Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

Emerson College’s only independent, student-run newspaper since 1947

The Berkeley Beacon

On May Day, protesters gather in Boston Common, 2B Alley, and outside Emerson’s Ansin Building

Students left messages on the face of the Ansin building using sticky notes and posters, with the signatures of over 1,000 Emerson students who want ECSU to negotiate a contract with the college on their behalf. (Bryan Hecht/Beacon Staff)

Over 100 protesters marched through the Boston Common and on campus Wednesday afternoon in honor of May Day and in response to the college’s restrictions on demonstrations.

May Day, which falls on May 1 and is also known as International Labor Day, celebrates workers’ rights. Activists also use this day to air economic grievances or political demands.

Throughout the rally, protesters walked through the Boston Common, Lion’s Den, 2 Boylston Place Alley, and outside the Ansin building, where President Jay Bernhardt’s office is located on the 14th floor. The floor is currently inaccessible, as both the elevators and stairs are locked.

Beginning at 2:17 p.m., students, faculty, and staff congregated by the UnCommon Stage Beer Garden. Several protesters told the Beacon that the location was selected in response to the college prohibiting protests held in the 2 Boylston Place Alley during the weekend following the April 25 arrests. The college has yet to announce if it plans to prohibit protests in the alley as part of its regulations on demonstrations

The unions and advocacy groups present were the Emerson College Students’ Union (ECSU), Emerson College Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (ECCAAUP), Affiliated Faculty of Emerson College, American Association of University Professors (AFEC-AAUP), Emerson Staff Union (SEIU888), Emerson Union for Resident Assistants (EURA), as well as Emerson Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the Faculty and Staff for Justice in Palestine (FSJP), Emerson Jews Against Zionism (EmJAZ), and the Boston Common Coalition for the Homeless (BCCH).

“I am so happy to see each and every one of you on here, but I can’t say I don’t also regret that it came at this cost,” said ECSU leader Dylan Young, referring to the March 22 arrests, April 25 arrests, and Israel’s military actions in Gaza, which have reportedly killed more than 30,000 Palestinians.

An Emerson SJP member spoke about Hatem Abu Ziadeh, a 54-year-old Palestinian laborer who lives in the Ramallah-area town of Birzeit in the West Bank. Ziadeh has worked as a car mechanic for more than two decades at the Zarfaty garage, an auto repair shop in Mishor Adumim, the industrial zone of Israel’s settlement Ma’ale Adumim, according to a Jacobin article.

In 2013, Ziadeh stood up to his Israeli employer, calling for minimum wage and basic labor rights. Workers Advice Center (WAC-MAAN), which helps organize Palestinian and Israeli workers, helped Ziadeh and nearly 30 other workers from the West Bank establish a union and demanded collective bargaining rights. The SJP member added that following Oct. 7, many Palestinians have been barred from their jobs.

“What does a worker’s right to unionize mean when a human’s right to dignity is withheld?” the SJP member asked.

Illona Yosefov, a member of SEIU888 and FSJP, described how the college’s policies on demonstrations are “broad” and that anyone “can be stopped for doing anything that can even be interpreted as a protest on this campus.” Faculty, staff, and students were not invited to create the requirements for demonstrations, she said.

“They treat this campus as if it’s their private property,” Yosefov said. “We can’t do things on campus … because it’s private property, but who owns it?” 

“We do,” the group chanted back. 

“Whose school is it?” Yosefov said. 

“Our school,” the group said.

Nearly two percent of Emerson’s student population was arrested on April 25. Yosefov said it could have been prevented if the college called for a ceasefire in Gaza, which is one of the four demands coming from the pro-Palestine encampments

“If [Bernhardt] said ceasefire, people would have been mad at him. No doubt, we know this,” Yosefov said. “But how many people are mad now?”

At around 2:35 p.m., the group split in half, one group staying in the Boston Common and the other walking towards campus. Protesters then entered the Walker Building and walked up to the Lion’s Den, where they gathered in a circle for a silent protest. 

After almost 10 minutes, protesters walked back to the 2B alley to begin chanting. Students lined up on both sides down the alley from the Boylston Street entrance to the Norman Lear statue. Chants were made by organizers with protesters following suit, cries saying “Who’s streets; our streets,” “Whose school; our school,” “Whose alley; our alley.”

SJP organizers also announced a declaration of April 25 as “People’s University Day” to remember what happened in the alley. Students also said they would rename the alley “Walid Daqqa Alley.” Daqqa was a Palestinian academic and writer who served for 38 years in Israeli prisons. He suffered from cancer and died in April in Israel’s Shamir Medical Center. The Palestinian Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs reported that his death was attributed to a “slow killing” policy enacted by the Israeli prison administration on sick inmates.

The college did not comment on the student declarations.

The protest remained in the alley for about 20 minutes before rejoining the rest of the group in the Common outside the Beer Garden.

The crowd continued to chant before calling Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA07), who spoke to the protesters. 

“I just called to say thank you for putting your bodies on the line,” she said. “Know that I have your back.” 

At around 3:50 p.m., students walked across the street to the Ansin building. They left messages on the face of the building on sticky notes and posters, including the answers to the union drive, which listed the signatures of over 1,000 Emerson students who want ECSU to negotiate a contract with the college on their behalf. Some of the notes, containing pro-Palestine and anti-Bernhardt messages, were duct taped to the building. 

Due to concerns over doxxing, especially after several news outlets released the names and birth dates of the arrested individuals, protesters avoided cameras from local news outlets as they continued to chant and sing, taking turns on a megaphone to initiate call-and-response chants. One protester got on the megaphone to announce that the city council, in a vote of 11-2, passed a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. The crowd cheered and stomped their feet. 

After one last chant, the protest began to disband. Organizers advocated for those available to join a protest at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The protesters disbanded quickly, without the presence of the Emerson College Police Department or the Boston Police Department.

Bernhardt did not respond to the Beacon’s request for comment at the time this article was published.

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About the Contributors
Hannah Nguyen
Hannah Nguyen, Editor-in-Chief
Hannah Nguyen (she/her) is a junior journalism major from North Wales, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in publications like The Boston Globe, North Penn Now and AsAmNews. Outside of writing, she enjoys thrifting and painting her nails. (see: https://linktr.ee/hannahcnguyen)
Katherine Cressman
Katherine Cressman, News Co-Editor
Katherine is a freshman journalism major from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. When she is not writing you can find her singing in Achoired Taste, playing tennis, or watching cat videos on TikTok.
Iselin Bratz
Iselin Bratz, Kasteel Well Bureau Co-Editor

Comments (1)

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    Jacob Abraham / May 2, 2024 at 10:44 pm

    It is an important fact that Emerson’s US Congress Representative Ayanna Pressley is supporting these protests and what is implied I think is that Pressley is clearly against the actions and political positions that the leadership of Emerson has been taking.

    Also, the support of the Boston city council who have adopted a Gaza cease-fire resolution is highly significant.

    Thank you for this reporting, Berkeley Beacon. Your work is essential to maintaining an open and free society.