UC Merced Encampment

July 8, 2024 /

As protests break out on the campuses of universities across the country in support of Palestine, local organizers and students come together to make their thoughts known here in local Merced. Similar to many other students across the United States, such as on campuses at UC Berkeley, UC Irvine and Columbia University, UC Merced has set up camp with a clear message to the regents of California. “We’re not quitting until you divest from Israel.” While the encampment has been going on for a while, on May fifteenth, the UC Regents of California came to have a meeting on the campus of UC Merced for the first time ever in the history of the UC Regents.

While UC Merced is relatively new, having been founded in 2005, the fact that the UC Regents have decided to host a meeting at the UC Merced for the first time amongst such unrest among students speaks to many on their mindset. Thus, students of UC Merced asked locals to come and help gain the attention of the Regents as they voice their concerns and frustrations. The UC Regents held their meeting in the Dr Vikram and Priya Lakireddy Grand Ballroom, surrounded by police forces. The police monitored those who entered the campus, and were posted on all entry points towards the building.

There was a nervous energy from many people I spoke to, who were worried the police here in Merced would retaliate against them the same way that police officers across the country had. Police at UC Irvine destroyed the encampments, and detained more than a dozen students. At Columbia University they threatened students who enacted their right to peaceful protest with suspension. Police in riot gear at the Merced campus did not assuage any worries. They patrol the campus, walking in their gear to intimidate the students. The police have also installed cameras around campus, surveilling the area. 

The students of UC Merced did not back down against this intimidation and came together more than ever to organize what would turn out to be a wonderful show of community. Students of UC Berkeley and UC LA came to support, and many local people came to show their support. In attendance were organizations such as AROC, Youth Palestinian Movement, PSL, Valley Vision Collective, Central Valley Brown Beret, and the Central Valley Bi-PoC Coalition.

There were speeches, some from those directly impacted by the genocide of the palestinian people, rallying against the funding of a war. The speeches given came from many people of many backgrounds. All with a similar goal of resistance, as I listened to their speech I felt equal parts joy and dread. Here was a community of people, helping one another and caring for one another. It was heartwarming to see, but the situation was less than ideal. The palestinian speakers particularly brought such sorrow to my heart, hearing about their struggles and pain. However, when our hearts are filled with sadness at the suffering of others we must also find them filled with the steel necessary to offer our help.

When there weren’t speeches, there was music. People danced as live music was played, courtesy of @clarissabuitar. People joined hands, skipping and laughing as they celebrated the congregation of a community fighting for peace. A celebration of the culture of the palestinian people, who have suffered for 76 years under the oppressive regime of the apartheid state known as Israel. I found myself wanting to join them, as people danced. 

Many people who attended wore keffiyeh, which are a type of headdress worn by many Arabs, including palestinians. For many Palestinians the keffiyeh are a symbol of their national identity and an ode to their culture’s continued resilience in the face of Israel’s attempt to destroy them. In Palestine authentic keffiyeh are made by Hirbawi, which has one factory open in Hebron Palestine. They have made keffiyeh since 1961 and continue to make them as a symbol of their resistance and solidarity. 

This symbol of solidarity was worn by many protestors, who painted banners and murals in support of Palestine. They wrote chalk messages on the ground in defiance of the oppression that Palestine is facing. All of these people came together, some of them came from hours away from Merced. As I stood among the crowd of people, I was overwhelmed by the amount of support and care I felt from the crowd. So many people who refused to look away from the injustice happening, and so many people who wanted to be there, and put effort into showing up. The day was hot and heavy, and many times it was uncomfortable to stand in the heat. My voice grew hoarse and my throat sore from the chants. Yet people stood strong, knowing that our discomfort was minimal in the face of the great injustices happening in Palestine. We celebrated Palestinian culture as we gathered together to speak out against the cruelty occurring.

Not only was there celebration of Palestinian culture, however. There was also mourning, as speaker’s honored the martyrs back in Palestine. There were memorials which held tens of thousands of names, the names of those who had fallen. Flowers sat by the memorials, and in speeches they asked to remember those who had died. A few protesters set up a personal altar for those lost, lighting sage in remembrance of the people who were killed. The number of deaths continues to grow higher and higher as the days without a ceasefire go on.

In Gaza the death toll has reached 36,096, as of May 29th, with almost half of that number being children. As the Israeli troops take more and more ground that land is being settled by Israel. Over 100,000+ Hectares of land have been appropriated by Israel from Palestinians since 1967. Israel continues to systematically take Palestinian land while they bomb the land that the Palestinian people still live on. They destroy aid coming in to help the Palestinian people with Israeli soldiers attacking the trucks coming in to aid the Palestinian people. More than 250 aid workers have been killed or injured in these attacks. These attacks have continued to happen despite the intense backlash from the UN and other countries.

As the US government continues to support the genocide and israel, many students and citizens are fed up. While UC students protest the UC Regents funding Israel, many US citizens are also finding ways to support Palestine. By boycotting places like McDonalds and Starbucks, who have shown record dropping numbers in their profits, and blocking celebrities online. United States citizens aren’t the only ones, though. Across the world many people are protesting the current genocide. There are protesters in Italy who occupied a train station, and protesters in Spain who marched the streets of Madrid. In London, near Downing street people gathered to protest. All over the world, there are people gathering to say the same thing. Israel we see you, we see the crimes you are committing. We see the genocide you are committing against the Palestine people. We want a permanent ceasefire – and we want it now.

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