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By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

Live coverage: With barricades overrun, encampment marches into day five

Sage Russell | Assistant Photo Editor

Editor’s note: This article contains live updates of day five of the encampment. To read live updates from day six, click here.

The pro-Palestinian encampments – once divided between University Yard and H Street – entered its fifth day Monday after protesters breached the metal barricade Sunday night.

More than 100 tents are spread throughout U-Yard and H Street, framing the pile of metal barricades in the center that protesters formed by dismantling the barricades at every corner of U-Yard and tossing it in the pile. Protesters sparred with GW Police Department officers after a student jumped over the barricade and an officer escorted them out. Over the span of the next two and a half hours, protesters rallied around the barricade pile and in H Street, chanting and confronting police and officials.

Prior to Sunday night, the protest had remained largely peaceful. Counterprotesters and protesters occasionally sparked brief tension – pro-Palestinian protesters said a counterprotester shoved them earlier Sunday.

The altercation prompted an increase in Metropolitan Police Department officer presence at the demonstration, which had waned after Thursday when MPD officials declined GW’s request to clear the encampment.

Security guards, who were relocated from their residence hall posts to monitor U-Yard buildings, had outnumbered GWPD officers in the encampment since Saturday evening.

Monday also marks GW’s last day of classes for the spring semester and officials said campus will remain open. Officials placed Bell Hall on emergency mode Saturday and blocked GWorld card access to the building.

The coalition of demonstrators, which includes students from schools around the D.C. area, said they plan to stay in U-Yard until officials meet their demands: that each university drop charges against student protesters, protect pro-Palestinian speech on its campuses, divest from companies selling technology and weapons to Israel, disclose all endowments and investments, and end all academic partnerships with the state of Israel. It’s unclear if officials have met students at the bargaining table.

Follow along for live updates below:

Sage Russell | Assistant Photo Editor

Updated: 2:12 a.m. — Turning in for the night 

Students are preparing to turn in for the night, closing out their fifth day since the encampment began and first day since they tore down the barricades around U-Yard and occupied the park.

About 70 tents are spread around U-Yard and H Street that range from single-person sleepers to 10-person tents. Around the encampment, people are sitting in circles, a pair played chess and another group watched a movie on a laptop. 

The sounds of quiet conversation and laughter traveled through the air. 

It’s the warmest night of the encampment so far, and while some people have zipped into their tents, dozens slept on blankets under the stars. 

Updated: 1:24 a.m. — Demonstrators launch nightly safety trainings  

Demonstrators announced they would begin holding nightly trainings for protesters on what to do when police are present and how to avoid mass panic. They held the first of the trainings at about 11 p.m.

“Panic is more dangerous than the police,” one of the demonstrators said. 

From staying cautious if police are wearing gloves to walking instead of running to avoid escalation from officers, the demonstrators gave protestors tips on what to look out for. 

The demonstrators said protestors wearing orange vests are designated “police liaisons” and are keeping track of “stated goals of the cops.”

“We don’t have to be perfect to make this work,” one of the demonstrators said.

The nightly trainings come after increased police retaliation at pro-Palestinian encampments across the country, often at the request of university administrations. 

On April 25, Boston police arrested 108 pro-Palestinian demonstrators at Emerson University during an overnight sweep. Multiple students sustained injuries during the sweep, and city crews cleared blood and graffiti from the alleyway where they were arrested the next morning.

Officers in riot gear entered the pro-Palestinian encampment at UT Austin Monday, arrested at least 40 demonstrators and encircled 100 sitting protestors, “dragging or carrying them out one by one amid screams,” The Associated Press reported. 

At Virginia Commonwealth University, police were seen wearing gas masks and forcing demonstrators to the ground and binding their hands with zip ties Monday.

The Washington Post reported on Saturday that GW officials requested Metropolitan Police Department officers clear the encampment, but the department declined because the protest was peaceful.

Updated: 12:31 a.m. — ‘Luggable loos’

Just after 11 p.m., organizers announced they would give a demonstration on how to use a makeshift toilet, which protesters can use while GW buildings are closed. 

