student occupation and protest at nyu: 411 + photos + editorial

dear readers,

[update as of 2.24.09: the occupying students were physically removed and expelled.  let see what impact the occupation makes on the constituency known as new york city students.  guess its up to yall to chose your own ending.]

under the slogan, “take back nyu,” approximately 70 nyu students and community activists are illegally occupying the 3rd floor of nyu’s kimmel center in effort to spark good faith negotiations with university administration officials regarding a host of hot button issues such as students rights and institutional support for palestine. actions such as this are impactful and rare at elite educational institutions.

at a 5pm press conference from the broken into 3rd floor balcony of kimmel, protestors and their numerous supporters below, chanted: “the students/are justified/nyu is occupied!,” “whose school? our school!,” and “disclose it/get off it/put students over profit!”

two street worn onlookers from washington square park (who were overheard declaring their own right to the space with, “the police around here know us by first and last name, socially security too, probably”) replied, “disclose it/get off it/we’re shooting dope in public!”

one young man in a small but loud group of student non-supporters (who booed with gusto when the protestors shouted out solidarity with students at cuny, no accompanying boo for students at columbia u) yelled, “just because you have a bullhorn doesn’t make you right.” which prompted one young woman to remark to her companion, “hey, at least it’s uniting the campus.”

cameras pointed upwards, the student occupiers rallied the crowd, a couple students walked by selling frosted cupcakes for a dollar, cops stood in their wide legged stance, plastic handcuffs ready, just in case.

this was the scene on the street today at new york university.

2.19.09, cops prepared at nyu's student occupation (image: r.singh)

2.19.09, cops prepared at nyu's student occupation (image: r.singh)

2.19.09, 5pm press conference crowd (image: r.singh)

2.19.09, 5pm press conference crowd (image: r.singh)

2.19.09 kimmel center, site of 3rd floor student occupation (image: r.singh)

2.19.09 kimmel center, site of 3rd floor student occupation (image: r.singh)

2.19.09 stencils around nyu's urban campus (image: r.singh)

2.19.09 stencils around nyu's urban campus (image: r.singh)

in the latest news, (the official website of the campaign), reports that administration officials have shown a willingness to begin negotiations. (this has changed, see above).

i was at nyu this afternoon and evening, shot the photos in this post, interviewed folks, and generally got the word on the street. a few questions emerged: what is this action for? is the action strategic? what are the best and worst case scenario’s in terms of the action’s outcome?

2.19.09: nyu student action (image: r.singh)

2.19.09, take back nyu press conference from occupied kimmel center (image: r.singh)

“take back nyu,” is a coalition of 21 left leaning student groups. what are their demands?

2.19.09 takebacknyu student demands (image: r.singh)

2.19.09 takebacknyu student demands (image: r.singh)

the take back nyu demand sheet above states,”We, the students of Take Back NYU! declare our solidarity with the student [sleepovers] in Greece, Italy, and the United Kingdom…We stand in solidarity with the University of Gaza, and with the people of Palestine.”

there are 13 demands in all. generally they break down into the following categories: students rights, labor rights, transparency of university money trails, support for palestine and palestinian students, and divestment of israel and coca-cola

here’s what the protestors are asking for, in greater detail:

1. immunity for all student occupiers and back pay for nyu campus employees affected by the action

2. transparency on NYU’s budget and endowments

3. fair labor practices: between nyu and all employees, including renewed labor negotiations between nyu and gsoc/uaw local 2110 (grad student union)

4. responsible spending: the addition of a new “socially responsible finance committee (srfc),” to nyu’s board of trustees, with equal voting rights.

5. divestment: the srfc will investigate nyu investments in war and genocide

6. money and goods to gaza: 13 full scholarships to palestinian students, and that nyu donate excess materials to help rebuild the university of gaza

7. equal access to nyu buildings: including public access to nyu’s main library (one onlooker said, “um, thats what the public library is for”) and priority given to student groups trying to reserve space at the kimmel multi-use, performance center.

2.19.09, supportive onlooker's sign (image: r.singh)

2.19.09, this dude was good people and his sign was The Truth (image: r.singh)

i received this text last night: “nyu kimmel center is now occupied by students to call for divestment from israel.” so i trekked over to nyu today. initially i was confused. there was one sign hanging off the balcony of the occupied floor, and it spoke to financial aid concerns. i talked to local activist and cuny grad student, shadia. she told me the nyu students were fighting for their own rights as students and were also, at the very least, bringing attention to the worldwide student “sleepovers”/institutional occupations in support of gaza. shadia was one of the only active muslim community members i saw at the nyu action today .

i asked to take a picture of her sign, she let me, and informed me that she was unsure how to incorporate the “occupation” language on her sign without inadvertently signaling support for the israeli occupation of palestine.

