The View from Inside Free Trinity

You can hear the chanting from the top of Westmoreland St, the activists taking shifts sitting in the windows of the SU offices in House 6, and waving both Palestinian and Irish flags. There is always at least a handful of people watching and joining the chants from the paths below.

From the Pearse St side of the campus you can’t hear anything, the usual hum of students and tourists completely absent. The new Book of Kells experience – imposing, bright and gaudy as ever – sits empty. No queue, no security at the entrance.

Over a year since The Library – formerly Berkeley Library – was “denamed” by the College, students have taken matters into their own hands and renamed it Refaat Alareer Library.

Just around the corner from Refaat Alareer Library is the encampment itself; a gazebo in the centre acts as a pantry/dining area and is encircled by dozens of tents, in turn bordered by a circle of benches and plastic barriers. A banner reading “Trinity Funds Genocide” hangs from a tree over the camp.

All around Fellows Square tricolours and starry ploughs are displayed proudly beside Palestinian flags, a banner reading “Break the Chains of Zionism” with a portrait of Countess Markievicz hangs in front of the Old Library, and slogans chalked on the paths and walls link the Irish and Palestinian sruggles for national liberation. A schedule by the food table shows that time is put aside for teach ins lead by the Trinity branch of Academia for Palestine.

As I caught up with old friends – current students who have committed to holding the encampment until its demands are met – someone not part of the encampment wandered in and started to take photos. “Masks!” came the yell from our side of the square, quickly echoed by someone from the other side. All of the students adjusted their keffiyehs, pulled up their face masks, turned away from the camera. Whoever the photographer was wandered away again.

The group is well aware of the possible implications of their protest; hiding their faces in pictures is an attempt to protect individuals from being identified by the college and by members of the public who may be hostile to their aims. They have a working group dedicated to security, and are preparing their response to eviction attempts they expect the college to undertake before reopening the campus to the public.

The encampment is impressive, not only in its size and structure, but also in the support it has garnered from the wider student body, from much of the staff in Trinity and from the public. This is a testament to the culture of student activism which has been built up in Trinity over the last number of years.

The students are no doubt taking inspiration and lessons from the Take Back Trinity occupation of the Dining Hall in 2018. The TCD SU campaigns group which has played a key role in planning the encampment was set up in 2019 by then SU President Laura Beston, with the intention of creating a self sustaining forum for student activists to organise and carry out effective campaigns.

In March 2021, now-outgoing SU President László Molnárfi set up Students4Change, which has since expanded to other universities across Ireland. Since its foundations Students4Change has engaged in direct and escalating actions on campus, from organising sit ins to disrupting meetings to blocking the Book of Kells. Without this background of student activism the encampment could not have happened, and certainly wouldn’t have the numbers that it does.

With the incoming SU President Jenny Maguire also having years of activism under her belt as co-organiser of Trans & Intersex Pride Dublin, this trend of impressive and effective student activism is set to continue throughout the run of the encampment and beyond.

The Connolly Youth Movement supports the demands of the encampment. In 2023 Trinity News reported that the college has links to at least 12 Israeli organisations; the first demand of the encampment is to sever all of these.

The second is to release a statement in solidarity with Palestine condemning Israel, which the college has yet to do.

Finally, the encampment is calling for Trinity to “fully support” one hundred Palestinians in completing their degrees, in recognition of their complicity in the destruction of all universities in Gaza.

We trust that the student activists behind the encampment will not give up until these demands are met. We have seen that they have remained steadfast in the face of threats of fines, disciplinary actions, and academic repercussions. We commit to supporting them against eviction attempts by the college.

We hope that students in other universities across Ireland feel emboldened by the early success of the encampment, and reassured by the outpouring of support from the public. With the increased privatisation of education and the moves made towards running universities as for-profit institutions we know that their governing bodies will not listen to reason. It is up to the students and young workers of Ireland to make them listen via the only means we have left: disrupting their ability to make profit.

Long live Free Trinity! Ollscoil na nDaoine abú!

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