Veteran of SF State strike's advice for student protestors
Emil Amok!

Fil-Am veteran of SF State strike has advice for student protestors

A student protest in 1968, that brought about Asian American Studies, may have some answers for today’s campus unrest
/ 06:50 AM May 01, 2024

Israel Palestinians Campus Protests

In this photo released by the New York City Police Department, New York Police officers surround the south lawn as protesters are cleared from Hamilton Hall and the encampment, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, in New York. Hundreds of police officers swept into Columbia University on Tuesday night to end a pro-Palestinian occupation of the administration building and sweep away a protest encampment, acting after the school’s president said there was no other way to ensure safety and restore order on campus. (NYPD via AP)

On Asian American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Heritage Month, a student protest in 1968 that brought about the first College of Ethnic Studies that included Asian American Studies, may have some answers for today’s campus unrest.

But first, Columbia University failed its democracy test Tuesday night.

Instead of engaging with its campus protestors concerned about what they see as the genocide of Palestinians, Columbia wasn’t interested in a teaching moment.

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It once again let the NYPD teach the lesson.

Nothing like a show of force for students to understand the First Amendment only goes so far on a private college campus in America.

When there’s disagreement, debate has its limits. There’s no time to talk when the autocratic can’t be troubled to work things out.


It didn’t have to be that way. But protestors gave the Columbia administration all the cover they needed.

After breaking a 2 p.m. deadline on Monday, protestors smashed windows and gained entry to Hamilton Hall by Tuesday morning to stage a symbolic occupation. Hamilton was occupied 56 years ago in 1968 when students protested the Vietnam War and 700 were arrested.

It is said Hamilton was occupied this time out of frustration that the university wasn’t taking their demands to cut investments to Israel seriously.


It backfired.

“Karen” simply called the cops. A lot of them. It was overkill to meet the relatively meek students who offered no resistance. More than 100 were reported arrested without incident.

The school issued a statement saying it had information that not all the protestors were Columbia students. Outside agitators? No, real outside agitators might have forced a bloody melee. But this wasn’t a group of Hamas terrorist wannabes. These were passionate, anti-war protestors. But really most just students.

It took just a few hours to clear the building, empty the tents. But the police will now occupy Columbia until the 17th.

And now the university, after killing its student protest, can have its glorious May 15 graduation. That is, if it can survive the shame of Tuesday night.

It didn’t have to happen like that

Mind you, Columbia is just one of more than 30 schools where protest fervor has run high. There now have been hundreds of arrests of students from private schools like Columbia to the public state schools like Cal Poly Humboldt in Northern California. At that small school, an administration building was occupied for a week. Twenty-five were arrested on Tuesday.

At UCLA Monday, administrators declared encampments on its campus illegal and late-night violence erupted between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups. Police were noticeably absent, according to reports.

It made me think of a more positive model for today’s student protest: the student strike of San Francisco State in 1968.

That protest produced the nation’s first College of Ethnic studies, which brought together Asian American, Latino and African American disciplines in one school.

The student strike at SFSU addressed all the major issues of the day and more. It was against the Vietnam war, advocated for civil rights, and had as its ultimate goal the establishment of the first college of ethnic studies.

That final goal was eventually achieved, but there was violence, sparked mostly by “outside agitators,” who were confronted by police.

“People used the term ‘off the pigs’ but it was more rally rhetoric than a call to action (to actually kill police),” said Daniel Phil Gonzales who was one of the strikers in 1968. He said there was some police-instigated violence when batons were used on some protestors, but for the most part, the rallies held were peaceful.

Gonzales, known as the go-to resource amongst Filipino American professors for decades, went on to teach at the college the strike birthed. He recently retired after more than 50 years as professor there in Asian American Studies.

As for today’s protests, Gonzales is dismayed that the students have constantly dealt with charges of antisemitism.

“It stymies conversation and encourages further polarization and the possibility of violent confrontation,” he said. “You’re going to be labeled pro-Hamas or pro-terrorist.”

That’s what’s happening now, when for the most part, we are simply dealing with students taking a principled stand.

Gonzales still believes that in the current situation, there is a patch of common ground, where one can be both pro-Palestine and pro-Israel. He said it’s made difficult when if you’re against the belligerent policies of Benjamin Netanyahu, you’re likely to be labeled antisemitic.

Despite that, Gonzales is in solidarity with the protestors and the people of Gaza, generally. Not Hamas. And he sees how most of the young people protesting are in shock at what he called the “duration of the absolute inhumane kind of persecution and prosecution of the Palestinians carried out by the Israeli government.”

Students ask how did we allow it to go on? And why are universities investing in a country that engages in genocide?

Gonzales sees the problem as going beyond race and class, and rather as the perpetuation of a a neo-colonial relationship that must end. He is hopeful for a two-state solution which he says may be the only way toward meaningful peace.

As a victorious survivor of campus protest decades ago, Gonzales offered some advice to the student protestors of 2024.

“You have to have a definable goal, but right now the path to that goal is unclear,” he said.

If it’s divestiture, fine, he said, but the divestiture over South Africa took years to achieve.

“The student leaders at each campus need to work with the boards of trustees. They need to find allies in those positions of authority,” he added. “This isn’t going to be over in a day or two.”

Building allies and talking to the opposition, that is what Gonzales said is how student protestors at San Francisco State got what they wanted in 1968.

That didn’t happen at Columbia last night.

Emil Guillermo, a journalist and commentator, is also a columnist for’s USA Channel. He hosted NPR’s “All Things Considered.” His mini-talk show is on  Reach him at

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