SJP and UCUP say: No Business as Usual During Genocide

On February 16, while the University of Chicago conducted a disciplinary hearing against Students for Justice in Palestine at UChicago (SJP) for our “disruptive” protest tactics, we sent a message to the University Administration loud and clear: There will be no business as usual during genocide. 

We rallied alongside other students, faculty, staff and community members, using our voices, drums, whistles, horns, cow-bells, and whatever else we had on hand to make so much noise that we were heard for blocks away. We successfully shut down Rosenwald Hall, the University’s admissions building. The building where the administration chose to arrest 26 students and 2 faculty members at a sit-in in November, rather than meeting with us about our urgent demands. 

The rally started in the main quad. Protestors gathered with banners and posters saying,  “All Eyes on Rafah,” “Free Palestine,” “Israeli Military Off Our Campus,” and “Jewish Students for a Free Palestine.” We were joined by the president of Saint Xavier University’s SJP and the co-chair of SJP Chicago. 

“Throughout the history of protests at this institution and beyond, movements create change by disrupting business as usual,” the MC told the crowd. “They do not create change by keeping quiet—in accordance with amplified sound policies.” The MC reiterated SJP and UChicago United for Palestine (UCUP)’s demands for full financial transparency, full divestment from the weapons manufacturers arming the Israeli genocide, the end of  UChicago’s partnerships with Israeli institutions, including the Israel Institute.

The first speaker, an organizer with UCUP, emphasized our moral obligation to disrupt the U.S.-Israeli war machine.The machine is currently targeting Rafah, where 1.5 million displaced civilians have fled, and which Israeli forces repeatedly designated as “safe.” “The reality is that there are no safe places in Gaza,” the UCUP organizer said, “in the world’s largest open-air prison, Rafah is the execution chamber.” 

The second UCUP speaker spoke about the first charge leveled at SJP: “disrupting” the Zionist counter-rally on the Quad on October 19th. Since October 16th, SJP and allied students have tabled in the quad every day in solidarity with Palestine, as the number of Palestinians martyred in Gaza rose by the day. On October 19th,  Zionist groups came to the quad to counter-rally—booking the quad at the last minute to claim official warrant for their encroachment. They shouted at us, “terrorist,” and “baby-killer,” and called us antisemites, put cameras in our faces in efforts to doxx us, and ripped a megaphone out of a Pro-Palestine student’s hands. “The University claims that SJP restricted the freedom of speech of the Zionists, once again proving that the University’s neutrality is to side with Zionism and white supremacy,” said the speaker. “The University completely has looked past Zionist harassment that happens every day on the quad.” The speaker emphasized further the clear contrast between the University’s response to the political situation in Ukraine, and its support of academics there, in comparison to the University’s continued partnerships with Israeli institutions even as all universities in Gaza have been destroyed. 

Next, the president of Saint Xavier University’s SJP spoke about the broader student movement and repression across campuses: 

“University administrators have attempted to silence any and all forms of pro-Palestinian activism. But this will only make us stronger. We demand our institutions to divest from genocide, we demand an end to U.S. aid to Israeli war crimes, we demand a permanent end to the genocide and massacres that Palestinians have been facing for over 75 years, we demand a cease to the occupation, we demand a cease to apartheid.” 

Protestors then marched to Levi Hall, the UChicago administration’s building, which we students are barred from entering.  The second charge against SJP is that we disrupted the administration through a blockade in November.  Such disruption was, and continues to be our moral responsibility in the face of our University’s complicity. “Last year, Amnesty International scored UChicago a 0, the lowest score of any institution, based on their human rights practices in their endowment because of their absence of any transparency,”  a UCUP organizer at Levi told protestors. The speaker continued:

“The Board of Trustees, a group of millionaires and billionaires who aren’t even at the University, and admin on campus, who refuse again and again to engage with students, tell us nothing about how they operate. And behind closed doors, what are they doing? They are investing in the weapons manufacturers arming genocide, investing in climate destruction, buying up land on the South Side through shell companies, and funding displacement and policing.”

In the words of the co-chair of SJP Chicago, “This [hearing] is another intimidation tactic that they’ve been doing to every Chicago SJP”. “We are here to tell them that despite their intimidation tactics, despite their rhetoric of fear, we will continue to show up, they continued.” As the disciplinary hearing proceeded blocks away, we marched around Levi Hall, making so much noise that the Dean on Call informed us we will face “dire consequences”… like not getting a permit next time we want to protest. Good thing we never ask for permits to protest! The Dean on Call told us that if an administrator wanted to take a call right now, they wouldn’t be able to hear it—wouldn’t be able “to conduct business as usual.” That, dear administration, is the point. 

From Levi Hall, we marched to Rosenwald, the admissions building, at the height of admissions tours, and we shut it down. UCPD was so scared by the possibility of students entering Rosenwald Hall, a building we have access to, that they decided to close the building for the rest of the day as soon as some of us entered. Student protestors emerged from inside Rosenwald, chanting. “Shame on you,” the crowd chanted at the cops, as the cops blocked the entrance to a building which is allegedly supposed to be for the students. 

“Zionism has always been a settler colonial project, and it has always been dependent on the support of imperialist powers—from Britain to the United States, and from the United States, to our universities,” an organizer with UCUP told the crowd. “We cannot stop, we will not stop, until Palestine is free from the river to the sea. And we will win. It can be tempting to feel hopeless, against the might of Israel and the United State’s horrific power. But As Mariame Kaba says, hope is a discipline. We create hope, by organizing collectively, even in the face of devastation, of hatred, of harassment, of silencing and repression.” 

An organizer with UCUP led the crowd, singing the protest song, “We’re on the Freedom Side.”  Another organizer read a poem in Arabic, by the poet Hanna Abo Hanna, which concludes “we must go beyond sympathies and despair, and instead stand in solidarity with and heed the martyrs’ calls to rise up”.  The protest concluded with chants of “people power” and “I believe that we will win.” 

Administrators tell us that our voices can only be heard outside, only with permission, and without amplified sound. They have our answer. We refuse. There will be no business as usual while our university remains complicit in genocide, colonization, and apartheid. 


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