Banner Drop: Students Resist UNM Measures to Silence Dissent

By Selina Aleztia & Joshua Heckman

On the morning of Wednesday, March 1, 2017, students, staff, and faculty at the University of New Mexico (UNM) walked onto a campus covered with flyers, chalk art, and banners. Flyers could be found on every wall, bench, and window with space to spare. Chalk art had been drawn in front of Zimmerman Library and other popular spaces on campus. Banners were strategically hung on several prominent buildings to catch the eyes of people trekking across campus. The acronym ‘TSR’ appeared everywhere. TSR stands for The Student Resistance, an anti-oppression student coalition that fights for marginalized communities on campus, including LGBTQ2 students, students of color, and undocumented students.

NoBanOnStolenLand_UNM

This banner was placed on the west side of Dane Smith Hall on central campus. Photo credit: Felipe Romero

UNM has a history of hostility towards marginalized student communities and those engaging in political dissent. Such hostilities have increased dramatically with the inauguration of President Trump and the January 27, 2017 talk that Alt-Right spokesperson Milo Yiannopoulos gave on campus. UNM’s handling of the Milo event–most notably its extensive efforts to protect Yiannopoulos with armed security–was the defining moment that solidified TSR. Students saw the true face of the University reflected in the shields of the police that it hired to beat marginalized students directly targeted by Yiannopoulos’ infamous hate speech into silence. This true face is historic violence. But students will not be silenced. They are banding together for their own protection against the extreme hate and hostility that the University promotes. They are holding the University responsible for fostering this increasingly hostile climate on campus.

Although disappointing, it came as no surprise that by 10:30am that morning, the University had already removed the majority of TSR’s banners, chalk art, and flyers. However, despite their efforts to yet again silence marginalized students, the quick response by the University did not stop students and faculty from reading slogans like “No Ban on Stolen Land,” “#BlackLivesMatter,” “Trans Lives Matter,” and “No ICE No Deportation.” These slogans condemn the systemic racism, dehumanization of black, brown and trans bodies, misogyny, and colonialism that serve as the foundations for Yiannopoulos’s particular brand of hate, a brand that the University has long upheld. They also condemn and highlight UNM’s complicity with these oppressive systems and call for its accountability to protect students from this violence.

The slogan “Abdallah Step Down” also appeared on TSR’s propaganda. TSR organizers positioned a banner donning the slogan near UNM President Chaouki Abdallah’s personal parking space and accompanied the banner with a chalked message demanding he step down from his position as President.

Abdallah Chalk #1

These messages were chalked on the sidewalk that leads from President Abdallah’s personal parking space into Scholes Hall where the President’s Office is located. Photo Credit: Curtison Badonie

This slogan directly addresses Abdallah’s lack of transparency in decisions affecting marginalized students, particularly his decision to protect white supremacy by refusing to address student concerns about Yiannopoulos’s talk on campus. Rather than meet with students, Abdallah deployed riot police against those protesting the event, a protest that a broad coalition of student organizations supported. The banner and its slogan strike at the heart of struggles raging in universities across the country about granting extreme right wing fascists sanctuary on college campuses under the guise of “free speech.” Meanwhile, the freedom to conduct political advocacy for global movements like Palestinian liberation at UNM and other universities is under vicious attack, with campus-based groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and campus-based advocacy for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement facing dangerous backlash from university administrations and right wing Zionists and white supremacists alike.

There are lessons to be learned. We can use the UNM student coalition as an example of the resistance that is forming across the nation against the rising tide of fascism. The age of Trumpism has helped to radicalize a mass movement in protest and defiance, which can be seen with the shutdown of airports across the U.S., and the protests in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and other states to stop ICE raids. The face of this movement is changing; TSR and these waves of protest are being led by people of color, Indigenous communities, LGBTQ communities, and undocumented communities, precisely because these communities are the ones targeted and most affected by the current regime in America.

Abdallah Chalk #2

Photo Credit: Curtison Badonie

It is clear that the revolution will not be yet another instance of reformism, nor will it be led by the Democratic Party or any white-led organization or institution. Instead, the revolution will be led by those who have the most to lose. These coalitions of the marginalized are forming and will continue to form in order to protect themselves from what we can only predict will be increasing attacks and tactics by institutions of power like UNM to silence our right to exist. Since University campuses will not protect the most vulnerable, we have to organize to protect ourselves. This means organizing for self-defense in multinational coalitions. TSR takes up this mandate and joins this new wave of revolutionary struggle. We pledge to fight and advocate for self-defense. The message that blanketed campus on the morning of March 1st was an unapologetic declaration of this intent, and it is just the beginning. Join us!

For more information on TSR, please contact unm.trs@protonmail.com.