added, "There are no plans to change the university's investment policies and practices."

The organizer said the campers aren't going anywhere. Just like at other universities, Afaneh expects police eventually will be brought in to forcibly remove them. She said the school would be doing it even as it continues to pride itself on its free speech tolerance.

"It's only when student organizers are present on campus that they're criminalized and they're demonized.  And when they graduate they are celebrated," said Afaneh.  "Any tour of Berkeley, they will proudly say these are the Mario Salvio steps and say how much they celebrated the Free Speech Movement.  I would not be surprised if they do the same thing for us 50 years from now."

The Berkeley encampment began after a national student walkout on Monday. Bay Area schools included Stanford, the University of San Francisco, San Jose State, UC Davis and CSU, San Francisco all staged protests. 

Pro-Palestinian students have been holding a daily protest vigil at Sather Gate since February. Now they're being joined by supporters who plan to be on campus 24/7, putting the university's commitment to free speech to the test.

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