Campus Gaza Rallies May Subside, but Experts See Possible ‘Hot Summer of Protest’

 Protesters stand and link arms during a demonstration in support of Palestinians, at the Auraria Campus in Denver, Colorado, US May 7, 2024. (Reuters)
Protesters stand and link arms during a demonstration in support of Palestinians, at the Auraria Campus in Denver, Colorado, US May 7, 2024. (Reuters)
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Campus Gaza Rallies May Subside, but Experts See Possible ‘Hot Summer of Protest’

 Protesters stand and link arms during a demonstration in support of Palestinians, at the Auraria Campus in Denver, Colorado, US May 7, 2024. (Reuters)
Protesters stand and link arms during a demonstration in support of Palestinians, at the Auraria Campus in Denver, Colorado, US May 7, 2024. (Reuters)

About a dozen students arrested by police clearing a sit-in at a Denver college campus emerged from detainment to cheers from fellow pro-Palestinian protesters, several waving yellow court summons like tiny victory flags and imploring fellow demonstrators not to let their energy fade.

Just how much staying power the student demonstrations over the war in Gaza that have sprung up in Denver and at dozens of universities across the United States will have is a key question for protesters, school administrators and police, with graduation ceremonies being held, summer break coming and high-profile encampments dismantled.

The student protesters passionately say they will continue until administrators meet demands that include permanent ceasefire in Gaza, university divestment from arms suppliers and other companies profiting from the war, and amnesty for students and faculty members who have been disciplined or fired for protesting.

Academics who study protest movements and the history of civil disobedience say it's difficult to maintain the people-power energy on campus if most of the people are gone. But they also point out that university demonstrations are just one tactic in the wider pro-Palestinian movement that has existed for decades, and that this summer will provide many opportunities for the energy that started on campuses to migrate to the streets.

Signs spelling the word "Divest" hang among white flags symbolizing each child killed in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas in Gaza, at a protest encampment at the Auraria Campus in Denver, Colorado, US, May 10, 2024. (Reuters)

EVOLVE OR FADE AWAY

Dana Fisher is a professor at American University in Washington, DC, and author of several books on activism and grassroots movements who has seen some of her own students among protesters on her campus.

She noted the college movement spread organically across the country as a response to police called onto campus at Columbia University on April 18, when more than 100 people were arrested. Since those arrests, at least 2,600 demonstrators have been detained at more than 100 protests in 39 states and Washington, DC, according to The Appeal, a nonprofit news organization.

"I don't see enough organizational infrastructure to sustain a bunch of young people who are involved in a movement when they are not on campus," Fisher said. "Either the movement has to evolve substantially or it can't continue."

Following the initial arrests at Columbia, students there occupied a classroom building, an escalation of the protest that led to even more arrests. Similarly in Denver, police on April 26 arrested 45 people at an encampment protest at the Auraria campus – which serves the University of Colorado-Denver, Metropolitan State University and the Community College of Denver.

Then on May 8, Auraria protesters staged a short-lived sit-in inside the Aerospace and Engineering Sciences building, developed in part with a $1 million gift from arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin.

Students in Denver say the movement's spread from the coasts to the heartland and to smaller universities shows it has staying power. Student protests also have flared outside the US.

"We're keeping our protests up and our encampment going until our demands are met, however long that takes," said Steph, a 21-year-old student on the Auraria campus who declined to give their full name for fear of reprisals. "We'll be here through summer break and into next fall if needed."

Fisher, the academic, said the police response to protests has helped ignite a sense of activism in a new generation of students. She thinks the current campus demonstrations foreshadow a "long, hot summer of protest" about many issues, and that the Republican national convention in July and the Democratic national convention in August will be ripe targets for massive protest.

"The stakes have gotten much higher, and that's very much due to the way that police have responded in a much more aggressive and repressive way than they did even back in the 1960s," Fisher said, referring to student-led protests against the Vietnam War.

"And then you just plop right down in the middle of all that the presidential election?" she said. "It's a crazy recipe for one hell of a fall."