To use the “luggable loos,” organizers demonstrated fitting a black bag over a bucket and then clipping a loose toilet seat to the bucket. Organizers showed them how, after people finished using the toilet, they would remove the bag from the bucket, tie a knot, and seal it using another grey bag attached to the black bag. The “luggable loos” then get thrown away in a trash bag. 

Organizers emphasized that those using the outdoor toilet should not excrete directly into the bucket. They said they are providing baby wipes, toilet paper and other hygienic products and requested demonstrators wipe the toilet seat after every use. They said there will be attendants stationed outside the bathroom tents. 

The tents housing the loos are located in the northwest corner of the encampment. 

Demonstrators said encampment members would not have access to the makeshift toilets from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. when Western Market, which has public bathrooms, is open Monday through Thursday. 

“Who keeps us clean, we keep us clean,” demonstrators chanted, following the tutorial. 

Updated: 11:51 p.m. — Demonstrators watch movie on projector

A screen and projector are set up in the northeast corner of U-Yard. At about 11:20 p.m., demonstrators in the encampment were encouraged to lay blankets and pull up chairs in front of the screen in order to view a screening of “Return to Haifa,” a 1982 film about Palestinians displaced by Israel returning to the home they had been expelled from.

Updated: 11:40 p.m. — UN Special Rapporteur visits encampment

The GWU Student Coalition for Palestine posted on Instagram Monday night that United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education Farida Shaheed visited the encampment earlier in the day. The post said Shaheed listened to students tell stories of their experiences living in the encampment and being pro-Palestinian at GW. 

Shaheed “expressed deep concerns” about their conditions within the barricaded encampment, according to the post. Shaheed, the post states, wants to meet with GW officials to discuss actions from the administration against pro-Palestinian student demonstrators, including an instance early Monday morning when Provost Chris Bracey appeared to grab the phone of a protester. 

Will GW administration meet with her or will they refuse to address her concerns like they have with students for the past 7 months?” the post states.

Updated: 10:11 p.m. — Demonstrators dance and cheer alongside musicians 

At about 9:30 p.m. about 100 demonstrators gathered in the center of U-Yard as four protesters began playing music on string instruments. Demonstrators gathered in a circle around the musicians and clapped while protesters danced along — some pairs, others swaying and clapping solo, with many recording or holding up phone flashlights — as they moved in and out of the circle. 

“Viva viva Palestina, lucha lucha Palestina,” protesters sang to the beat.

The clapping and singing crescendoed as demonstrators in the middle showed off unique dance moves, and at the peak of volume and energy, protestors ad libbed and whistled. 

Jerry Lai | Photographer

Updated: 8:58 p.m. — Organizers host community conversation

At about 7:15 p.m. organizers encouraged demonstrators to gather on the west side of the barricades and eat dinner as they discussed “principled struggle.”

Organizers checked-in with the encampment participants, urging them to “stay strong” and to remember the reason they are demonstrating. They said the struggle demonstrators experienced camping overnight is only a fraction of what is occurring in Gaza. 

Organizers then took a couple of moments to recognize breaking down the barriers late Sunday night. Over the megaphone, they began a call and response chant.

“Palestine is our demand, no peace on stolen land,” they chanted. 

Organizers reiterated their demands — that each university drop charges against student protestors, protect pro-Palenstinian speech on its campuses, divest from companies selling technology and weapons to Israel, disclose all endowments and investments and end all academic partnership with the state of Israel — reminding demonstrators not to be “fractured” by police and administration. 

Organizers began passing out slips of paper and markers, instructing demonstrators to write down questions on the slips and pass them to the front for a response. 

About a dozen protestors trickled out of the center of the encampment with their tote bags and strollers as the sun set and community questions were answered by organizers. As dusk settled over the encampment, the smell of bug spray permeated the slightly muggy air. 

To wrap up the question and answer session, one organizer reminded the crowd that “Gaza is our compass” before chanting resumed.

