an Emory student on the school’s Gaza protest – Mondoweiss

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In recent days, we’ve seen police sweep multiple Gaza solidarity encampments. One of the most violent crackdowns occurred at Emory University in Atlanta, where state and local police swooped in hours after the tents had been erected, arresting almost 30 people while using tear gas and rubber bullets.

Students have been protesting Israel’s war on Gaza, the school’s connection to the carnage, and Atlanta’s planned police training center Cop City.

“This local resistance is a vivid tableau of a global struggle for liberation. At its core, the fight against Cop City is interconnected with global movements against oppressive state practices, most notably the Palestinian struggle for liberation from illegal occupation, apartheid, and systemic violence,” said student organizers in a statement shortly before the crackdown. “The parallels extend deeper into the mechanisms of oppression, where the tactics employed to suppress dissent in Atlanta echo those used globally, facilitated by significant international collaboration in policing and surveillance.”

Mondoweiss spoke with David Meer, a third-year Ph.D candidate in Physics at Emory University and a leader of his local graduate student union, about the coalition, his arrest, and why he became involved in the protest.

Mondoweiss: Can you talk about the state of Palestine activism at Emory leading up to this moment?

Meer: I think compared to a lot of universities it’s been relatively limited. I went to a big protest in October, but it wasn’t even on campus, it was in midtown Atlanta. There is definitely a very vocal group of activists in Emory and there’s really been a lot of solidarity between different issues.

So, some of the biggest organizers of this have been the Emory Socialist Party and the Stop Cop City people. There’s a lot of overlap, specifically in Atlanta. The Stop Cop City movement is really tied into the Palestine liberation movement because IDF soldiers are planning to train in Cop City, and the Atlanta police department communications with the IDF. Coca-Cola, which is based in Atlanta, has factories in occupied Palestine. The company has a lot of influence in Atlanta and among Emory board members.

Have you met resistance from pro-Israel groups on campus?

We have a lot of that. Emory has a deep religious community and a very big Jewish community. There is a very strong pro-Israel contingent within that. Emory attracts a lot of Jewish students, but there’s also those who specifically come to promote Zionism. The school’s President Gregory Fenves, who was previously known for his terrible actions at UT-Austin, has explicitly come out as pro-Zionist. Around the time of October 7 he put out a statement that was basically like, “I went to Israel and it was so beautiful. I’d hate to see the country torn apart by terrorists” or some nonsense like that. So yeah, there is a strong contingent of Zionists at Emory.

Cops swept the camp on April 25, violently arresting a number of students. Can you talk about that day?

I should say I am not an organizer that has been particularly involved in Palestine liberation. Of course, these are all overlapping issues, but the focus of my organizing and activism has been much more connected to labor and economics. I’m a leader of the graduate student union.

I heard about this protest by about 8:30 in the morning, so I went down and was checking out the encampments by 9:30. I was asking people what kind of financial support they needed, did they need donations or food or blankets. I was joining in the chanting but wasn’t aggressively involved. I was a participant, but I was just a body in the crowd.

Then there was suddenly a huge amount of police. There was the Emory Police Department, the Atlanta police department, the Georgia State police. They were all there.

Around 10:15 we began marching. We were beginning to leave the quad, and that’s when the police violently swarmed in, and it happened very quickly. I have a group chat text where someone says, “You should come over here, it’s safe.” Four minutes later someone texts, “David was arrested.”

So they really swooped in so quickly. There’s a video of me specifically walking away, and a cop runs up behind me and zip-ties me, and those zip ties are awful. I was lucky I was wearing a sweater and a jacket because there were people who were zip-tied and lost feeling in part of their fingers, and when they were released from jail 30 hours later, they still did not have all the feeling in their hands back.

President Fenves needs to give explicit permission for Atlanta and Georgia State police to be on campus, so we suspect that he ordered them to move in, disperse, and arrest.

They were using pepper bullets, they were using tear gas. They were tackling people. There’s a horrific video of someone being tasted multiple times as he is pinned down for maybe fifteen seconds. This all had to come from explicit orders by the president of the university.

What’s been the mood at the campus since the arrests? What does the current protest look like?

The protests have been peaceful the entire time. During the protest, the president said the situation was driven by outside agitators, but something like 80% of the arrests were students, faculty, or people affiliated with the university. It was the police that brought the violence.

After the arrests, there were continued protests and outcry. The protests have been morphing. The Monday after, there was a faculty walkout calling for all charges on the arrested students to be dropped. I still am waiting for my court date. I’m a student who was officially arrested for trespassing on my own campus. As I was leaving the campus I was arrested for trespassing.

Like I said, there’s also been a merging of movements: Stop Cop City and divestment from Israel. Things are still moving. With graduation and finals coming, we are asking professors to not teach their classes and boycott. I don’t think there’s necessarily been overnight encampments since the arrests, but there are new waves of protest every single day.

We talked about the arrests, but what about potential suspensions from the administration?

I was explicitly told by the dean of my graduate school that I would not be suspended. They were at one point considering restrictions on when I could be on campus, but that has been completely dropped. I was assured there would be no academic consequences.

The faculty have put together statements of no confidence in the president, but the thing we are really still asking for…the administration could go to the Georgia Attorney General and say, “Drop the charges.” That won’t force them to, but it’s Emory who brought about these arrests to begin. I was arrested by Emory PD, so if Emory went to the attorney and said, “Drop the charges,” that would almost certainly stop them. Besides the president stepping down, that’s the biggest piece of political action we’re hoping for that hasn’t happened yet.

You mentioned divestment from Israel earlier. Can you talk about those demands more?

Like I said, I’m more of a labor organizer, so I don’t know as many of the details as some people do, but I know the Coca-Cola company, in particular, has a factory set up on occupied land. A cursory glance at anything related to Emory will reveal the deep ties they have to with Coca-Cola and I believe there are more direct ties with Israel as well.

The president of Emory made a curious comment about the protesters not being part of the “community.” He’s since backtracked, but what did you make of that comment?

That was absolutely a diversion, and the president was trying to change the conversation to something that was more amenable to what he wanted.

He throws that statement out less than an hour after the arrests to change the conversation. It changes it from this immoral thing that happened to a conversation about “outside agitators.” There were 28 arrests and 20 of them were either Emory students or faculty. So, his narrative is completely false.

The sense of community I’ve gotten from this has been amazing. The amount of people showing support for me has been absolutely wild. I have gotten so much love and support from my department, from the union that I’m a part of, from random people who recognize me on the street and want to tell me, “Thank you for doing what you were doing.” Even people at my apartment complex who I’ve never interacted with before have recognized me. There has been an incredible outpouring of support.

After the arrests were made, after tear gas and pepper bolts were used, people were still out there protesting and even more enraged about what was happening. They were out the next day protesting for our release. So Emory has really come together and shown incredible solidarity.

Throughout this interview you’ve alluded to the fact you haven’t been involved in this issue much in the past. What compelled you to become involved?

I should point out that I’m Jewish. I’m a Jew in support of Palestinian liberation.

For me, it’s that Israel is founded on the idea that Jews should have their own country and go to their own place. If there are people there? Well, let’s slowly push them out over time. Let’s claim that they’re all terrorists.

It’s an act of imperialism. It’s an act of European supremacy over other groups of people. I think it’s particularly important for Jews to speak out. The atrocities of World War II and antisemitism. Those things are real, but at the same time, we can’t use them as a shield for criticism of Israel’s current actions.

There is a need for peace in this area, and there are groups that are trying to justify further imperialism, and I don’t want to support that. I don’t want to be a part of that I don’t want the student fees I pay going towards those causes. That’s why I joined.



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