NEW YORK CITY, March 26 — A five-day occupation in West Harlem on 125 Street is protesting Columbia’s University’s displacement of primarily black and Latino residents and businesses to build a new campus. About 50 Columbia U. students, community activists and residents marched from the college 20 blocks north to the West Harlem site.
The main community contingent came from a church where for years PLP has been actively building anti-racist struggle. Students and activists began the occupation, within the expansion area, with a shelter and bathroom provided by a business that has been seized by eminent domain. At least 10 people have slept there nightly, while others came during the day plastering the building with signs and the neighborhood with leaflets.
On the 24th, the march on Broadway stopped at the site where a worker was killed and two others seriously injured two days before, during demolition work for Columbia. To save money, the University had contracted with a mob-run outfit, the same one responsible for another death in the expansion zone. We then marched to a nearby apartment complex, where the University and owners have been harassing working-class tenants, and trying to create a Columbia dormitory and market-rate housing.
Today, a forum at the University attracted about 100 students and community residents. Panel members described why students should fight the expansion; a public housing resident condemned privatization and failing services; a public health psychiatrist exposed the planned destruction of poor NYC communities and many in the audience gave moving testimonials. Students plan to continue the occupation on Friday nights, after an evening of discussion, followed by a neighborhood march on Saturday. Everyone was invited to the monthly social justice meeting we’ve organized at the Harlem church.
During the occupation, PL’ers had many discussions with students on the need for fundamental change. They recognize that bankers run their Ivy League school and inculcate them with ruling-class ideas to educate more capitalist leaders. PL’ers raised the idea that worldwide revolutionary change is both necessary and possible, although it takes patience and a long-range outlook. Most took CHALLENGE and some are interested in joining a study group.
For years, the anti-expansion group relied on politicians and the courts. When this failed, they started building from the bottom up. Most college activists don’t see the need to ally with workers or the community. Building these ties is crucial. Actually, many will face unemployment and unaffordable housing and health care.
Overall, this week was a tremendous step forward in the movement’s militancy, in the bonds between workers, residents and students, and in the level of political discussion. We’ll deepen the understanding of the need for revolution with our new and old friends.