“Gaza you are not alone, this campus is a freedom zone,” demonstrators chanted. 

Updated: 7:28 p.m. — Bell Hall placed into emergency mode Saturday

Pia Sen, a doctoral student of biological sciences, said she was studying for her comprehensive examination in Bell Hall on Saturday afternoon, a common weekend habit for her this semester, when GW security came into her office and escorted her out. 

When security entered her office shortly after 5 p.m., Sen said they asked if she was a student, and she replied by showing them her GWorld card. She said security then told her she would have to leave her office because the building was closed due to the encampment, despite the building’s hours online showing it open until 6 p.m. 

“I couldn’t really find any reason why I should be thrown out of my own office that has my name on the door,” she said. “And then they told me that I had to leave. So at that point, I’m kind of uncomfortable because there’s two police officers surrounding me.” 

Security escorted her to the Bell Hall elevator and then she left the building. Sen, who is South Asian, said she is unsure if she was racially profiled because  a fellow student on a different floor and white law students in the Bell Hall-connected Lisner Hall were not escorted out of the facilities. 

When Sen asked her advisor what happened, they were confused too. Three hours later, Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Dean Paul Wahlbeck sent an email to Biological Sciences Department Chair Guillermo Orti alerting him the building was on “emergency mode,” so it could not be entered using GWorld. 

The email also states those who do need to work inside Bell Hall to take care of their experiments and animals would have to coordinate with officials. Orti forwarded the announcement to the department. 

“It’s been kind of ridiculous because I don’t know, like if I’m allowed to be in the office with my name on it,” she said. “There’s not any transparency, and it’s honestly very frustrating, on principle, even aside from conducting experiments.”

Sen said prior to the building’s Saturday closure, she’d spent the past three days, a time when protests and chants were at their peak, studying in her Bell Hall office that faces U-Yard. 

Officials said in a Thursday email that the encampment should be shut down because it “can disrupt learning and study,” likely a nod to the noise from chants. Officials are letting faculty teaching in the encampment’s surrounding buildings move the location of their classes during the encampment. 

Sen said while in her office during the protest, she was still able to concentrate. She said her office tarantulas, which are sensitive to the vibrations from sound, were impacted by the noise of the protest. But her friend bought pads to put in the enclosure to dampen the noise, and the arachnids were calm afterward. 

“Especially over the weekend, I felt like it was pretty quiet. Even the tarantulas were perfectly fine, and they’re very sensitive to vibration,” she said. “So even when the drums were going and stuff like that they were kind of just vibing.” 

Updated: 6:39 p.m. — Outgoing SGA president releases statement supporting students’ right to protest 

Student Government Association President Arielle Geismar emailed a statement to the student body around 6:15 p.m. Monday, stating she is “not neutral” on the demonstrations happening on campus and that there’s a lot she “cannot say.” The statement, her last address as president before tonight’s inauguration, says she opposes police violence against students and officials’ attempts to restrict free speech. 

“Discrimination on campus threatens students’ safety and their right to advocacy,” Geismar said in the statement. “Let me be clear again: our students have a right to advocacy. Our advocacy must be safe, communal, and reject entirely harmful rhetoric.”

Geismar added that student safety has been her “top priority” during her tenure. She said police violence “has no place” at GW and disproportionately affects students of color.

Geismar said she asks for “forgiveness” from students for any information that is “unknown” to her. She said she wanted to share her thoughts on the current demonstrations on campus and the administration’s response before sunsetting her time on the SGA. 

“I also want to be clear on the past few days: the student government has no decision making role within administration,” Geismar said.  “We rely on our advocacy work. Additionally, I have asked for mental health days and support in academics.” 

Updated: 5:32 p.m. — Demonstrators gather at center of U-Yard for musical performance  

At around 4:20 p.m. a demonstrator beat a drum to grab the attention of the protesters, requesting they gather in the center of University Yard in ten minutes for a musical performance. 

