Two, three, many Gaza encampments: Veteran of 1968 Columbia strike speaks out

I am Beth Massey from the Chicago ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism).

The Gaza Solidarity Encampment at Columbia is inspiring students on campuses all over the country to struggle against the role that universities play in promoting the 76-year occupation of Palestine. These courageous activists risk both suspension and arrest. The intent of the Columbia administration is to stop protests against the war on Gaza, and to intimidate students from insisting the university must end their complicity by divesting from the racist genocide in Palestine.

I along with thousands of other Barnard and Columbia students went through much the same thing in 1968. I have seen on social media that the current encampment was inspired by our strike. The idea of our building takeovers playing a role in promoting similar struggle 56 years later is truly encouraging to me. This upsurge gives hope of finally ending the occupation of Palestine just as the war in Vietnam was ended.

In 1968, we were angry because the university allowed a think tank collaborator in the carpet bombing and napalming of the Vietnamese people, the Institute for Defense Analysis, to operate on campus. Simultaneously, the administration was planning to expropriate public land in Harlem to build a gym.

Many on campus had been inspired by the Tet offensive of the Vietnamese in January. Their resilience despite the might of the U.S. military let us know a different world was possible. It had only been a few days since Dr. King had been assassinated on April 4. The previous year, he had made the moving “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church just a short distance from where we were protesting. He had been courageous enough to speak out against the criminality of the Vietnam war. His statement that the United States was “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today” was additional encouragement for us to act on April 23, 1968.

In the end close to a thousand of us were arrested, but the Columbia Strike would be the first of two, three, many uprisings on campus against the war in Vietnam. Those struggles definitely played their part in finally ending the Vietnam war. U.S. imperialism is currently afraid the same will be true of the actions of the 2024 Columbia students with regard to Palestine.

Though war and racism are still with us, there have been some wonderful changes in the years between struggles. Women are playing a much more prominent role according to the pictures. We were there in large numbers 56 years ago, but we had yet to assert our leadership. But we would! And look at the struggle now!

Another change is in the understanding of the Palestinian struggle and the need to be in solidarity. My awakening came during my time at Columbia. While occupying Hamilton Hall that first night, a Palestinian student told me about the Nakba and how his parents had been forced out of their home and walked with him in their arms to Lebanon to escape the violence.

To rebel is justified. Palestine must be free! Palestine will be free!

Feature photo: Beth Massey, holding banner, at a demonstration in defense of the Columbia strike, 1968. (Image released under CC BY-SA 3.0,

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