May 24, 2024

Anonymous Student

The morning of May 7th was full of sun and blue skies. Our civil disobedience began under a flowery tree by the pond to discuss last minute logistics before everything began. I met my comrades that I was “running red” with, meaning that we were all willingly resisting arrest. I was embraced and welcomed amongst this group immediately, despite not being a part of any official activist organization on campus. This trend repeated itself throughout the entirety of the day with organizers emphasizing the need to protect and support one another in this space. We collectively built the encampment and I watched as people from all walks of life came together to build the beautiful space to be. The encampment was decorated with Palestinian flags, memorials, and protest signs with sun gleaming through the leaves. It represented a safe haven. It represented Rafah.

I don’t think I can do justice to the amount of joy and comradery I witnessed that day and into the night. There was not a single person left behind, forgotten, or pressured. Our values remained anti-war/weapons/hate and pro-love/peace/people/humanity. The biggest demand was divesting from war profiteers and disclosing where university funding is going. Despite reports from our faulty chancellor, I felt incredibly safe in this space. That was the idea of it all, to create space on campus where we could be one and could pressure the university to hear our demands. Our demands included disclosing university funding, divesting from war profiteers, and dropping the remaining civil charges against the UMass 57 who were arrested during a sit-in last fall. Ultimately, this is an anti-war movement. I don’t want to speak on behalf of others, but we all just want there to be an end to the cycle of genocide and systemic oppression. It is disgraceful, to say the least, the ties that UMass and the United States have in such inhumane violence. Our goal is to call out their contributions to war and put pressure on administrations such as our own to invest in ethical partnerships to create a better world.

We were not asking the chancellor (do I dare say his name?) to agree to all the demands but we were looking for agreement to a certain extent. We received neither commitment nor negotiation from the chancellor on all of our demands. The small win we received was his verbal word to put divestment on the June board of trustees meeting. Not only was this too little too late, but student representatives who met with him were interrupted repeatedly, in addition to racist and sexist undertones being reported back to those at the encampment. The chancellor expressed in this meeting that the encampment was hurting Palestinian people, rather than, let’s say war weapon funding through Raytheon. Furthermore, the meeting was in bad faith on the part of the chancellor as police were called around 4pm, when the meeting began. The meeting ended at 7:25pm and the first arrests were made at 7:42pm. I wonder now if the chancellor met with the student representatives for any reason other than to stall time to mobilize over 100 police cars, including UMass Police Department, Massachusetts State Police, and specifically Massachusetts Special Emergency Response Team (SERT).

Before the police showed up to the encampment, there were hours of singing, chanting, dancing, embracing one another, and creating an atmosphere of solidarity for Palestine. After the police arrived, peaceful protesters inside and outside the encampment were met with hostility, brutality, violence, and were shown an excellent example of how the police state functions. I was inside the middle of the encampment and was taken aback by the amount of people that came to support at the rallies during the day and remained there throughout the night. I watched as more and more people joined arms and hands to protect the encampment. To protect us.

From my perspective behind encampment walls, I saw a limited amount of the police brutality that occurred, although enough to scare me. I called my roommate who was graciously updating my mom to tell him that I was probably going to get hurt. I saw strobe lights and tasers pulled. I saw people threatened with pepper spray. I saw students taken to the ground outside of the encampment. I heard many rumors about brutality that was happening around us and they proved to be true according to videos I later found access to. Those of us inside the encampment seriously talked about the increasing possibility of harm and injuries given the force that was being used around us. Since we were purposefully resisting arrest, we were all scared of how we would be treated and what would become of us.

I remember feeling most scared when police officers broke into the encampment and began tearing things down. It was not only the disrespectful manner in which they acted but also the sight of all white male cops surrounding us. In that moment that they started moving in on us was one of the scariest moments of my life. I was trying to prepare for the worst and wondered things such as if the next time I would see my parents would be in the hospital. Thankfully, my injuries were fairly minor but that fear has stayed with me. I was the first one in our arm linked circle that an officer came up to. He told me I was under arrest and I promptly tightened my grip on those next to me. I saw three or four officers line up behind others in the circle and as they started to pull on them, I heard the officer behind me yell “One at a time!” Shortly after I was kneed in the back by this same police officer and yelped out in pain and shock. I held on for as long as I could before I was ripped away from my comrades. My arms were forced and bent behind my back and force continued to take place since my fists were tensed. Earlier in the day I was told that tensing your fists as they put zip ties on can create more space once relaxed. I did so but was yelled at and had my arm grabbed by an officer who told me to stop resisting after there were already multiple officers actively keeping me in place.

The next few minutes were a blur and I string together moments through video footage. During the arrest, my sheisty/balaclava was taken off and discarded. I was walked from the encampment towards the Student Union where I was sat on a bench to wait. My arms still bear the bruises of the officers who grabbed my arms too hard. The rest of my experience consisted of waiting for hours while still having my arms bound behind my back. My shoulders have yet to recover. I was not allowed to use the bathroom despite many protests and I worried about internal damage from a result of well over 12 hours without urinating. To reiterate, I was arrested around 10:30 pm and arrived at UMPD at around 2:30 am. These four hours my wrists were zip-tied behind my back without adjustment and I, as well as many others, were barred from using the bathroom.