Tents are set up at an encampment in support of Palestinians in Gaza, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian group Hamas, at the Auraria Campus in Denver, Colorado, US, May 10, 2024. (Reuters)

AFTER GRADUATION, A GHOST TOWN

Michael Heaney, an American lecturer in politics at the University of Glasgow in Scotland whose research and books have focused on US protest movements said the campus demonstrations are just one tactic in the wider movement to support Palestinians, an ongoing effort that goes back decades.

Heaney said that the geographical diffusion of the university encampments to places like Denver is an opportunity to bring the message of the wider movement to places where it may not have been before.

Heaney added that "protests for any movement are episodic" and pointed to the various manifestations of the African-American Civil Rights movement in the US, going back 200 years. Just because one moment of protest ends does not foretell its overall demise.

He said pro-Palestinian protests in American cities this summer could grow if Israel's offensive in Gaza continues, and that such demonstrations would have been stoked by the widespread university activism.

On Denver's Auraria campus, while students were cleared from the classroom building, about 75 tents remain on a grassy quad, where protesters say they serve 200 meals each day in a mess hall tent. One of the student protest organizers, Jacob, 22, said he's convinced the facts on the ground in Gaza are what will sustain the encampment.

"After graduation it may be a ghost town on this campus - but we'll still be here," he said. "We're not going anywhere."



A Year Ago, Russian Mercenary Chief Yevgeny Prigozhin Challenged the Kremlin with a Mutiny

People walk past at a makeshift memorial to Yevgeny Prigozhin near the cafe he owned in Saint-Petersburg on June 20, 2024. (AFP)
People walk past at a makeshift memorial to Yevgeny Prigozhin near the cafe he owned in Saint-Petersburg on June 20, 2024. (AFP)
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A Year Ago, Russian Mercenary Chief Yevgeny Prigozhin Challenged the Kremlin with a Mutiny

People walk past at a makeshift memorial to Yevgeny Prigozhin near the cafe he owned in Saint-Petersburg on June 20, 2024. (AFP)
People walk past at a makeshift memorial to Yevgeny Prigozhin near the cafe he owned in Saint-Petersburg on June 20, 2024. (AFP)

On a lazy summer weekend a year ago, Russia was jolted by the stunning news of an armed uprising. The swaggering chief of a Kremlin-sponsored mercenary army seized a military headquarters in the south and began marching toward Moscow to oust the Defense Ministry’s leaders, accusing them of starving his force of ammunition in Ukraine.

Yevgeny Prigozhin and his soldiers-for-hire called off their "march of justice" only hours later, but the rebellion dealt a blow to President Vladimir Putin, the most serious challenge to his rule in nearly a quarter-century in power.

Prigozhin’s motives are still hotly debated, and the suspicious crash of the private jet that killed him and his top lieutenants exactly two months after the rebellion remains mired in mystery.

A look at the mutiny and its impact:

Who was Yevgeny Prigozhin? Prigozhin, an ex-convict, owned a fancy restaurant in St. Petersburg where Putin took foreign leaders. That earned Prigozhin the nicknamed of "Putin’s chef." Those ties won him lucrative government contracts, including catering for Kremlin events and providing meals and services to the military.

He founded the Wagner Group, a private military contractor, in 2014, using it to advance Russia's political interests and clout by deploying mercenaries to Syria, Libya, the Central African Republic and elsewhere. Wagner fighters provided security for African leaders or warlords, often in exchange for a share of gold mines or other natural resources.

Prigozhin gained attention in the US, where he and a dozen other Russians were indicted by the Justice Department for creating the Internet Research Agency — a "troll farm" that focused on interfering in the 2016 US presidential election. The case was later dropped.

What was Wagner's role in Ukraine? After Putin invaded Ukraine in 2022, Wagner emerged as one of the most capable of Moscow’s fighting forces. It played a key role in capturing the eastern stronghold of Bakhmut in May 2023.

Prigozhin was allowed by the Kremlin to swell Wagner's ranks with convicts, who were offered amnesty after serving six months on the front line. He said 50,000 were recruited, and 10,000 of them died in the ferocious battle for Bakhmut.

The war added to Wagner's reputation for brutality. In a video that surfaced in November 2022, a former Wagner mercenary who allegedly defected to the Ukrainian side but later was captured by Russia, was shown being beaten to death with a sledgehammer, the mercenary group's symbol.

