Three Inquiries Regarding Politics and Campus Protests



Pro-Palestinian student protests against the war in Gaza have been sweeping across the US, with images of arrests and crackdowns, leading to comparisons with the unrest of 1968. The demonstrations have highlighted divisions within the Democratic base over the conflict in Gaza and the Biden administration’s support of Israel, with some young and progressive voters expressing disappointment. However, it remains unclear how the protests will impact the presidential election, with some predicting that they could hurt the Democrats while others believe that the majority of young voters still support the Biden administration.

Pro-Palestinian Student Protests Sweep Across the U.S

Pro-Palestinian student encampments protesting the war in Gaza have made headlines this week, as they sweep across America, from New York to Texas to Southern California. Due to the dramatic imagery of arrests and crackdowns, comparisons to the protest-packed year of 1968 have risen, sparking debate on whether the election year of 2024 might feel similar to that significant year.

In 1968, violent clashes ensued when police moved to crack down on protests against the Vietnam War at Columbia University, contributing to the Democrats losing the presidential election to President Nixon. But it is too soon to determine if the current campus protests will have a similar impact on the upcoming presidential election. Yet, the surge in student protests, in a year already fraught with war overseas and domestic political division, further complicates the political landscape of 2024.

Impact of Student Protests on Democratic Base

The nation-wide student protests have exposed cracks in the Democratic base, highlighting a divide over the Gaza war. Young and progressive voters have voiced their disappointment in the Biden administration’s support for Israel in the ongoing conflict which has resulted in the death of thousands of Palestinians.

According to Kaia Shah, a 23-year-old researcher and recent graduate of U.C.L.A., the student demands aren’t about politics, but aimed at urging U.C.L.A. to divest from corporations profiting from the Gaza conflict. Despite this focus, the protests are seen as a warning sign to President Biden, who recently condemned the antisemitism surfacing in some of the protests.

A poll by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University found Gaza ranked fairly low on young voters’ list of top issues. Rep. Barbara Lee of California, however, highlighted the importance of listening to young voters, stating that their voices will be heard in the upcoming elections.

Republicans’ Response to the Protests

Meanwhile, some right-wing figures, including Laura Loomer, have seized the protests as an opportunity to slam them as chaotic and anti-Semitic. After the Columbia protests erupted, they quickly moved uptown to join the demonstrations outside the university gates.

House Speaker Mike Johnson and Representative Virginia Foxx of North Carolina, who has publicly challenged university leaders about antisemitism, visited Columbia and urged the university’s president, Nemat Shafik, to resign following her decision to send police officers to clear a protest encampment.

Future of the Protests

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, sees some parallels between today’s protests and those of 1968. He predicts that if the war is still ongoing during the Democratic convention, protests will likely occur. However, Democratic officials have stated they are working to ensure security while respecting the right to peaceful protests.

It remains uncertain how long the protests will last, especially as the academic year draws to a close. The next challenge for Biden and college campuses may come next month, during a series of commencement addresses.

Impact on Texas Politics

The University of Texas at Austin became a flashpoint for the protests this week when 57 people were arrested. The arrests have been dropped, but the incident has sparked heated debate and deep concerns among faculty members. The Texas Republican-led state government, under Governor Greg Abbott, has been applauded by Republicans for their swift crackdown, presenting a stark contrast to the handling of protests on campuses like Columbia.

Despite the crackdown, student demonstrators continue to voice their displeasure over the Gaza conflict, drawing attention to the ongoing political complexities surrounding the issue.

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