On the morning of Thursday, April 25th, students of the University of California, Los Angeles were notified through BruinALERT of an encampment on the lawn in front of Royce Hall. The encampment was one of the many worldwide campus demonstrations in support of Palestine, whose people have been suffering from the countless attacks by Israel on the Gaza strip since October of last year. While news of the occupation has been at the forefront for the last half a year, the forced removal and violence towards the Palestinian people by Zionists has gone on since the 1940s. The encampment was organized largely by Students for Justice in Palestine, established with the following demands: divest, disclose, abolish policing, end the silence, and boycott. UCLA is one of a growing list of universities around the country who have established encampments and demonstrations in support of Palestine within the last month. 

There have been many comparisons between the current student protests with the anti-Vietnam War movement and anti-Apartheid movement on college campuses in the 1960s and 1980s. From the student organizing to the responses of the university and police, history is seemingly repeating itself — where the students are always on the right side and university higher-ups are not. It can be disheartening to see that universities and police forces have seemingly not learned their lesson from the anti-Vietnam War and anti-Apartheid student movements, and that the responsibility has somehow fallen once again on younger generations to fight for what is right. But in other ways, connections between present and past activism has also created hope in receiving answers to demands and achieving justice to make the fight more than worthwhile.

One of these threads of hope that continue to snake its way into student activism is intergenerational coalition building. Intergenerational coalition building refers to the interactions and connections between people of different generations, whether it be between friends, family, or a broader community, usually united under a common social cause. Given the obviously large and powerful presence of young people in campus movements, intergenerationality tends to slip under the radar in mainstream media. The elusivity of intergenerational coalition building and different generations coming together under a cause in mainstream media helps create an “us versus them” narrative that continuously twists the image of these campus movements. This narrative is a dangerous double-edged sword. It portrays students as the brave, courageous body willing to fight for their beliefs, but it also villainizes students as disruptors and rebels, irrational and out of control, depending on the media’s construction of news. A deeper dive beyond the surface level will show that campus activism has never been, and will never be, simply split down the middle. 

Accounts of student activism in the 1960s, such as the anthology Mountain Movers: Student Activism & the Emergence of Asian American Studies edited by Russell Jeung, emphasized the importance of intergenerationality. For example, the San Francisco State University student strike for ethnic studies, while framed as a student strike, drew in many members of the college’s faculty, the surrounding community, and external non-school affiliated organizations. This included groups such as the SF State American Federation of Teachers; teacher’s unions “had a significant impact on the behavior of the administration, both during and after the strike, with positive results for the development of ethnic studies” (Jeung et al. 48). Anti-Vietnam War protests went hand in hand with the ethnic studies movement, which many faculty also participated in. On July 14, 1966, a photographer captured UCLA students and faculty standing together in a silent protest against the war. 

Fast forward to the 1980s, where intergenerationality continues to play a role in the anti-apartheid movement. Records of fliers with “Students-Senate-Faculty say DIVEST SOUTH AFRICAN STOCKS!” in bold to a pamphlet promoting a teach-in program on the anti-apartheid movement run by student associations, professors, and community members alike are a testament to the collaborative efforts that transcend generational lines.

Decades later, the same intergenerational coalition building and support continues to reinforce the anti-genocide and pro-Palestine movement on university campuses across the country. On April 30th, UCLA Faculty for Justice in Palestine led a walkout in support of the student encampment. With a large banner stating “UCLA Faculty and Staff WE STAND WITH OUR STUDENTS” and multiple professors voicing their own concerns, their message of support for not only the cause but also their students was made clear. Alumni and community members continue to show their support, such as TikTok user @leftistmommy documenting themselves shopping for supplies to drop off at the UCLA encampment. The Daily Bruin opinion column has been continuously updated with op-eds ranging from faculty calling for a walkout and full amnesty for the protestors, a parent denouncing Gene Block’s failure to protect students, and an alumnus calling for the mob of attackers to be held accountable. UCLA departments have released signed statements addressing their concern for the university’s handling of student protestors. The Department of English released this letter last Thursday, calling for the resignation of Gene Block and ending with a powerful statement: “UCLA should be at the forefront of the national student movement against genocide and not turn our campus into a display of unchecked police brutality.” The Asian American Studies Department, Department of History, and more have followed suit. 

UCLA is not the only campus where faculty, alumni, parents, and community members have banded together to support the pro-Palestine cause. Two weeks ago, Columbia professors walked out after student protestors were arrested. Just the other day, The New School, a university in New York City, erected the first faculty-led pro-Palestine encampment. It is clear that intergenerational coalition building will continue to be a significant part of the pro-Palestine movement and future student activism.

Another point that must be recognized is that for many people who participate in protests and demonstrations, activism is not merely a stage or phase. Activists in the mid to late 1900s and the trails they have blazed do not simply disappear; many of them consider themselves lifelong activists, or find themselves in new roles in the current movement. USC Dean of Rossier School of Education Pedro Noguera was a student leader for UC Berkeley’s anti-apartheid movement, and now he is able to offer his own students who are protesting for justice in Palestine advice from his experiences. A video from Madea Benjamin has been circulating on social media as she recalls her experience at the 2009 White House Correspondents Dinner where she called out Donald Rumsfeld for his actions surrounding the Iraq War and calls for people to join her at this year’s dinner in protest of the White House’s association with the war on Gaza. Many people in her comments express gratitude for her actions in 2009 despite her not receiving credit for it until now, and her use of this previous experience to continue organizing demonstrations in support of Palestine. 

No matter how a movement is framed, activism transcends time. It is undeniably important to acknowledge the unity across identities that emerges within a movement – including the unity across generational lines. Student movements are as vulnerable as they are powerful, seen both in history and today, making it all the more important to continue supporting them, regardless of student status. Instead of only feeling sorrow over students shouldering the weight of the fight, question what you can do to support some of that weight. Students should continue to embrace and welcome the support. Everybody, no matter the generation, should consider themselves lifelong learners when it comes to activism and fighting for human rights.

Photo Credit: Lisa Ramos (Staff Managing Editor)

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