What led to the uprising? For months in 2023, Prigozhin complained bitterly about the military brass denying his forces the needed ammunition in Ukraine. In open political infighting, he blasted then-Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and General Staff chief Gen. Valery Gerasimov in profane rants on social media, blaming them for military setbacks and accusing them of corruption.

The Defense Ministry's order for Wagner to sign contracts with the regular military appeared to be the final trigger for Prigozhin's extraordinary rebellion on June 23-24.

His mercenaries swiftly took over Russia’s southern military headquarters in Rostov-on-Don, reportedly hoping to capture Shoigu and Gerasimov. But they weren't there.

Prigozhin ordered his forces to roll toward Moscow, saying it wasn't a military coup but a "march of justice" to unseat his foes. The mercenaries downed several military aircraft en route, killing over a dozen pilots. Security forces in Moscow went on alert and checkpoints were set up on the southern outskirts.

At the height of the crisis, Putin went on TV and called the rebellion by his onetime protege a "betrayal" and "treason." He vowed to punish those behind it.

But Prigozhin abruptly aborted the march hours later in an amnesty deal brokered by Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. The mercenary forces were offered a choice of moving to Belarus, retiring from service or signing contracts with the Russian Defense Ministry.

Prigozhin later said he launched the uprising after he "lost his temper" in the infighting with his foes. Some commentators said he apparently hoped to persuade Putin to take his side against the military brass — a grave miscalculation.

What was Prigozhin's fate? On Aug. 23, two months to the day after the rebellion, a business jet carrying Prigozhin, 62, and his top associates crashed while flying from Moscow to St. Petersburg, killing all seven passengers and a crew of three.

State investigators have yet to say what caused the crash.

A preliminary US intelligence assessment concluded there was an intentional explosion on board. Western officials pointed to a long list of Putin foes who have been assassinated.

The Kremlin has denied involvement and rejected Western allegations that Putin was behind it as an "absolute lie."

Prigozhin was buried in his hometown of St. Petersburg in a private ceremony.

What has happened to Wagner? Several thousand Wagner mercenaries moved to a camp in Belarus after the mutiny. Soon after Prigozhin's death, most left that country to sign contracts with the Russian military to redeploy to Africa or return to fighting in Ukraine. Only a handful stayed in Belarus to train its military.

Russian authorities formed a Wagner successor, Africa Corps, using it to expand military cooperation with countries there. Moscow has emerged as the security partner of choice for a number of African governments, displacing traditional allies like France and the United States.

Elements of Wagner and other private security companies continue to operate in Ukraine under the control of the Defense Ministry and the Russian National Guard.

"Despite the spectacular demise of Prigozhin himself and the problems that Wagner got itself into as a result of that, the model — the idea of a private company profiting from this war — is one that is attractive to a lot of people in Russia," said Sam Greene of the Center for European Policy Analysis.

How has Putin responded since the uprising? Prigozhin’s demise sent a chilling message to Russia's elites, helping Putin contain the damage to his authority inflicted by the rebellion.

A crackdown continued on his political foes, with many either fleeing the country or ending up in prison. His biggest opponent, Alexei Navalny, died in an Arctic penal colony in February.

In a stage-managed election in March, Putin won another six-year term. In a subsequent Cabinet shakeup, Putin dismissed Prigozhin’s archfoe, Shoigu, as defense minister, replacing him with Andrei Belousov, an economics expert. Shoigu, who had personal ties with Putin, was given the high-profile post of secretary of Russia’s Security Council.

"If Shoigu’s new job had been too junior, it would have been humiliating, and could have triggered such criticism of the outgoing minister as to highlight the army’s weaknesses: something to be avoided in wartime," Tatiana Stanovaya of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, said in a commentary.

At the same time, Shoigu's entourage faced purges. A longtime associate and deputy, Timur Ivanov, and several other senior military officers were arrested on corruption charges, and other senior Defense Ministry officials lost their jobs.

Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff and another Prigozhin foe, has kept his job so far.

Gen. Sergei Surovikin, who reportedly had close ties with Prigozhin, was stripped of his post as deputy commander of forces in Ukraine and given a ceremonial position. Surovikin, credited with creating the multilayered defensive lines and fortifications that blunted Ukraine’s offensive a year ago, wasn’t dismissed altogether, and some observers suggest he could eventually be given a new military post.