Tomorrow the University of Massachusetts at Amherst will field a panel of fierce advocates for Palestinian freedom, in Roger Waters, Linda Sarsour, Sut Jhally, Dave Zirin and Marc Lamont Hill. UMass is a prestige space, and there have been many efforts to shut down the forum; one Israel lobby group sued for a federal injunction and compared the gathering to a rally of the Ku Klux Klan.
That motion was turned down by a district court judge yesterday. Here is Rachel Weber of Jewish Voice for Peace saying that the critics are equating criticism of Israel to anti-semitism; but it’s white supremacists who are a danger to Jews.
On Wednesday night, Hill, a Temple professor, gave a speech about the “radical imagination” at the annual dinner of the progressive organization WESPAC in White Plains, NY. It was a showstopper; I can only imagine what he will bring to the Massachusetts panel, which will focus on false anti-Semitism charges leveled against advocates for Palestine and is titled, “Not Backing Down.”
Hill lost his job as a commentator at CNN last year after he spoke at the United Nations and had the temerity to call for one state “from the river to the sea.” Equal rights in Israel/Palestine is a heresy in the mainstream.
Palestine continues to be at the center of his activism. Indeed Marc Lamont Hill seems emboldened by his firing, to speak of “gettin’ rid of the settler colonial project altogether” and to mock the term, “liberal Zionist, whatever that is.” His theme was the need for progressives to rise above social inhibitions and imagine true freedom, and he mentioned Palestine often.
He said that activists should channel the bravery of the abolitionists and enslaved “freedom fighters” in the time of slavery and not bend to conventional ideas of justice.
“If we have ambitious freedom dreams, we won’t dream about warmer and fuzzier prisons, we can dream about a world without prisons,” he said. “We ain’t got to walk around struttin’ talking about two state solutions… What about a world where everyone has freedom, justice, equality, safety and self determination? One person one vote. Gettin’ rid of the settler colonial project altogether.”
He linked that vision with the goal of ending toxic masculinity that is a cause of criminal conduct. Why not, he said, “eliminate the impulse and the idea and the logic and the ritual and the practice of unhealthy masculinity.”
He called on activists to listen to “women, other-abled folk, trans folk, and young folk” and said our presidential races should not focus on the middle class as the “marker of citizenship,” but on the vulnerable and the poor.
He said repeatedly that professional activists start to worry about their “grants” and “respectability politics,” when the question should be, “What would it take for us to listen to our original story?” Again, Palestine made an appearance.
What does it mean to invest in schools, only to criminalize young folk?
What does it mean for rape culture to prevail on our campuses and our world?
What does it mean for us to continue to fund an illegal occupation?
Hill said that different activists can’t operate in “silos,” there’s a direct connection between mass incarceration and bad schools, and militarism and Palestine.
[You say] ‘I’m worried about police brutality, I can’t think about Palestine.’ Oh yeah, well these deadly exchange programs in the United States and in Israel are creating models of practice that are being used by Israeli law enforcement and by United States law enforcement. They’re training each other. We got to pay attention to the intersection. Don’t tell me that you can be worried about poverty so you can’t take on militarism. Because who are the most vulnerable in the United States who get put in the front lines of these wars of aggression And who are the people in the global south who are being bombed and droned and exploited. The vulnerable, the poor and the black and the brown… Don’t tell me that you ain’t worried about the environment you’re worried about racism, go to Flint Michigan.
Hill lamented those who “have access to resources and choose to protect our power and privilege rather than change the world.” He referred to his own experience at CNN indirectly, and mocked liberal Zionists.
It’s easy sitting here and being radical as hell…. But what happens tomorrow when the job is on the line? Do you go from being a [unintelligible] to just a liberal Zionist, whatever that is? Do you go from being a radical to a liberal, become a pragmatist? What happens to our politics when they get tested? What happens when something is on the line. When the job promotion is on the line, when your friendship network is on the line, when your TV job is on the line, when your friend What are you going to sacrifice, what are you going to put aside for justice?.. Everybody’s rocking with you, when you’re popping. Everybody’s with you when you can get on board, everybody’s with you when you can hook em up…. What happens when you’re standing on the mountain alone?
He cited Angela Davis working for prison abolition when it wasn’t popular, Harriet Tubman running through the woods with freed slaves when official political culture opposed radical acts.
What happens to you when you’re speaking out for Palestine, what happens to you when you’re speaking out for Uganda, when you’re speaking out for Haiti? What happens to you when all those men who loved you when you were talking about race start to laugh when you’re talking about gender? You start to feel alone…
Some of you work with folk who are liberal on every issue but Palestine. You start to feel alone. But there’s never been a revolution started by the majority. The spark is always a few people, a few brave souls…. allies willing to sacrifice their privilege for justice…
Hill ended his speech with the word Palestine.
Thank you, free the land for Palestine!
P.S. Disclosure: My wife’s prisoner program is sponsored by WESPAC.