At UVA, One Pro-Palestinian Protest Disperses, a Second Persists

by James A. Bacon

One of two pro-Palestinian demonstrations at the University of Virginia wound down around 5 p.m. yesterday without incident. Although the rally was marked by all-too-familiar anti-Israel chants and sloganeering, protesters dispersed at the scheduled time. A parallel demonstration, a tent-free “encampment,” continues this morning.

University officials set clear expectations from the beginning that university rules would be enforced. When a pro-Palestinian group erected tents Tuesday near the University Chapel in imitation of encampments at other campuses, university authorities quickly told them to take down the structures, for which they had not obtained permits. In other interactions, Police Chief Tim Longo personally engaged with protesters to inform them about university policy regarding trespassing and amplified sound.

“The protest activity near the University Chapel has continued peacefully and in compliance with University policy since it began Tuesday afternoon,” said University spokesperson Brian Coy. “Organizers have complied with requests to remove tents and other prohibited materials.”

Chief Longo (second from right) explains university rules to demonstrators. Image captured from Daily Progress video.

A separate demonstration on the Lawn and a small counterprotest near the Edgar Shannon Library were held and concluded Wednesday afternoon without incident, Coy said. “Representatives from UVA Student Affairs and University Police continue to engage with organizers to inform them of their right to demonstrate in public spaces, and to remind them of prohibited materials and behavior.”

The restrained behavior at UVA stands in sharp contrast to confrontations at Virginia Tech, Virginia Commonwealth University, Mary Washington University and numerous higher-ed institutions across the country that have resulted in hundreds of arrests.

The Jefferson Council experienced first-hand how diligent University police were in maintaining order and safety. Our social-media correspondent observing the protests was questioned by police for uttering the word “hostage.” While passing a lamp post on the Lawn, he was recording himself observing how someone had removed the collection of flyers and “hostage posters” that had plastered it the last time he was on Grounds. An RMC contract employee overheard him and reported back to the police. Later, our correspondent found himself surrounded by UPD officers asking about the remark. Fortunately, he was able to produce the recording that clarified exactly what he said, and police let him go about his way.

(In the video above the contract employee in the blue shirt can be seen crossing paths with our correspondent just as he says the words “hostage poster,” referring to flyers that Jewish students had put up previously highlighting the plight of Israeli hostages in the hands of Hamas.)

The Jefferson Council takes no umbrage at the incident. We are pleased to see that UPD was being extra cautious. We mention the incident only to illustrate the state of heightened vigilance.

Our correspondent also noted that the doors on the Lawn rooms were devoid of most of the posters and flyers — many of them promoting Pro-Palestinian events — that had been defacing them in violation of lease terms for months. Posters are required to fit on a small, discrete bulletin board mounted on each door.

While the Grounds remained orderly yesterday, there were some darker undercurrents.

WINA radio talk show host Rob Schilling forwarded this video he had posted on his blog, in which a protester tried to stop someone filming the “encampment” as he walked through. Said the protester: “Excuse me, nobody gave you permission to do it. You can’t be filming people when you’re walking through, man.”

It is interesting that a protester wearing a mask for purposes of concealment in violation of state law is asserting a right, which does not exist, to halt someone else from lawfully taking video footage. Both the mask wearing and the ban against photo taking have been recurring features of leftist and pro-Palestinian rallies all along.

Another ominous sign was a post appearing yesterday on the Instagram account of “uvaencampmentforgaza” (show at left).

Come out to UVA chapel now

We need members urgently

Help us defend the camp!

Given the lack of any aggressive moves by University police, it’s not clear what the protesters believed needing defending.

The separate events — one a conventional rally on the Lawn, the other a would-be “encampment” by the Chapel — apparently reflect differences within the pro-Palestinian movement at UVA. Vague tit-for-tat comments on social media suggest a disagreement over tactics.

The Lawn rally was sponsored by two UVA student organizations. Dissenters and UVA Apartheid Divest promoted the Lawn protest to cap a five-day series of events. This is the group that dispersed yesterday without incident.

UVA Encampment for Gaza is a different organization. Its 1,588 followers appear to consist of a mix of grad students and adults from the Charlottesville community. Many followers are artists — painters, musicians, filmmakers, digital works, and the like. Their profiles come out of central casting for Charlottesville socialist counter-culture central.

Social media posts show a special interest in university police activities, suggesting that organizers were preparing for the possibility of a confrontation.

“The people of Gaza have called on us to take back our cities and universities and demand disclosure and divestment,” stated its inaugural post. “Welcome to the People’s university — we invite one and all to our liberated zone for Gaza.” Masks were required, it added, for “COVID-19 precautions.” The messaging is closely aligned with that of national Students for Justice in Palestine rhetoric. 

After the university directive to take down the tents, Encampment for Gaza posted, “Need bodies at UVA Chapel immediately! Cops have already issued a warning for dispersal.”

The next post took note of the presence of police cars:

We noticed around 11 PM that around 20 cars were lined up the sides of McCormick Road surrounding the sides of the Chapel. The cars were a mix of vehicles marked for use by facilities management and a combination of marked and unmarked police cars. Legal observers reported multiple service vehicles pulling up, parking, and speaking to officers before getting into police cars and driving to an off site location, indicating a coordinated response by police.