2.19.09, the homie shadia, representing for community groups at nyu (image: r.singh)

2.19.09, the homie shadia, representing for community groups at nyu (image: r.singh)

does it make sense to include palestine under this broad sweep of demands? yes and no. yes, to the extent that the nyu action raises awareness about the student actions happening around the world right now in support of a peaceful, sovereign palestine. no, to the extent that the nyu action leans heavily towards students rights and neglects to engage with community based palestinian rights efforts, thus potentially diluting the already oft-adopted national sovereignty struggle.

2.19.09 financial aid? (image: r.singh)

2.19.09 for financial aid (image: r.singh)

the broad sweep of take back nyu’s demands works for it and against the actual attainment of their goals. its not that i don’t peep the potential for a real, symbiotic connection between student rights and a sovereignty struggle. i see how divestment from apartheid south africa, for example, was related to student empowerment. it meant students learned about where their money was going. then those same students helped decide to where their money would and would not go.

but it doesn’t strike me as symbiotic for the students to demand nyu take responsibility for rebuilding the university of gaza AND demand nyu form a student committee with powers equal to the board of trustees AND demand nyu provide financial aid for all, to name just a few demands.

but i could be wrong. i’ll keep you informed on what happens next with negotiations between take back nyu and the institutional administration.

[update as of 2.20.09 (3pm): students from “take back nyu” are still holding the 3rd floor of nyu’s kimmel center, where they have staged an occupation since 10pm wednesday night (2.18.09). this morning university officials cut internet access. the administration is not agreeing to negotiations or even immunity from expulsion for student participants. in a recent, smuggled email, take back nyu organizer ian chinich states, “Unlike any of the other 26 or so [student] occupations I have heard about in the last 3 weeks, this is the only one where the university is refusing to negotiate at all.”]

until then, power to all the people. enjoy the photos.


political poet = roopa singh

2.19.09, for gaza? (image: r.singh)

2.19.09, for gaza (image: r.singh)

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6 thoughts on “student occupation and protest at nyu: 411 + photos + editorial

  1. […] Scenes of a struggle? (A dispassionate eyewitness account) […]

  2. View from Here says:

    It should be pointed out that a culture of seedy academic corruption seems to run quite deep at NYU. Take, for example, the allegations of plagiarism that have surfaced against the Judaica department chairman; they were initially made in an Israeli newspaper years ago, but the matter appears to have been hushed up and never investigated, in violation of the university’s own regulations. For details, see

    • naxal says:

      @ view from here: thanks for your informative comment. i feel like we should be widening our gaze from nyu to all academic institutions. since when did we (“we” as in a full definition of “we the people”) decide that everything, including education, is for profit and for sale? academic institutions represent so much and yet manage to fall short for so many. who is left outside the gates, who sacrifices what to remain inside the gates, these are all questions i think this moment raises. thanks again.

  3. Take Back NYU rocks!

    I love those guys! A team of the world’s best comedic screenwriters could not have scripted their pathetic last stand to play out any funnier. Corporate Water???? That’s the most patently bourgeois thing I’ve heard in a long time. Water is bad, Apple is good? Take Back NYU! is going to ruin the Apple brand altogether; Apple is marketed for slackers, NOT hippies.

    And why did Take Back! narrow their goals when they were doing so well and capturing the imagination of the worldwide public? Why not go all the way and fight to achieve federal protection for the Cape Fear River shiner, one of the most endangered fishes in North America? Or demand that the porn industry replace the hurtful “MILF” genre of adult film with the less judgmental “experienced women” title?

    If only they had not been so pragmatic, this really could have been a changed world. . .

  4. Naxal,

    Education is technically “for sale”, isn’t it?

    NYU is a private institution; the protesters (more like theater actors, really) who attend pay almost 40K a year for the privilege.

    Take Back’s core argument seemed to start out as a call for more transparency/oversight of how the University used its endowments; eventually of course, in devolved into a marxist, pro-Palestinian farce.

    Take Back’s protest failed miserably; it had to be one of the most poorly executed civil disobedience campaigns of all time.

    So what happens now? Are the suspended students going to drop out and go to school somewhere else since NYU failed to meet their demands? Doubtful. A BA in Tourism is much more valuable when it comes from NYU than CUNY.

    Hopefully they will go at it again, and document their protest moment by moment. It would be more entertaining if they actually wore some clown suits this time around, though. . .

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