On the night of Tuesday, November 29, hundreds of mostly Chinese students at Columbia University protested against the Chinese Communist Party, its ongoing Covid-19 lockdown policies, and, boldly, against its broader authoritarianism.
Protesters at Columbia acted in solidarity with demonstrators in China who are currently staging perhaps the most significant protests in that country in decades. At Columbia, they chanted “Free Xinxiang, free the Uyghurs,” “Free Tibet,” and “Give me liberty or give me death!”
Most of the speeches were in Chinese, but nervousness, excitement and anger were palpable among the crowd. They gathered before a shrine to dissidents arrested in China this week and to the 10 people killed in an apartment fire in the western city of Ürümqi last week, an emergency to which lockdown measures seem to have hindered access by first responders. They lit candles and laid flowers at the feet of Columbia’s famous Alma Mater statue, a sculpture of the goddess Athena symbolizing both wisdom and teaching.
A couple of pro-Xi Jinping voices popped up in the crowd but they were loudly drowned out with boos. One pro-Democracy speaker said in English, “This is the first time we’ve done this since 1989. We weren’t brave enough, but now we are.”