Protesters gradually migrated from their tents and picnic blankets to the center of the encampment, where the pile of barricades, traffic cones and flags remain. The performer, Luci Murphy, sang at least three “call and response” songs and asked the crowd to join her. 

She started by singing “Palestine,” a song written by her friend Matt Jones who was part of the Coordinating Committee Freedom Singers — a musical group from the sixties — and passed away. 

“Palestine will be free, Palestine needs her freedom, Palestine needs our love,” the song read. 

Next, Murphy sang “In a Mellow Tone” by Duke Ellington. 

“In a mellow tone, feeling fancy free, and I’m not alone I’ve got company,” the song read. 

She then sang “Ella’s Song (We Who Believe in Freedom Cannot Rest Until it Comes),” but replaced the word freedom with justice. 

“The word freedom is so misused, but everybody understands justice,” she said. 

Demonstrators in the crowd sang and clapped along to Murphy’s performance.

Updated: 4:57 p.m. — Community guidelines 

At the edge of the encampment on the northern side of University Yard, a white board leans against the statue of George Washington with a list of community guidelines for the “liberation zone.” 

Community guidelines: 

  • No substances 
  • No sexual relationships 
  • Don’t talk to cops 
  • Don’t talk to media unless trained 
  • Respect one another 
  • Be disciplined 
  • Have revolutionary optimism 
  • Rely on one another 
  • Be considerate of hygiene 
  • Clean up after yourself 
  • Ask questions 
  • No food in/near tents 
  • Transparency in communication 
  • Hydrate 
  • Grace and patience 
  • Self advocate 

At the bottom of the whiteboard reads “Do not lose sight of Gaza” in large red letters. 

Updated: 3:22 p.m. — Demonstrators paint banners, reemphasize demands

Just after 2:30 p.m., an organizer gathered encampment members for a community meeting and programming.

The organizer started by relisting the five demands of the encampment. 

“We are unwavering and we are steadfast in the work that we are doing here because these demands need to be met and there’s no ifs or buts about it,” the organizer said.

The organizer then led the group toward the southwest corner of the encampment to decorate two banners, about the size of twin bed sheets. The organizer said one of the banners would be a message in Arabic dedicated to a student in Rafah who sent a message to organizers saying he stands with DMV Students for Justice in Palestine, GW students and the DMV community. Encampment members are painting “LIBERATION” in large block letters and green paint on a second banner. 

“Expression is what makes us human,” the organizer said. “What we’re seeing in this very moment is the most human experience in these tents are families, children, brothers and sisters and community members. What they’re doing is sticking together.”

The organizer added that demonstrators in the encampment could use supplies ranging from paints, Crayola washable markers, chalk and multicolored poster board to express themselves. 

Encampment members not engaging in the art programming continue to lounge on U-Yard’s lawn, some eating popsicles. Encampment members set up a tight rope between two trees and some are attempting to walk it as friends hold onto them. 

Community members are continuing to bring supplies like bags of ice, pillows, cushions and folding chairs into the encampment.

Kaiden J. Yu | Staff Photographer

Updated: 12:27 p.m. — Outlets in front of GW Law and Lisner Hall stop working

At about 11:20 a.m., an organizer over a megaphone asked those with portable chargers to bring them to a “designated area.” The Hatchet checked the outlets surrounding U-Yard at the patios in front of Lisner Hall and the GW Law building, but none of them worked. As of Saturday night, the outlets outside of Lisner Hall were working. 

A University spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment as to whether or not they shut off outlets in U-Yard and why.

Updated: 12:14 p.m. — Media presence in U-Yard increases as students lounge on the lawn

The sound of a violin and light chatter begins to echo through University Yard as demonstrators continue to rise for the day. Some apply mascara using their phone cameras while others lounge on picnic blankets they’ve laid out on the yard’s trampled lawn. Others walk their dogs around the lawn, snack on acai bowls and sip drinks from Peet’s coffee. 

Media presence across the yard has increased since the barricades fell last night with about two dozen individuals holding cameras and setting up tripods mill about U-Yard, the first time non-campus press have been allowed access to the park since officials added barricades Friday morning. 

