At 12 pm on Wednesday, May 1, Columbia faculty and graduate students gathered on 116th and Amsterdam to rally against NYPD presence on campus.

At 12 pm on Wednesday, May 1, Columbia graduate students and faculty members held a rally and picket at the 116th and Amsterdam gates calling for the release of arrested students and for the NYPD to leave campus.

The protest was opened by faculty speaking to the growing crowd, some in their orange safety vests distributed throughout protests earlier this week. The first, History professor Rashid Khalidi, stated that the arrested students are “on the right side of history, and should be remembered the way the Vietnam protestors. He continued by saying that “This is not about Columbia… this is the conscience of a nation speaking through your kids.”

A professor of Anthropology claimed that promises made by President Shafik to Congress about security measures led to the first NYPD sweep of the campus, and decried the rumors about deployment of the National Guard, which the University later refuted. He also told protestors that the administration had prevented faculty from de-escalating tensions the day before, that negotiations between protestors and the University were unreliable, and that NYPD deployment was already certain as of Tuesday morning.

Faculty members and graduate students outside of the gates at 116th and Amsterdam

Classics professor Joseph Howley then spoke, stating that the faculty “are the ones who are going to pick up the pieces they leave.” He stated that “there are no universities left in Gaza. it may feel like there is not a university left in Morningside Heights. But there is, and it’s right here on this sidewalk.”

Once the speakers concluded their remarks, a picket line formed in front of the 116th and Amsterdam gate. Protestors carried signs stating, “They are our students, not terrorists,” “No cops on campus,” and, “Hands off! Free our students!” The line extended from near 115th Street to underneath the Law Bridge near 117th Street . The rally was punctuated with chants such as “Free Palestine,” “Disclose, divest, we will not stop, we will not rest,” and “Cops off campus.” Additional barricades were installed around the picketers; and across the street, vehicles played songs like “Zombie” by The Cranberries, originally written to protest political violence, and “Hava Nagila”, a Jewish folk song.

By 1 pm, around 20 to 30 police in regular uniforms, including higher-ranking officers in white, had gathered in front of barricades.

Essential supplies like water and sunscreen were distributed among the demonstrators to help with the heat and sun. Protestors chanted, “Columbia, Columbia, what do you know, let all our students go” and “Columbia, Columbia, what do you say, how many kids did you arrest today?” Protestors called for the immediate suspension reversal for their fellow students, shouting, “We want justice, you say how, unsuspend our students now.” The north side of the picket line, constrained by blockades, was prevented from extending further northward, effectively hemming the protesters in front of the Amsterdam gates. 

English graduate student and instructor Pranav Menon told Bwog that he was at the protest as “an act of defiance against repression of academic justice.” He said that his research in post-colonial literature had brought him to New York as a place where he could “put some of the ideas [he] stud[ies] into practice and see [his] students do the same.”

Several groups and people from outside Columbia were also present. These included the Writers Against the War in Gaza, who distributed satirical newspapers called the “New York War Crimes” that mimicked the style of the New York Times and which was headlined with “Workers of the World, Strike for Palestine!”

Another outside protestor present was Joshua Santiago, who described himself as “advocating an anarcho communism” and carried flags for Puerto Rican independence and Christian anarcho-communism. He stated that he was at the picket line because “even though [he is]against the existence of all states, including a unified Israel or Palestine… at this current juncture in the real world, [he] would say that [he is] for a unified Palestine.” 

By 1:47 pm, the crowd began to thin out. The remaining protesters consolidated into a stationary gathering in front of the gates for a final speech. The speaker stated that “the fight for control of our campus is a labor issue” and advocated for workers, faculty, and students to take back control of campus from the NYPD and President Shafik. The organizers’ concluding words promised continued resistance, announcing plans to return daily from 1-2 pm and to send a contingent to the 3:30 pm rally at Foley Square. 

Photos via Bwog Staff