Sunday, April 27, 2008

"Columbia is more of a threat to the integrity of West Harlem and Harlem today than it ever was in 1968." --Every1 of Us ("Wm. Sales" dn2008-0425)

AMY GOODMAN: Well, as we talk about what’s happening today, I wanted to turn to the Columbia students today. Democracy Now! producers Anjali Kamat and Nicole Salazar went to Columbia University yesterday just before the big Columbia University ’68 event last night to speak with community members about the state of activism forty years after ’68. By coincidence, campus activists had organized a week of events around the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq. It’s called “Five Years of Occupation, Five Days of Action.” Activists dropped a banner Thursday afternoon over the Butler Library building, calling for divestment from war profiteers and an end to the war. They also hooded the statue of the alma mater across the street. As hundreds of students were enjoying the sunshine and warm weather, a smaller group was reading aloud the names of Iraqis and Americans killed in Iraq since the start of the invasion.

    STUDENT ACTIVIST 1: Monday, April 3, 2006, one death, [inaudible], gunfire. Monday, April 3, 2006, one death, Baqubah, gunfire.

    STUDENT ACTIVIST 2: Back there, we’re reading names of—we’re reading the entire Iraq body count list, which is some 90,000 names of Iraqi civilians killed in the last five years in Iraq, plus the 4,000 names of American soldiers who have died. This, of course, is a tiny fraction of the civilian deaths in America. A more reliable estimate is put at 1.2, 1.4 million. But this is the list that we have.

    STUDENT ACTIVIST 3: Our week of action, perhaps by coincidence, has coincided with Columbia University’s appropriation of the legacy of 1968, where it has now become a matter of establishment. Now it’s a matter of celebration. There was a janitor here yesterday when we were having our name reading, who just came, and while I was giving him a flyer, he described how forty years ago he was here, and he was speaking about how there was blood on the stairs of the Low Library, the administration building, and he was asking, “How is it that this blood is forgotten, and now there is such a celebration of it?”

    STUDENT ACTIVIST 4: What bothers me most is that even if there were a situation as grave as in 1968, there would not be action, because we don’t relate personally to the war. You walk up to people, maybe ten percent will support the war. So why were only five percent of the entire campus at this rally? It should have been packed.

    STUDENT ACTIVIST 3: This is one significant contrast between 1968 and today, is the level of student involvement. I think it has to do with the invisibility of the occupation, in general, and of the continuing war.

    STUDENT ACTIVIST 2: One of the things that came out of 1968 was that Columbia disassociated itself from the idea and cut off its research—its research in terms of classified projects. By 1968, 48 percent of Columbia’s research budget was devoted to military-related research. What has essentially happened has been that Columbia has outsourced this research, so whereas Columbia once produced research for the government in exchange for, of course, enormous sums of government funding, today Columbia instead invests in private companies who carry out this research, and then those investment dollars are now what funds our non-military research.

    STUDENT ACTIVIST 3: There’s no talk of divestment. There’s no talk of Iraq. It is treated as a foregone era.

    STUDENT ACTIVIST 5: It’s forty years of ’68, five years of Iraq. It’s also sixty years of the Nakba in Palestine. And these are all—and it’s interesting that out of all of these, the ’68 is what is gaining, in some sense, the most traction. And I think on this campus, it is this sort of moment that we can look at and say this was possible, and not only to then be nostalgic about it, but then to create the conditions of possibility, where once again we can feel strongly enough to make it possible today on the issues that matter today.

    STUDENT ACTIVIST 3: Our overall aim is to reclaim this campus as a space where occupation, colonization and war are simply not acceptable.

    STUDENT ACTIVIST 5: We’ve received a lot of support. A lot of people have contacted us. And it’s very heartening. But I would also just urge people to think about not only what happened but what can happen and what we can make possible. And I think that is the legacy. If there is going to be a legacy, that should be the legacy.

AMY GOODMAN: Students at Columbia University yesterday, as all the commemoration activities of ’68 were taking place, talking about their concerns today. Throughout the week, they have been reading the names of the dead from the Iraq war. And yesterday, I think they had only made it up through 2006, yet they have been reading for days. Bill Sales?

WILLIAM SALES: Yes. I think it’s important to recognize that the community will speak this weekend, because Columbia is more of a threat to the integrity of West Harlem and Harlem today than it ever was in 1968, and we should understand that protest is alive and well, and there will be a march on the campus. This commemoration so far has included academicians and some, you know, superannuated activists, but it will, before the week is out, include a substantial number of very angry community people.

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