About a dozen tents remain on H Street while more than 75 have been pitched within the yard, including a tent labeled “art supplies” with cans of paint, scissors, paint brushes and stacks of books. 

On a bench near Corcoran Hall, demonstrators pulled hand-painted posters — displaying red, green and black script, bubble letters and images of doves and watermelons — out of an oversized Panera catering tote bag. They stuck messages like “Let Gaza Live” and “Hands of Rafah” onto trees and benches around U-Yard.

Updated: 11:15 a.m. — Organizers announce laundry run

Organizers announced this morning that they would be doing a load of laundry for those in the encampment. Organizers then walked around the encampment asking demonstrators for dirty clothes. 

Updated: 9:41 a.m. — Foot traffic increases on last day of classes

As students gear up for their last day of classes, foot traffic has increased throughout U-Yard. Students occasionally stop to take a photo of the encampment, but most continue on undisturbed.

Updated: 8:55 a.m. — Bracey updates students on Monday classes

Provost Chris Bracey said in an email to students Monday morning that despite the “ongoing disturbances” in U-Yard, the University is open and operating with “enhanced safety measures.”

The email states that faculty members who teach classes in Bell, Corcoran, Lisner and Samson halls or the Media and Public Affairs building have been contacted and were given the option for their classrooms to be relocated upon request. Bracey also said in the email that all faculty who teach classes on the Foggy Bottom campus have the option of offering them virtually if they choose.

Bracey’s email said the students can expect incoming guidance about the final examination period, which is set to begin on Saturday.

Updated: 7:59 a.m. — Traffic picks up around encampment

Commuter rush hour traffic is building on the streets surrounding the encampment Monday morning. 

Updated: 7:19 a.m. — Protesters, media stroll U-Yard

The sun has risen and protestors in the U-Yard encampment are beginning to wake, with a few early-risers roaming around the camp. Most people are still asleep in tents, while some spent the night in sleeping bags, under blankets on the ground and in hammocks fastened to trees. 

Some media crews are strolling through the area, filming clips of the encampment and narrating last night’s events. Groups of GW Police Department officers survey the area, indulging in conversations with one another.  

Both encampments remain relatively quiet with an occasional alarm going off to awake demonstrators from their sleep and a few soft conversations between friends.

Florence Shen | Assistant Photo Editor

Updated: 7:09 a.m. — Officials respond to Sunday night barricade breach

Organizers said Sunday that GW Police Department officers attempted to arrest a student, but officials denied that an arrest occurred according to a University release Monday. 

The release states that a student jumped over the metal barricade dividing the University Yard encampment and H Street, after officials barricaded U-Yard and prohibited entry Friday, and a GWPD officer escorted the student out of the encampment. Protesters raced to the northwest entrance where the officer was leading the student out and chanted “Let him go” until the officer released him. A roughly two and a half hour rally ensued after the student’s release and about 200 protesters dismantled all barricades and threw them into a pile in the center of U-Yard.

The release states the barricade breach led to the entry of non-GW activists and students into the encampment. Officials will use “every avenue available” to make sure those involved with the Sunday night storming of U-Yard are held responsible for the barricade breach, according to the release.

“This is an egregious violation of community trust and goes far beyond the boundaries of free expression and the right to protest,” the release states.

Officials said Metropolitan Police Department officers will oversee the encampment and officials will deploy additional security measures to address the escalation of the ongoing protest. 

“Despite the ongoing disturbance on University Yard, GW is open and operating with enhanced safety measures,” the release states. “We will release additional details as the situation evolves.”

Updated: 6:45 a.m. — Encampment heats up

Monday will be the hottest day for the encampment yet, with a high of 90 degrees around 4 p.m. The majority of the ongoing protest had been chilly, prompting protesters to don multiple layers to keep themselves warm.

Sunday had a high of 83 degrees around 4 p.m. and demonstrators stocked up on water, Gatorade and sunscreen to combat the heat.

This story is developing. Check back for updates.

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