WILSON | Ghosts of the Encampment

“Yet there is no avoiding time, the sea of time, the sea of memory and forgetfulness, the years of promise, gone and unrecoverable, of the land almost allowed to claim its better destiny, only to have the claim jumped by evildoers known all too well, and taken instead and held hostage to the future we must live in now forever. May we trust that this blessed ship is bound for some better shore, some undrowned Lemuria, risen and redeemed, where the American fate, mercifully, failed to transpire.” — Thomas Pynchon ’59

When Cornell’s encampment is uprooted tonight, green and yellow patches of deadened grass will remain on the Arts Quad for some time — subtle discoloration indicating that at some point, something was here. After a few weeks at most, the grass will be mowed and grown anew, removing this temporary imprint. In three years, virtually all of the undergraduates who experienced life within our Liberated Zone will have graduated. Soon enough, our story will be reduced to the same vague murmurs of disquiet that eventually subsume all student protest movements. Or maybe history will conclude that we were correct, and our story will instead be co-opted into the University’s (and indeed the country’s) official narrative decades down the line.

The Liberated Zone, as Prof. Russell Rickford noted last week, was a site where political alternatives to the status quo were imagined and actualized in real time. We gathered to create an alternative to a university run by corporate interests with deep investments in genocide. In its place, we created the People’s University — one that existed only to educate and take care of its attendees. In key moments, one could glimpse this future that we constructed. Educators holding classes and teach-ins, those same educators learning from their students, protesters feeding, sheltering and looking out for one another — all unimaginable under the dominant paradigm of the deeply atomizing Cornell “community.” On our first night together, hundreds of community members proved that even the police were unable to dismantle our collectively constructed institution.