The recent criminal convictions of the UC Irvine and Riverside students most popularly known as the Irvine 11 have roused much concern over the historical role of the university as a space for free speech in American society.
Following the Israeli military offensive on the Gaza Strip in the beginning of 2009, a civil protest was put together by the Irvine 11 during a staged speech by Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, at UCI. Despite immediate discipline imposed against the students by the university, in which an entire student group’s activities were suspended for a full year, the Orange County District Attorney’s office filed misdemeanor charges against the eleven students for disrupting a meeting and conspiring to disrupt a meeting - almost a year to the day following the protest.
To understand the symbolic agents involved in the tableau of this protest, a focus must be made on the object of protest at hand: a government representative of a country that had just committed what the UN has sanctioned as heinous war crimes – all part of a legacy of war crimes that American tax dollars and tractable politicians have supported unconditionally for decades. In this sense, the Irvine 11 protest is a conventional exemplar of American citizens speaking out, through symbolic free speech, against American complicity in Israel's onslaughts on the most densely populated place on earth. Some of the defendants had lost child-aged relatives in the 22-day long, arbitrary assault on schools, hospitals, factories, and places of religious worship. Over 1400 Palestinians were murdered - many of them children. In a current environment of American public sentiment overwhelmingly hostile to Arab or Muslim visibility, the university has become the last forum for an oft-marginalized experience and silenced voice to be accessed and heard.
Countless events and speakers at this university, with content sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians at the hand of Israel, have been subject to disruptions and derision with no consequences imposed against violators by the university or otherwise. Not only is the criminalization of the Irvine 11 another attempt to silence and intimidate any efforts made to expose Palestinian subjugation to Israeli military occupation, violence, and endless human rights violations, but it is also a clear move by intrusive political forces to employ scare tactics against anyone who wishes to utilize one of the university's traditional functions as a platform for exercising free speech.
It is important that students from all political, cultural, and social affiliations express a symbolic gesture of solidarity with the Irvine 11 - not only for trying to make heard those who would otherwise remain voiceless, but for their courage to preserve the academy as a site for public discourse.
At UCLA, on this National Day of Solidarity with the Eleven, Students for Justice in Palestine, the Muslim Student Association, Afrikan Student Union, Vietnamese Student Union, MEChA, Pacific Islander Student Association, Asian Pacific Coalition, and Samahang Pilipino proudly stand in solidarity with the Irvine 11 and refuse to see student activism silenced on our campus.