We do not want an angry generation
To plough the sky
To blow up history
To blow up our thoughts.
We want a new generation
That does not forgive mistakes
That does not bend.
We want a generation of giants.
Verse, Nizar Qabbani, 1967
I am just back from the Hampshire National Campus Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Conference and trying to collect my thoughts. Phil and I attended together and it was a whirlwind of action, energy and information. We’ll be posting updates and news from the conference over the next days and weeks, but my initial impression is simply awe.
The students meeting at Hampshire represented over 40 campuses from across the U.S. and Canada. From what I can tell there are at least 10 active divestment and boycott campaigns underway now, with about at least 10 or 15 more just about to get kicked off. The ideas being discussed range from forcing universities to divest their investment holdings to canceling vendor contracts with companies benefiting from the occupation to challenging study abroad programs in Israel that discriminate against Palestinian students (and lots more in between). All options are on the table, and enthusiasm, creativity and hope abound.
I had the pleasure of meeting several students whose work we’ve highlighted here on the site, but I had only corresponded with by email. Students from Oberlin, the University of Buffalo, and of course Hampshire, shared more stories of their work with me. On their own, each of these activists offered inspiring examples from their own campuses, but together in one room these students looked different. Rather than just disparate stories scattered across the map, they have come together to form a movement – one that I think will shape the future.
The students I met at Hampshire didn’t amaze me by how idealistic they are, but by how grounded. Yes, they are casually comfortable with ideas that are considered kryptonite to the the mainstream discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – namely equality and justice for Palestinians – and to these activists those values are simply common sense. But what really stood out was how strategic, mindful, and smart these leaders are. This is a movement prepared to win. And they know how to do it.
Listening to report after report from campuses across the country I was reminded of my feelings after watching Mustafa Barghouti and Anna Baltzer on the Daily Show. It is clear that BDS, and Israel/Palestine more generally, is joining the progressive agenda. Students who had been working on anti-war issues or anti-sweatshops organizing, or farmworker solidarity work are now engaging this issue. They’re bringing their experience with them and taking the lessons from those other movements, especially how those movements have won victories, and are cutting them loose on the "tired debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict" on campus.
I attended a workshop by two students from the University of Arizona, and one of them, Gabriel Matthew Schivone, began it by quoting the poem at the beginning of this post. Schivone said that this movement is being led by "a new generation of giants." I couldn’t help but laugh to myself, part out of giddy enthusiasm and part of out of slight astonishment. What a bold, grandiose statement. But you know, he’s right.