Statement on Campus Protests

To the students in the protests: We see you, we are with you, and we’re here in support of your leadership.

The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship stands in support of student commitment to non-violence across the nation in university protests of the genocide in Gaza.

Photo credit: Photo by Gabriella Gregor Splaver/ Senior Staff Photographer @ Columbia Spectator

Watching the news unfold is like watching a fire start – the living spark of a new
generation of peacemakers taking action in the name of building the world in which they want to
live and divesting from the one they do not. In other ways, this is ground our veteran
peacemakers know too well – generations of PPFers know that intentional resistance to violence
and empire can have costs that are unimaginably high.

We send our strength, courage, and support to the students at the growing list of
universities demanding divestment from genocide.
We add our voices to our siblings at IPMN and Jewish Voice for Peace, both 2014
recipients of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s Peaceseeker Award, in their shared support of
the right for students to protest, and the necessity of universities being contexts in which students
can do as they have been taught to do – use their voices!

One of PPF’s Peace Churches, Rutgers Presbyterian Church in New York finds the
protests right on their doorstep at Columbia University and continues their stance articulated
over the many months of this genocide: “We cannot continue to reflexively meet violence with
violence, brutality with brutality. Our faith as Christians teaches us a different way. We insist that
our government continue to work for lasting peace. But first the violence and dehumanization
must end.”

Activist Council member and former PPF co-moderator Dr. Robert Ross, who recently
spoke at the University of Pittsburgh protests, understands the impulse so many of us share,
wanting to know what we can do to help. “Most of what they need right now is simple stuff like
boxes, phone chargers, and earplugs, and most of all, people in the park!”

It is tempting to want to put our knowledge and energy toward immediate response, but
there is tremendous importance in encouraging the on-going student leadership of this
movement, as shared by Rev. Chris Shelton, pastor of Broadway Presbyterian Church in NYC:
“Here at Broadway, we are less than a block from the heart of the protest movement, it is
true. This last week has been a lively one in our neighborhood.

That being said — we have been minimally involved. We are ready and open to support
our student neighbors — but we have also been clear-eyed that this is a student movement. I
underline this from the start because it has been very apparent to us in the neighborhood that
outside voices are absolutely not what the students are needing or wanting.

We have done some very basic things. We have scheduled with professors from Barnard to
hold classes in our building so that suspended students can participate. We are on-hold as a
potential site for an alternative graduation. We’re in touch with local professors who are
supporting students. We’ve gathered some supportive items…blankets, etc.

But — I’ll also tell you that the students are being well supported. Indeed, just 20 minutes
ago, student leaders sent boxes of pizza to us to share with our Soup Kitchen because they had
too much for the encampment.

The best thing we can do is wait and watch and let the student leaders lead. They are
doing an excellent job….I will tell you — I feel incredibly awkward…as if I/we should be doing
more. But we are doing what we are asked to do.

The atmosphere that is set by the student protests is not at all violent…the media is having
to work hard to create that narrative, and it is only the outside protestors that are stoking
anything to the contrary. The students are convening meaningfully — praying — sharing Shabbat
and Passover meals — dancing — and engaging this as people of peace. If anything, we need to get
that narrative out there more.”

We invite the PPF community to join in prayer, listening, and attending carefully to the
narratives being constructed around these protests. We will continue to demand a ceasefire in
Gaza, assert the need for Palestinian liberation, condemn anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, resist
the militarization of the police, and offer our networks of support and sanctuary to the students
who are risking so much in the name of building peace.

We send our courage to the students, in the words of PPF Activist Council member and former moderator of the PC(USA), Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow:

“This goes out to the many students whose commitment to divestment, a ceasefire, and the building of a free Palestine has become so public, prolific, and powerful; thank you — and I’m sorry.

If you have engaged in civil disobedience, thank you. If you have organized student actions on your campus, thank you. If you have made sure that your friends, classmates, and community are safe, housed, fed, and cared for, thank you. For whatever you have sacrificed to hold my generation and others accountable to the values that we have touted, but are not living up to, thank you. And if just showing up has been your act of resistance and solidarity, thank you.

And I’m sorry. I’m sorry that the very institutions that have taught you about systems of intimidation, suppression, and violence are now making sure that you experience the same. I am sorry that so many have expected you to change the world for the better, and now that you are doing so, the same people are using their power to intimidate you into accepting that you cannot. And I’m sorry if your family, guardians, and others who have encouraged you to change the world are not able to support you as you do just that.

While you are justifiably disappointed in quite a few of us, please know that many of us who occupy that “parental space” see, support, and love you and are inspired by your commitment, your organizing, and your courage. So as we do our part, as we use our own influence, power, and authority to fight for a free Palestine, always remember that none of us is alone in this fight for justice; we join our spirits with ancestors and saints past and present and that we are here, with, and for you always.”

We encourage our friends, Activist Council members, and partners to join in commitment
to prayer, presence, and deep listening for the long journey ahead.