This year’s National Students for Justice in Palestine conference has a dual theme – to act in the spirit of bell hooks’s notion of “margin to center,” and to connect struggles, thereby building a more powerful national movement. When we say we mean to move from the margins to the center, we do not mean the center of power. We mean the center of resistance. We reject that the Palestinian question be dismissed, or pushed to the periphery of any discussion about racism in these United States.
When we say we aim to build a stronger national movement, we mean to move towards greater cohesion, and so greater strength. So we build our movement keenly aware that we must support one another on campuses across the country, in order to resist the centralized apparati of repression that are desperate to silence us. When we say that we mean to connect struggles, we mean that activism for Palestine is an organic part of the swelling floodtide of activism in this country. Palestine will not be excluded from any coalition for the sake of expedience, nor will we work separately from the myriad other struggles against racism and economic injustice – in this country, or abroad.
We are, of course, also responding to the clear and urgent request emerging from Palestinian civil society by way of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions National Committee. We have adopted their 2005 appeal, endorsing and organizing BDS campaigns both as a national body and on individual college campuses across the country.
In following through on this theme, we have a sub-set of goals, which we consider crucial in moving towards our vision. First and foremost, we must critically discuss what it means to be in solidarity with Palestinians. Palestine-related activism in the US is often distant from its most proximate point of reference, the North American Palestinian Shatat itself. We intend to close this political distance as we work to support and embolden calls from within Palestinian civil society for an end to the occupation, equality for Palestinians inside ’48, and securing the Right of Return. We understand that communities of Palestinians are united through these basic demands, even as they have their own particular needs. Our role as a solidarity formation is to support such demands in the rainbow of their variety. It is only through such processes of internal reflection and consciousness-raising within our own activism that we can be fully accountable to those most affected by the history of Zionist settler-colonialism, a force we confront even as we partake in the continued colonization of indigenous lands beneath our feet.
Self-reflection is imperative; we must take into account those marginalized within, or by, our own organizing process. We are all products of and have witnessed an imperfect world fraught with oppression and inequality. This is not our fault, but it is our responsibility to push back against oppression in all of its forms, both as a means of self-preservation, and as an embodiment of camaraderie with those who share the same history of repression, and more importantly, resistance, with Palestinians. We are attempting to cultivate organizing spaces that are not scarred by the patriarchal, racist, and capitalist world within which we live. Although we recognize that this is an extremely difficult and nearly impossible task, we try nevertheless. Our internal practices intentionally battle the tendencies those structures impose upon us. The more we fight them, the better we will be prepared for the struggle ahead.
Such work does not merely mean weeding out such problems to the extent possible within individual SJP chapters. It also means joining together with one another so that we can draw strength from our respective efforts. We know at the level of instinct and inspiration that a divestment victory on one university campus is a victory for us all; that rolling back attempts to muffle our voices is not just a victory in one site of struggle but a victory for the entire movement. We know what power knows, which is that there is strength in unity. Thus we are working towards building national coordinating bodies that can effectively support and embody this solidarity, and better offer our strength to other struggles.
Finally, we do not forget that concrete action is an utterly critical mechanism for solidarity – that we must move from words, discourse, and representation, to change. We know that those who seek to silence us are alarmed by our words because of the simple message of integrity and indignation they carry. But our enemies are still further intimidated by action, especially in the economic sphere. They know that such action – especially the divestment resolutions that students are so powerfully positioned to put into practice – delegitimizes Israeli racism and colonialism. Delegitimation widens the circle of those willing to directly challenge Israeli policies, thereby adding speed and heft to our popular movement as it nears the crucial links which bind Israel and America as partners in colonialism and repression. We know that campaigns and especially victories are the best way to grow as a national body.
A concluding word about practice, future goals, and history: we refuse to make any self-aggrandizing claims to novelty. We think this is important: we need to start from a position of respect for the past. In our commitment to joint struggle and internationalism, we pay homage to the Palestinian Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s and its strong links to every important struggle in the colonial and post-colonial world. In our commitment to student organizing, we are building not merely on a nearly century-old history of student organizing whose memory we have barely begun to recover, and not merely on the work of the General Union of Palestinian Students, but more recently on the important efforts of the Palestine Solidarity Movement, which arose in response to the second intifada.
This history may not always be visible, but it is inescapably present, for it is what has brought us to where we are. If we are able to endure where previous iterations of this struggle have waned, it is only because of the brilliant legacy they have left us, and in whose shadow we still stand.
Ad hoc conference steering committee, National Students for Justice in Palestine