When I finally got back to my dorm at the ripe hour of 4am, I could not fall asleep. I was exhausted and the pain had not set in yet but I found myself paralyzed watching the news reports and videos. It was not until then that I learned about the full extent of the police brutality. I was under the impression that after the police broke into the encampment, they arrested everyone and it was over. Reading that people kept joining the encampment and continued to rally after my group of comrades were arrested brought tears to my eyes. My heart still warms when I think of it. However, the tears didn’t stop as I watched the same awful footage of students and community members being abused by the police. The excessive force was so much worse than I was aware of. I was, and remain, completely horrified at the treatment of peaceful protesters at the hand of the police, chancellor, and UMass administration. I cannot get away from the images of students getting slammed to the ground and reinforced by multiple officers kneeling on them. I don’t know if I will ever be able to fully recover.

My heart aches with such an intense hurt. I feel betrayed by the very people who vow to protect me. The police, whom I am the least surprised with about their behavior, were supposedly there to protect students. Now every time I see a cop car I get flashbacks. The chancellor, whose job centers around the students’ wellbeing, has repeatedly targeted pro-Palestine, or rather, anti-war protesters. I have lost all faith in the UMass administration. One of the worst parts is that the chancellor is not the cause but a puppet of the system. It is the system that is corrupt and dangerous, but I feel a change coming.

Standing in the middle of the encampment as students rallied around us, a graduate student said to me, “This is a revolution.” She could not be more right.



Claudia Maurino

Until they started cropping up across this country, I was not familiar with the encampment as an activist action or tool. Watching Columbia and Emerson and NYU (in the news) and Northwestern and UCLA (where my brilliant, engaged, activist siblings go), I learned in real time the power of the encampment protest— both in terms of the image, the ability to amass protestors and visitors, and as a site for education, community, and dialogue.

At around the same time, we read about the Rhodes Must Fall encampments at the University of Capetown in South Africa in 2015, which successfully resulted in free education for students at the University of Cape Town. As our incipient encampments began to take hold across the country, it was inspiring to read about a similar situation not too long ago that resulted in tangible achievements for the protesting community.

When the first UMass encampment dispersed after a day, I respected the choice of the organizers to prioritize student safety, but felt on the wind that it wouldn’t be the end. I have been attending the protests all year long —from impromptu marches to the sit-in at Whitmore to the short-lived Whitmore nightly canvassing— and have felt the temperature rise both globally, as the situation in Palestine became —becomes— more dire with every passing day, as well as on this campus, as student frustration and administrative pushback both grow stronger.

When the second encampment went up, I attended with the intent to spend the night and give it all my energy, but didn’t expect getting arrested to be on my agenda. When I arrived, it quickly became clear the night would not end peacefully —and that the protestors would not disperse without a fight. At the time of the final police warning, I somewhat impulsively put my name down on a jail support form and linked arms (with Lydia!). I am very aware of the immense privilege that comes with being able to make this choice somewhat on the fly, and I think that because my circumstances (both demographically, in being white, cis, and able-bodied, and personally, with a lower-stakes career world, supportive parents, and the ability to afford bail) made it easier, it was all the more important to do. I hope that other activists in positions of privilege watch the immense risks taken by BIPOC, disabled, and trans protestors and are inspired and emboldened to do the same —I know I was.

After watching scores of people —including my roommate and my best friend— tackled to the ground, sat on, and violently arrested by more than one (and usually up to three) state police officers each, I was almost surprised that they then took over an hour to arrest the final thirty or forty of us (they took time to destroy and load out every tent, snack, pallet, fence, and flag first). During this time of final stand off —each group hoping the other would give up and go home— we sat, chanted, and sang. The sense of community in that moment, and throughout the entire rest of the night, was one of the most profound feelings of togetherness I have ever experienced, and it is what I remember and hold most strongly from the experience.

Eventually, at about 1:00am, we were arrested, put on the PVTA, and sent through a back entrance to Mullins, where we sat on the same arena stage I sat on yesterday at the Honors graduation, in zip-ties and without restrooms, for over four hours. Even then the camaraderie didn’t flag. We pushed one another’s hair out of our eyes, passed snacks and water along the rows, and offered shoulders for wearying heads. We were finally taken for processing to UMPD at around 5am, and I wasn’t out until almost 8 in the morning, when I walked into the sunshine to my friend —my spur of the moment emergency contact who had no idea the shape his night would take— wrapping me in a blanket and pushing a granola bar into my hand. Three members of my household were arrested that night, and our other two roommates and this stalwart friend, did not sleep. They sat outside UMPD, they talked on the phone with our parents, they brought other people snacks and donated bail money, they waited. None of them were activists before. Some of them may never be again (though I kind of doubt it.) Regardless, I am heartened and inspired by the radicalizing power of loving somebody who is enduring something difficult, and the willingness to drop anything to support them, because it becomes a trickle effect— these friends have gone to more rallies now, they’ve read more, they’ve become more informed and opinionated and outspoken.

Whether it is called racial justice, or feminism, or anti-colonialism, or —as I think I am drawn most to following and learning about and from— Black Feminist thought, I am really developing this understanding of activism as a way of practicing the future now, of building structures and models of care that center undoing the already existing systems of oppression and designing new modes of relating and being internally, while fighting to do the same externally on larger scales.