Widgets Magazine

A year since the bridge: Reflections on the Stanford 68

On Monday, Jan. 19, 2015, 68 protesters were arrested on the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge after an MLK-day action of nonviolent civil disobedience. Fifty-seven of us were cited and released after being brought to the California Highway Patrol’s police department, while 11 were held overnight in jail. I remember, wrists zip-tied together, seeing a road sign leaning against the side of the room where many of us were temporarily held. “Rough road ahead,” it read.

In the days and weeks that followed, articles and debates discussing our actions — and to an extent campus activism itself — proliferated in The Stanford Daily, as they likely did in classrooms and dorms across campus. Some labelled our tactics as “reckless;” some called us “irritating” and “counterproductive;” still others called for a cautious neutrality. A Stanford Review article, in perhaps one of the most charged positions, argued that the university should pursue Fundamental Standard charges against the Stanford 68, citing the fact that we “broke the law and put the lives of innocent people in danger.”  

The Stanford 68 action did not take place in a vacuum. Our civil disobedience brought issues of mass incarceration, police brutality, state-sanctioned violence and occupation to light to acknowledge that these often separated struggles were all interlinked. These connections could not have become clearer than when, in February 2015, the undergraduate Senate voted to pass a resolution divesting from companies complicit in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. At the time, campus erupted into conflict over such issues as the handling of Students for Justice in Palestine’s divestment request and allegations of anti-Semitism in the Students of Color Coalition’s endorsement process.

By spring quarter, many at Stanford were forced to acknowledge what a feature-length Daily article called an “inconvenient truth” — that activism on campus had taken Stanford by storm, and that perhaps it was here to stay.  

But another thing that happened last year was that we — the collective we of Stanford University — forgot that organizers and activists were people. Inundated with phrases like “Black Lives Matter,” “Justice for Palestine,” “structural oppression” and others, we started seeing activists not as people but as manifestations of those causes they fought for. And looking back, we acknowledge the protests of last year, but not the sleepless nights, skipped classes and hurried meals that went into organizing them. We acknowledge the Stanford 68 action on the bridge, but not the protesters’ tired days spent in court, endless fundraising and mountains of legal work over the following year. We acknowledge the divestment votes, but not the immense emotional trauma of having survived them.

Maybe it’s because we want our activists to seem strong — whether we want to idolize or demonize them. Maybe it’s because if we allow ourselves to see activists as vulnerable, we are thrust into the uncomfortable position of wondering why we are not doing what they do. And maybe this myth of invulnerability is something that we activists use to protect ourselves from hate. Thick skin stops Yik Yak hate and self-care indiscriminately.

So what happens after the demonstration, after the protest, after the campaign? What happens after the 5-hour Energy shots of anger and grief we use to fuel immediate action fade away? Last year, I think many of us decided to take time to heal. We chose to grieve and rest and mourn away from the public eye of Stanford: some of us organized less, some of us left campus; still others disappeared entirely.

I’ve heard some people asking, “What happened to activism after all that action last year?” Part of me wants to counter that this academic year alone has already seen the Students for Justice in Palestine’s silent demonstration in White Plaza, the Transgender Day of Remembrance die-in and rally and the community photo in White Plaza in support of Black students at Mizzou as examples of continuing student activism — but it’s more than just that.

I want to hope that as a community, we are learning from last year how to thoughtfully transform our work into intentional, sustained and direct action, as well as how to acknowledge our grief and apply our labor towards a goal that persists after the event’s end.

And most importantly, how to show up and roll out not only for the events we organize, but for each other as individuals.  


Contact Lily Zheng at lilyz8 ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

About Lily Zheng

Lily Zheng '17, is a weekly columnist for The Stanford Daily, a Social Psychology major and co-president of the student group Kardinal Kink. Her weekly column revolves around consent culture, queer and trans identity, social justice and activism. In her spare time, she enjoys wearing too much black clothing, accidentally sleeping in her makeup and spending quality time with her partners. Contact her at lilyz8 'at' stanford.edu – she loves messages!
  • mogden

    A bunch of smug and sanctimonious elites-in-training causing potentially life threatening disruption to the common man is not a good look.

  • Mark

    I used to read these articles and be frustrated with the extreme, anti-intellectual rhetoric and lack of rationality or thoughtfulness that lily would employ in trying to make a point, but neither myself, nor anyone else really cares any more as to what lily has to say. I didn’t even read this article. For too long zheng has whined about apparent faults within our systems without suggesting or even thinking about possible solutions to what she perceives to be problems, and that only goes so far. You’re talking to no one lily, maybe pick up a different hobby

  • Lily Zheng

    I used to read these comments and be frustrated with the extreme, anti-intellectual rhetoric and lack of rationality or thoughtfulness that people would employ in trying to make a point, but neither myself, nor anyone else really cares any more as to what commenters have to say. I didn’t even read this comment. For too long people have whined about apparent faults within things written in the Daily without suggesting or even thinking about possible solutions to what they perceive to be problems, and that only goes so far. You’re talking to no one commenter, maybe pick up a different hobby :)

  • Amused Bystander

    LOL. Burrnnnnnnnn. I personally love reading Lily’s articles, so she’s clearly talking to someone. She also outwitted your insulting comment. Take the loss on that one

  • alum

    Powerful article. Thank you for your reflections and for saying what others wouldn’t. Without the activism, I fear many of these conversations about mass incarceration, police brutality, and black lives wouldn’t have happened on campus. I can’t help but worry for your health and wellbeing from time to time (like you said, the activists are only people), but for what it’s worth, I’m proud of you all.

  • Historical_accuracy

    The situation in Israel is very different than the other issues you mention. There was never a Palestinian nation, and not every people necessarily get to have one, especially not on land that has been the historical homeland of some other group of people for literally thousands of years.

    Zionism is morally equivalent to the Reconquista, and not surprisingly, against the same Muslim imperialist invaders.

  • getAclue

    Agreed. Especially when it is followed by unbearable pleas of victimhood and “the immense emotional trauma of having survived” these protests. OMG you were bound in zip ties! The instruments of state oppression themselves have attempted to silence their voice!!

    This position, of course, being the intended outcome of their actions in the first place.

  • reader283491

    Thanks for putting in the hours to keep these conversations alive in the public realm.

  • Mina

    It’s funny how you think explicitly supportinf Lily’s comment will make anyone think that she’s won some kind of argument. You think your shitty argents will “win” and be accepted if you ask your friends to like your post and join your circlejerk.
    Surprise: the world doesn’t work that way. You need a convincing argument; not just social pressure.