The post hinted at tensions between protesters and the UVA administration.

Administration ADMITTED to our liaisons that they blocked the roads because of our presence in order to curtail our growth. They claim that the extra police that were present at the site for “construction,” but students, including those who lived in the area/were frequently up at night, agreed that construction at that hour was unusual. Our legal observers agreed it was very odd and warranted an abundance of caution as blocking a road with parked cars is a pattern they have observed in advance of police escalation at other sites. We subsequently put out a call for more bodies and numbers needed at camp.

A follow-up post called for supporters to report police activity. “Please ensure that info is accurate to not contribute to rumors or fear-mongering and so everyone can act accordingly.” It used the acronym S.A.L.T. — Size of police presence, Activity, Location, and Time.

As of this morning, UVA Encampment for Gaza had not yet dispersed.

The number of protesters at both events varied by time of day as participants came and went. Eyeball estimates suggest 100 to 200 on the Lawn and up to 100 near the Chapel. A Jewish-led counter-demonstration near Shannon (Alderman) Library lasted about three hours. Wednesday was the day before exams, and the overwhelming majority of UVA students seemed preoccupied with other matters.

Still, radicalized townies don’t worry about exams. Artists don’t have fixed schedules. Their vigil at the chapel continues. It cannot be said that the protests are yet over.

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14 responses to “At UVA, One Pro-Palestinian Protest Disperses, a Second Persists”

  1. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

    Sounds like things are going quite well in C’ville. The right to protest is being protected while impermissible violations of applicable law are not occurring.

    As for Mr. No Filming, I suspect his position might be different if he was holding the camera. But all and all, of little consequence.

  2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Hmm, peaceful protests, no arrests. I don’t see any praise for UVa. President Ryan for how the protests were handled. Nevertheless, you have been quick to criticize in the past.

  3. James McCarthy Avatar
    James McCarthy

    In the eighth book of the Republic, Plato observed “Democracy…is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder; and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequals alike.” Bacon and Plato continue to disagree upon the metrics of the dispensing.

    1. Rafaelo Avatar

      Kudos to Mr. McCarthy for an interesting reference.

      In that same book, Glaucon and Socrates discuss how democracy degenerates: liberty is both its virtue and its vice and undoing. Liberty run wild, becoming lawless, degenerates into an anarchic free-for-all, preparing the way “for the necessity of dictatorship.” In the chaos, amidst “impeachments and judgments and lawsuits” the agitated, fearful demos “puts forth one man as its champion and protector.” Votes him into office. Then from “the height of liberty [comes] the fiercest extreme of servitude.” (Shorey translation, Loeb Classical library).

      A frighteningly familiar account of the character of the demagogue/tyrant is found in Plato’s Gorgias.

  4. Stephen Haner Avatar
    Stephen Haner

    Again, as crowds go, unimpressive. Take away the media, the curious, and the adults on both sides who are not actually…uh…students (Jefferson Council included), and the number would look even less imposing. Some people want Hamas to win, or at least to survive to fight another day. Got it.

    For something useful on the issue, if you care:

    Not exactly an endorsement of Netanyahu. If the Israelis now make a big change there, well, their right to self determination is my position in a nutshell.

    1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      “Some people want Hamas to win, or at least to survive to fight another day. Got it.”

      Some may… somewhere… but that is not what these protests are about… thought you were perceptive enough to comprehend that… alas… perhaps not…

      1. Turbocohen Avatar

        Eric, the protests are a presidential election year distraction. The organizers are pro Democrat.

        1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
          Eric the half a troll

          So it being an election year opens up any issue to dishonest characterization by Republicans. From what I’ve seen that is the standard approach of that party these days, election year or not.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            gaslighting taken to even higher levels.

        2. Chip Gibson Avatar
          Chip Gibson

          Roger that.

    2. LarrytheG Avatar

      Good article, agree. Pretty clear Hamas is not going away.

      The conditions in Gaza are what created Hamas in the first place, i.e. de-facto military occupation and apartheid.

      “According to Arab mediators dealing with Hamas, Sinwar believes that he has already won the war, whether or not he survives it, by opening the world’s eyes to the suffering of Palestinians and bringing the conflict to the forefront of global affairs.”

  5. William O'Keefe Avatar
    William O’Keefe

    I wonder how many of these small bands of protesters know about October 7 or the history of Israel, the Palestinians , or that region of the Middle East since the State of Israel was recognized almost 80 years ago? Until I know differently, they are “useful idiots” being manipulated by anarchists.

  6. Rafaelo Avatar

    Protests at U Va seem responsible and decorous so far. Unlike at other schools. Maybe the Jefferson Council promoting a return of the old virtues has had an effect at U Va after all . . .

  7. beachguy Avatar

    It was not that long ago that “Peaceful” protesters were disrupting and shutting down sanctioned conservative speaking events at UVA. It would seem that there’s a new appreciation for First Amendment liberties afoot in Charlottesville. All peaceful, free expression should be respected, whether its your speaker that gets canceled, or it’s you get getting yanked from your tent.

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