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The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

The University of Chicago’s Independent Student Newspaper since 1892

Chicago Maroon

Pro-Palestine Protesters Briefly Occupy Institute of Politics

Protesters held the IOP for less than half an hour and then rallied outside President Alivisatos’s house around 10 p.m. on Friday.
Nathaniel Rodwell-Simon
Protesters who occupied the IOP building exited through a window after UCPD entered the building.

Pro-Palestine protesters briefly occupied the Institute of Politics (IOP) building on South Woodlawn Avenue on Friday, May 17, to protest against the war in Gaza and the presence of the University of Chicago Police Department (UCPD) on the South Side, among other issues.

The building occupation grew out of an afternoon rally on the Midway Plaisance, which was promoted online by the student coalition UChicago United for Palestine (UCUP) but organized by a group of “autonomous alumni.” After less than half an hour, UCPD officers entered the IOP and protesters quickly exited the building. Demonstrators then rallied in front of the IOP and later marched to University President Paul Alivisatos’s house.

Friday’s events came nearly two weeks after police raided the encampment organized on the main quad by UCUP.

The actions drew a strong police presence to the area, but no arrests were made. At least two dozen Chicago Police Department (CPD) and UCPD vehicles were present throughout the evening. Some UCPD officers were equipped with riot gear including shields and helmets. CPD officers observed the building takeover and rallies from the street, telling the Maroon that they were on the scene in a support role. Police vehicles shut down traffic on South Woodlawn Avenue until 5:30 p.m.

The building occupation began around 4:30 p.m. Protesters gathered on the Midway and marched north on South Woodlawn Avenue until they reached the IOP. Protesters then entered the building with chairs, banners, and flags. They locked doors, securing some with a polyester cargo ratchet belt, and spray painted the building’s security cameras. They also attempted to block off side entrances using dumpsters taken from neighboring condos.

While in the building, protesters hung Palestinian flags and banners advocating for Palestinian liberation and calling for an end to gentrification from the IOP’s windows and roof. Protesters also hung a piñata-style effigy of Alivisatos from a tree in front of the IOP.

Multiple student organizers emphasized that the occupation was planned and carried out by an autonomous group of protesters unaffiliated with UCUP, the group that organized the quad encampment. 

By 5 p.m., UCPD officers entered the IOP through the front doors and windows on the north side of the building. More than a dozen protesters climbed out of the building’s second-floor windows. As police cleared out the building, the Maroon heard protesters screaming in the backyard and alleyway. It is unclear when the last protester exited the building.

Shortly after 5 p.m., protesters erected two tents on the front lawn of the IOP. Around 200 protesters were gathered there, chanting and singing. At roughly 5:30 p.m., IOP Director and former U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp was escorted out of the building by UCPD.

IOP Director of Communications Koran Addo later told the Maroon that Heitkamp had a 20-minute conversation with protesters before UCPD escorted her out of the building. 

“It was respectful,” Addo said. “At no time was she under duress or held against her will. Eventually she left the building and police cleared the building.”

When Heitkamp asked the protesters why they were occupying the IOP, a non-partisan institution, protesters responded that, “Everyone has to choose a side.”

Via the Telegram messaging app channel “Disrupt U of Chicago,” occupation organizers sent out a statement describing the goals and mission of their takeover. The statement, titled “Bring the Intifada Home,” was shared by “a crew of protesters holding down the Casbah of Basel Al-Araj, formerly known as the institute of politics at the university of chicago [sic].” 

Bassel al-Araj was a Palestinian activist, writer, and author. In 2016, he was arrested by the Palestinian Authority and charged with planning attacks against Israel. A unit of Israel’s police force killed al-Araj during a gunfight in 2017 as they attempted to enter his house.

“We’ve liberated the Institute of Politics—a breeding ground for politicians, bureaucrats, [and] non-profit functionaries alike to come to learn to say the right things while meting out violence and devastation on oppressed, colonized people,” the statement read.

“We target the university of chicago [sic] for both its current complicity in the genocide of Palestinians and its past: inventing neoliberal economics and enabling the Chicago Boys to be puppet masters of bloody, authoritarian rule from Pinochet’s regime in Chile and beyond, creating the first nuclear reactor, violently displacing and policing Black communities with the nation’s largest private police force of UCPD.”

A second part of the statement, titled “Statement of Principles from the Liberated Casbah of Basel Al-Araj,” listed six points.

“We must escalate our actions against all governments, institutions and corporations who participate in, profit off of, and enable genocide,” the first point read.

“We have nothing to gain by working with government, cops, or the administration. We do not negotiate. We do not share information about each others’ identities. We do not seek permission to act. We lean on each other—not the state in any of its forms—for radical care, safety, and support,” another point reads.

Around 6:30 p.m., UCPD Chief Kyle Bowman gave a statement on the situation to the Maroon.

“UCPD is securing the area, allowing protesters to peacefully exercise their first amendment rights,” Bowman said. “At the moment, officers are surveying damage done inside University property and will make a determination whether to clear the area.”

The University gave a statement to the Maroon at around 7 p.m.

“At approximately 4:40 p.m. Friday, a group of masked protesters unlawfully occupied the Institute of Politics building on South Woodlawn Ave. at the University of Chicago,” the statement read. “Protesters attempted to bar the entrance, damaged University property and ignored directives from UCPD officers to clear the way. UCPD officers were able to enter the building and the protesters inside the building exited.”

“The University of Chicago is fundamentally committed to upholding the rights of protesters to express a wide range of views. At the same time, University policies make it clear that protests cannot jeopardize public safety, disrupt the University’s operations, or involve the destruction of property,” the statement said.

During the protest, a man who declined to identify himself alleged that a pro-Palestine protester walked onto the front lawn of the Rohr Chabad Center, located across the street from the IOP, while holding a brick.

“You walk on to [a place for] Jewish life and learning with a brick? It’s intimidating,” the man said. 

The man claimed the protester “pushed a girl friend of mine” before another protester called him a “racist pussy Jew” after seeing him speaking to the police. The man filed a police report with UCPD.

Around 8 p.m., tensions rose again in the backyard and alleyway of the IOP. UCPD officers began dismantling a barricade that protesters had built in the back alley. Some protesters then threw chairs and other furniture in the direction of UCPD officers. At that time, UCPD officers issued a trespass warning to protesters and said that those still in the backyard risked arrest. By 8:30 p.m., officers had cleared the alleyway. Officers then directed protesters out of the IOP backyard, which was cleared of protesters by 9 p.m.

Over Telegram, organizers said they were planning to spend the night on the lawn of the IOP. However, by 9:30 p.m., the group left the IOP and began marching south down South Woodlawn Avenue towards Alivisatos’s house.

Once in front of Alivisatos’s house, protesters hung the effigy of Alivisatos from a tree. One protester repeatedly hit the effigy with a crutch until it broke. Protesters cheered with each hit and threw the candy that had spilled out of the effigy back into the crowd.

By 10 p.m., most of the protesters had dispersed from in front of Alivisatos’s house.

Before the group split up, one organizer said, “We know that this is not about us; this is about Palestine.”

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About the Contributors
Emma Janssen, Deputy News Editor
Emma Janssen is a deputy news editor.
Nathaniel Rodwell-Simon
Nathaniel Rodwell-Simon, Deputy Photo Editor, News Reporter
Nathaniel is a first year in the college studying history and Education and Society. He is a News Reporter and Deputy Photo Editor for the Maroon.
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    Alum / May 19, 2024 at 3:59 pm

    Using the language of “puppet master,” really? You know it’s possible to advocate for your cause without using well-known antisemitic dog whistles, right? It’s really not that hard.