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Protesters at University of Chicago Take Over Institute of Politics Building

Former Senator Heidi Heitkamp sat in her second-floor office at the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics, preparing to appeared on a television news program Friday afternoon, when three pro-Palestinian protesters in masks and sunglasses burst in and ordered him to leave the building.

Ms. Heitkamp, ​​the institute’s director and the only staff member left in the building, refused to go, slowing down what was an apparent attempt to take control of the building, the latest tactic in protests against the war between Israel and Hamas that took place. held on the University of Chicago campus and across the country.

“They desperately wanted me to leave,” Ms. Heitkamp recalled. “I told them, ‘I’m not going to leave. This is our building. And I planted my feet. She added: “I’m a stubborn old woman. »

Ms. Heitkamp, ​​who represented North Dakota as a Democrat in the Senate, said she tried to engage in dialogue with the protesters about their goals and why they targeted the institute, although she heard d others break furniture in other rooms.

“I was trying to find common ground,” she said. “They kept saying, ‘Aren’t you worried about your safety?’ »

The confrontation ended, she said, when campus police arrived suddenly and some protesters, who had brought bagels and water for an extended period of time, fled out the windows.

In a statement, the protest group said Friday that it occupied the building to protest the University of Chicago’s ties to Israel. Video released by a bystander showed protesters climbing through second-story windows to leave the building, to applause from the crowd below.

After protesters were evacuated from the building, other demonstrators remained outside, chanting, shouting and beating drums. They were about two blocks from where police cleared a protest encampment last week,

Jeremy Manier, a university spokesman, said in a statement that protesters attempted to block the entrance to the building, damaged property and ignored law enforcement orders to leave.

Earlier in the day, the institute held a board meeting in the building, attended by David Axelrod, the organization’s founder and senior adviser to President Barack Obama.

Mr. Axelrod and Ms. Heitkamp issued a statement later in the day: “We recognize protest as a traditional part of the democratic process. But occupying buildings, destroying property and violating the rights of others are not.”

Ms. Heitkamp said she never felt threatened by the protesters who appeared in her office, nor did she feel like she was being held hostage. “They knew who I was – they called me senator,” she said. “They really wanted me to leave.”

“I tried to explain that we are a place of dialogue at the IOP,” she says.

“We are neutral,” she said, adding: “Our role at the university is to truly create a space for cross-dialogue. »

The Institute of Politics is two doors down from Hillel University in Chicago and across the street from Rohr Chabad, where some students were having a Sabbath dinner when the protest began. As the protest continued, counter-protesters waved Israeli flags in full view of the pro-Palestinian demonstrators. Rock music blared from a nearby house, in what appeared to be an attempt to drown out the protest chants.

A sign identifying the Institute of Politics building was covered with a cardboard sign reading “permanent ceasefire now” and a series of demands were attached to the building. Among the demands was “the abolition of the university”.

A group of protesters at the University of Pennsylvania also attempted to occupy a campus building Friday evening. University police and Philadelphia police made several arrests and evacuated the building, Fisher-Bennett Hall. The hall is opposite College Green, the site of the encampment which was cleared last week by police.

Mattathias Schwartz, Bob Chiarito, Jeremy W. Peters and Natalie Pompilio contributed reporting.

News Source : www.nytimes.com
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