It might not quite be another defining moment in American politics or for that matter, in the run up to the Presidential elections of November 2024.

But the Biden re-election campaign is getting enough indications that the Democratic National Convention scheduled in Chicago this August could be a re-run of the raucous 1968 Convention in that windy city when protestors defied police bans and permits, resulting in absolute mayhem. And the ominous signs for Joe Biden are coming at a time when polls are showing a small lift for a beleaguered Presidency, nationally and in the swing states.

What is taking place in some 30-odd campuses across America is something that cannot be wished away as a bunch of misguided youngsters; a law and order problem for campus police; or that of rising anti-Semitism in colleges and universities.

Whether it was the anti-Vietnam war protests of the 1960s or the anti-apartheid movement of the 1980s, college students in the US have always been at the forefront of political change.

Campuses roiled

Across US campuses — right now principally in California, New York and Texas — students are aware of the bottomline: that universities that have billions in endowments have to invest to keep their nests growing. And the pressures faced by Ivy Leagues of today are no different than what they confronted some four decades ago when it came to South Africa and erstwhile Rhodesia over apartheid.

Students who have pitched protest tents in campuses are urging universities to disinvest their holdings in Israel or from war related entities that are associated with the goings on in Gaza. As of now the intended targets are broad-based rather than specific organisations of the military-industrial complex.

Students are also demanding the curtailment of academic ties with Israeli institutions till such time there are signs of a permanent ceasefire.

For the Biden administration to side with the students in the name of free speech and expression is to miss the point.

The youngsters want a clear disassociation of the US from the goings on in the Gaza, something that the White House has been hearing from within the administration and the Democratic Party.

Progressive Senators like Bernie Sanders of Vermont have been urging President Biden not for a cutoff in aid to Israel but to leverage aid for tangible payoffs on the ground, something Washington has been unable to do with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Critics of disinvestment argue that the amounts put in by Universities in entities doing business with the Jewish state may not even work out to 0.1 per cent, but protestors believe that a start should be made. And in the context of the Gaza, at least one poll has shown that American youngsters favour a permanent ceasefire by a five to one margin. And this in spite of the Palestinian issue not being perceived as a major foreign policy issue.

Though some extraneous issues have the tendency to sneak into targeted protest movements, by and large the protestors are united in their stance against official American involvement in what is being seen as a genocide in the Gaza, a moral issue that cuts across the student community.

At a time when Biden is struggling to hold on to the Democratic Party, the segment he cannot afford to jeopardise would be the 18-29 year olds.

After listening to Walter Cronkite’s characterization of the American involvement in the Vietnam War in the aftermath of the Tet Offensive in 1968, President Lyndon Johnson threw in the towel saying “If I have lost Cronkite, I have lost Middle America”.

The problem for Biden in 2024 is that he does not have journalists like Cronkite around; or for that matter have any political comfort zone to let this Gaza issue slide any further.

The writer is a senior journalist who has reported from Washington DC on North America and United Nations