Growth, Unity, and Victories: Reflecting on a year of accomplishments since the first national SJP conference

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The 2012 National Students for Justice in Palestine Conference starts November 2nd at the University of Michigan. Organizers are asking for donations to help students attend the conference. They’re hoping to raise $15,000 for travel support, and are roughly 1/3 of the way there.

As we approach the one-year anniversary of the first National SJP Conference at Columbia University, it is worth reviewing developments in the campus Palestine solidarity movement.  Since October, 2011 students have 1) formed new SJP chapters from California to Kansas, 2) helped form regional solidarity networks like Chicago Divests, 3) joined BDS campaigns such as TIAA-CREF and De-Rail Veolia, 4) established important ties to MEChA, including their landmark national endorsement of BDS, 5) and passed BDS resolutions at three universities. These accomplishments reflect the growth of our movement and highlight the importance of creating national solidarity networks. We look forward to building on this progress during our upcoming conference at the University of Michigan from November 2 to 4, 2012.

As with any student-organized conference, we need the support of allies and donors to help offset travel costs for student activists. Please help students across the country attend this conference by making a donation at www.sjpnational.org/donate.

1. New SJP chapters

We held a workshop at our first conference on “How to start and successfully run an SJP.” We did not know who would attend the session before we designed it, but that morning several students from small states walked in the door, eager for advice about how to create a sustainable student group, handle difficulties with their administrations, and withstand attacks and criticism from campus and local opponents of Palestinian rights. Those SJPs persist today and several more have formed in the past year. We recognize that helping students build strong SJPs is a vital function of the national conference, so this year we are again reserving conference space for students who wish to start an SJP and we will hold another workshop designed to help them get started. As we work to form a concrete national structure, we will continue to solidify and build resources that will help students build and sustain groups across the country.

2. Forming regional links

Another trend thathas continued over the past year is the increasing integration of SJPs with local activists. This has led to the formation of regional solidarity networks such as Chicago Divests and informal collaborations on events and campaigns. One example is the growth of Israeli Apartheid Week, during which campuses and local organizations hold joint events throughout cities from New York to San Francisco. This helps both groups reach larger audiences while pushing the question of Palestine into the public debate. It also helps SJPs stretch our limited budgets even farther, as groups can collaborate to bring speakers to multiple local events and share program and event costs.

3. Joining ongoing campaigns

AsSJPs increasingly collaborate with local groups, we have begun to see the growth of shared campaigns between students and community activists. The best example of this collaboration is the campaign to get the investment fund TIAA-CREF to relinquish holdings in companies that are complicit with the Israeli occupation. Students have become important partners in this campaign, because TIAA-CREF administers retirement funds for many universities. SJPs at universities like NYU are working to get professors to sign divestment petitions and hosting events that call the company to task for its practices. On the West Coast, Los Angeles area schools have been involved with De-Rail Veolia, a campaign to deny city bus contracts to Veolia on the grounds that it facilitates violations of international law and discriminatory policies. Student groups have hosted events, signed petitions, joined marches, and given testimony to public officials in support of this campaign.

4. Establishing meaningful solidarity with MEChA

In March, the largest association of Latin@ students in the country, MEChA (Movímíento Estudíantíl Chícan@ de Aztlán) overwhelmingly passed a resolution supporting the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. This is an exciting and meaningful development for SJPs; this year we hope to welcome MEChA’s delegates to the National SJP conference and to create increased collaboration between SJP and MEChA chapters around the country. Endorsements from allies such as MEChA are critical to the transformation of Palestine solidarity work into a central focusof campus politics.

5. BDS victories at four universities

Students know that the strongest and clearest expression of solidarity we can make is the passage of BDS resolutions through our student governments, as was done in the campaign against apartheid South Africa. The growth described above – more SJPs and stronger connections to community organizations and allied struggles – is producing clear progress in our struggle towards that goal. This year, SJPs marked BDS victories at Arizona State University (supported by MEChA), Earlham College, the University of Massachusetts – Boston, and Evergreen State College. Though there have been attempts to censor SJPs, particularly at the University of California, we view this as a sign of our increasing strength and confirmation that the debate on campus has shifted from whether Israel’s behavior is acceptable to what students must do to stop it. BDS campaigns at universities will continue to grow as long as students continue to share their skills and knowledge through movement building opportunities like the National SJP conference.

Support our growing student movement! We’ve made important strides in the past year, but with your help, we can and will do more. Every dollar you give helps students attend this important conference.

About Rahim Kurwa

Rahim Kurwa is an active member of Students for Justice in Palestine and is currently a graduate student in the Sociology Department at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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