Prayers4Peace: From the Student Encampments

From the Student Encampments

By: A recent graduate in the DC area (who chose to remain anonymous)

Sitting in the grass amid quickly erected tents at my alma mater’s student protest encampment, I am reminded of Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” The students at the encampment have made the decision that they are willing to sacrifice something for peace — not for themselves, but for people thousands of miles away, whom they will likely never meet.  Those who show up to the rallies, who commit to bringing water, food, and sanitary products, who stay overnight in tents, and who serve as police liaisons and marshalls to ensure things run safely have come to terms with the fact that their advocacy comes with a cost

For students across the country, there are real, life-altering consequences at stake, aside from the time and energy sacrificed during the final weeks of class and now final exams. Academic suspension and expulsion by universities, arrest by police, and doxing by pro-war partisans are all very real possibilities for any person, especially any student, who takes part in the protests. 

The warm spring air brings optimism and determination. Students make speeches, wave flags, chant, organize prayer, and hold teach-ins, seminars, film screenings, and musical and artistic cultural events. There is an authentic sense of community felt in shared meals, prayer, and the group programming set by organizers. There is deep emotion, beauty, and love that permeates everything in the encampent’s message. As I look at the hand-painted banners and chalk slogans covering the street outside of the encampment, I am struck by how resolute the protestors are in their mission for peace for the people in Gaza. 

However, that undeniable, pervading, and very human fear remains. The fear that, like so many other universities, police and or agitators will come in the night with billy clubs, riot shields, and chemical weapons; The fear that they will appear on blacklists and lose what they have worked so hard for academically. Everyone has seen the videos of what happened at Columbia, UCLA, UT, and many other campuses around the country — college students linking arms and shouting for solidarity while being pushed, struck, and handcuffed. It is an ever-present Sword of Damocles. Yet, people persevere.

When I visit the encampment, I cannot help but be reminded of the Beatitudes. I think of the sayings that embody the heart of the Gospels: blessings of peace, unconquerable love, and the exaltation of the vulnerable at the margins of imperial power and control. These teachings are not exclusive to Christianity. I find them in faith traditions around the world, especially in our big, Abrahamic family. When I pace around the tents, hear the chants of the protestors, and see them quietly studying on blankets in the yard, I am reminded of those teachings. Students are putting everything on the line for a ceasefire in Israel-Palestine, and to ensure that mass killings are not carried out in their name. 

Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Blessed are those who mourn.

Universities, cities, police departments, and politicians have not blessed student peacemakers. They have met them with unrelenting violence and demonized them, portraying them as agitators, thugs, and troublemakers. They have pepper sprayed them, tear-gassed them, struck them with clubs, wrestled them to the hard ground, and thrown them into holding cells. This harsh response contrasts sharply with the principles advocated by CMEP, which emphasizes nonviolent advocacy, human rights, and a just, enduring peace. The students’ commitment to these same values, their dedication to nonviolence, and their courage in the face of repression reflect the mission of CMEP. Yet, instead of support and recognition, they are met with violence and condemnation.

I do not understand why universities that take pride in their history of activism against the Vietnam War, Jim Crow, and South African apartheid are so willing and eager to turn on their students now. It is hard for me to understand why the universities that outwardly celebrate Dr. King, Bishop Tutu, Emerson, Arendt, and Mandela seem to disregard their collective message of justice. Maybe they never knew their message at all, or they merely pretended to care; Maybe they simply do not have the wherewithal to allow students to protest against genocide in the face of so much false information about the protests.

The cause for peace and justice has never been easy. It’s never been without risk, and those who undertake the mission of opposing war have rarely been popular. Just as the antiwar protests of the 1960s were vindicated years later, I believe the students protesting the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent civilians in Gaza will ultimately be vindicated. The peacemakers are rarely celebrated in their own time. With time and hindsight, they are looked upon fondly and admiringly, and yet, somehow, people do not make the connection when history repeats right before their eyes. People do not understand that past generations also called their peacemakers “agitators” and “troublemakers”. Maybe one day, this will change. Maybe one day we’ll bless our peacemakers.

Let us Pray:

God, be with the students across the world peacefully organizing against injustice 
May they know Your comfort
and be steadfast in Your vision of peace
God, be with the administrators of these colleges and universities
Bless their decision-making,
help them to center non-violence and dialogue
and help them to hear the cries of these young people
so that change might come about. 
God be with those in the Holy Land facing violence and sorrow.
Especially those in Gaza, where no universities remain.
Help their message reach the world. 
And God be with each of us. 
May we be inspired by these students’ courageous witness,
and use our gifts to support the work of peace and justice. 
In Your name, we pray,

Amen.


Please note any views or opinions contained in this devotional series are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP).

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