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Building our Power: Announcing the 2015 national Students for Justice in Palestine conference

posted on: Sep 24, 2015

As the 2015 National Students for Justice in Palestine conference approaches, organizers are calling for support to help to bolster meaningful Palestine solidarity activism on US campuses.

At the beginning of the last academic year, Palestinian-American students from Loyola University stood in line in front of representatives of the discriminatory Taglit-Birthright program, and in an act of protest, attempted to sign up for a trip that was designed to exclude them. They stood in line knowing they would quite literally be turned away from their homeland by their peers and administrators in the heart of their own campus. In response, Loyola administration temporarily suspended Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) though the protest was not organized by SJP. Despite ongoing repression, Palestine solidarity organizers at Loyola continued their activism undeterred. Indeed, in just the next semester, they carried on to pass a divestment resolution in their student government for the third time in two years.

Loyola SJP’s experience reflects what it means to be an organizer for Palestine on the American campus today. Students across the country face widespread suppression simply for advocating for justice, freedom, and equality for the Palestinian people. More than ever, it is vital that students have the opportunity to build together and continue strengthening their activism in the face of these obstacles. The annual National SJP (NSJP) Conference provides this opportunity, but we need your help.

Each year, SJPs stretch their shoestring budgets in an effort to send representatives to the NSJP conference. This congregation opens up a crucial space for students to grow with, learn from and strategize with one another. We are calling for your support to help us fund student travel scholarships to this year’s conference at San Diego State University. As you consider helping us, we want you to know who and what you are investing in.

As Loyola’s students did when confronting Taglit-Birthright, SJP organizers across the country stand in a figurative line before the gates of our academic institutions and push forward against the will of much more powerful institutions that constantly seek to suppress our freedom of speech, limit our activism, and impede on academic freedom at our universities. Each new class of students is emboldened by the stubborn efforts of those who came before them, knowing that when their older peers graduate, it is up to them take their place and move an inch forward.

And we have moved miles. Since the first SJP was founded at University of California Berkeley 14 years ago, over 150 SJP chapters have opened in the United States and Canada. Activists at 21 universities have led successful campaigns passing resolutions or referenda to specifically divest from corporations engaged in Israeli human rights abuses.

Along with these tangible successes, SJPs have also been increasingly coordinating at the regional and national levels by forming several regional SJP networks and organizing nationally with NSJP. Our conferences catalyzed many of these regional linkages, bolstering our organizing with several new, powerful region-wide networks.

NSJP has utilized these networks to organize projects like the Right to Education (R2E) tour in 2014, bringing Palestinian students living under the occupation to share their stories across campuses in the U.S.. The tour was a resounding success, and we are replicating the R2E model for future tours so that students in the United States have the opportunity to hear about the everyday effects of occupation directly from Palestinian students.

On the regional and community level, students in SJPs across the Midwest mobilized around Rasmea Odeh’s case by organizing direct actions on their campuses and travelling to Detroit to rally outside the courthouse in which her trial was held. They demonstrated the importance of engagement with  local community organizations as they coordinated with the Rasmea Defense Committee.

The theme of this year’s national conference is “From Campuses to Communities, Building a Vision for the Future.” NSJP hopes to continue building with local SJPs to help increase community engagement on the local level. We will also open up a space for students to exchange ideas and further democratize our non-hierarchical national network. The significance of this year’s conference is immense, and students will make tangible plans for both the immediate and distant future.

We as National Students for Justice in Palestine recognize that the individuals who began the work of both NSJP and local SJPs across the country will not, in their time as students, see Palestinian liberation fully realized. Future generations of students can witness justice achieved.

That is why at this upcoming conference, we will discuss what it takes for us to become an ever more representative, democratic and effective organizing network. We not only hope to empower new students with organizing skills, the wisdom of movement elders, and political knowledge, but also with an institution that will thrive for the coming generations of Palestine solidarity activism on campus. Past student activists carried the building blocks of NSJP on their backs as they strived to build a national capacity for Palestine solidarity student activism. Now five years old, we hope that NSJP as an institution will shelter, nurture, and become a home for student activists. Where our pioneers felt loneliness and anxiety, future members will experience community and validation. They will blaze forward, and the line will continue.

Despite our unyielding efforts and resilience, we need your support. Our annual conference is the backbone of our network and without it NSJP could not be effective. We ask that all those who wish to continue to see the successes of Palestine solidarity student activism to invest in us and help us reach out to our communities and to our future.