First they came for the students…

Gaza Encampment at George Washington University

First they came for the students and I said nothing…

January 6th taught me how mobs form and organize. It showed me how the power of a group empowers ordinary people to commit unthinkable acts of violence. I saw it in my neighborhood in Washington, DC, as the red-clad horde marched to Capitol Hill to fight for Trump.

And now, another lesson on the road to tyranny, in which a powerless and reviled minority becomes the focus of state power, cheered on by a wide spectrum of society.

The Gaza Encampment at George Washington University is a peaceful enclave of free speech in the middle of the nation’s capital, one of the very few places in the nation where students can speak out against Netanyahu without getting their heads bashed in.

I’ve visited multiple times. The encampment is more like an old-fashioned teach-in than anything else. There’s a library for books, lectures from academics and even poetry readings.

teach-in at the Gaza Encampment

It is not violent. This generation is very good at not engaging. They are masters of the side-eye, humoring the Fox News correspondents and others wandering through the camp, looking for violent perpetrators and antifa types. The media-savvy students ignore them and go on with making signs, cleaning up the camp and looking after each other.

Buffeted by history, from covid to the political chaos of today, this generation is very different from the world-weary, cynical individualists of my own.

They stick together.

The media distorts and exaggerates. Walk twenty feet from the encampment and you wouldn’t know it was there. Life goes on at George Washington University. Students rush to class. Graduates pose for photos in front of the GW Hippo, the school’s unofficial mascot. Everything is open, even the bougie Western Market across the street from the protest, where you can get sushi, arepas and hot chicken. You can find cops, press and demonstrators there, getting something to eat before returning to work.

Not to say that there are not moments of weirdness and conflict. The students recently held a mock trial of their university president. There have been fights over flags. Students removed a GW flag and raised a Palestinian one, after a scuffle with security guards. Administrators hung a massive American flag from a building. At night, students used a projector to light it up with a photo of “Genocide Joe.” Lauren Boebert visited and tried to remove the Palestine flag on the George Washington statue as students chanted, “Beeetlejuice.”

(Note: check out the GW Hatchet, the student newspaper, to get in-depth encampment coverage.)

There are Jewish people on both sides of the protest. Being Jewish doesn’t mean you support Netanyahu, the Israeli version of Donald Trump, both of them chaos agents who want to see the world burn. At the encampment, there are typically Israel supporters across the street with their flag, ignored by protesters.

Israel supporters

Choose your side in history now

Many of the students wear masks because they don’t want to be doxxed. This makes sense to me – I was doxxed by Trump supporters last year who tried to get me fired and sent me death threats by the dozen.

The House GOP, who sponsored the January 6th insurrection that left scores of DC police injured, has demanded that the DC police arrest the protesters and clear the camp. So far, they have refused. The protesters are non-violent and DC will let you protest, unlike other places.

The Gaza encampment isn’t the only one in the city, either. Across town are the insurrectionists of Freedom Corner, now almost two years into their nightly demonstrations to free January 6th prisoners. They have an encampment too, with flags, tables, chairs and food, just like the Gaza encampment.

At their protest, they call for the hanging of Nancy Pelosi and have attacked counterprotestors on multiple occasions.

Grifter Corner

Has the House GOP demanded their arrest? Do they want this protest shutdown?

No. Republicans support this. They have visited Freedom Corner and held press conferences in support of the “hostages.”

Let that sink in: you can commit violence on a street corner for two years in the name of Trump, unbothered and protected by the police, but if you protest Israel you’re in danger of being taken off to jail.

Free speech only exists if it’s for everyone, and for speech that you find personally objectionable.

Students have a right to protest, especially on their own campus. It’s shocking to me how many so-called “liberals” want students arrested just for speaking out.

You unleash this police power at your peril. They’re coming after the students today; they’ll be coming after you next.

Jeff Sharlet, a professor at Dartmouth who watched his students and colleagues be brutalized by officers armed with assault weapons, puts it aptly:

Now that it’s been established that the authorities can easily change the rules of what’s allowed, and use force to snuff out minority viewpoints, we face a very dark future. Liberals should not expect to have a Women’s March, a Black Lives Matter protest or a Climate Change rally in the future, if this precedent stands.

And don’t plan of protesting Trump if he becomes President in January 2025. Because there will be tanks in the streets. And it will all be legal.

Author: Joe Flood

Joe Flood is a writer, photographer and web person from Washington, DC. The author of several novels, Joe won the City Paper Fiction Competition in 2020. In his free time, he enjoys wandering about the city taking photos.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *