By Noura Khouri
The Campus Organizing and Grassroots Advocacy Training conference was put on by AFSC and Interfaith Peace Builders and held at the Cesar Chavez School for Public Policy in Washington DC. When we arrived energetic young people from the high school greeted us, where they, in addition to about 200 others actively participated in the conference over the weekend. Saturday’s activities focused on campus organizing and were intended to support the students who came from college campuses all over the country.
The workshop which was facilitated by myself and Rae Abileah from Code Pink, was on the topic of Flashmobs, the newest form of activism to sweep the country (for a flash-mob how to guide see: http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=2893). Each of the days workshops were held twice so as to maximize attendance and participation. The workshop was met with enthusiasm by a total of about 50 participants in the two workshops who were eager to engage their fellow classmates in creative and meaningful ways.
Throughout the weekend panelists presented excellent analysis, shared challenges in organizing and most importantly discussed ways in overcoming the systematic resistance we are met with when attempting to break through the many barriers of power, and feelings of fear, hopelessness etc., when speaking out on Palestine. There were many additional excellent and inspiring workshops that drew lessons from past and current work and we discussed practical opportunities to challenge American and Israeli companies who profit (www.whoprofits.org) from the occupation and colonization of Palestinian land.
US Democracy, or DC Politics as Usual?
Monday we spent the day lobbying on Capitol Hill where constituents discussed issues with our Congressional Reps, we mainly focused on the impact of US weapons on Palestinian civilians and non-violent protesters. The 'asks' we brought were related to US law under the US Arms Export Control Act. We took what we thought was a reasonable approach in simply asking for Congress to actively pursue justice and the rule of law in this country. We followed up on previous meetings regarding the war on Gaza, and about Tristan Anderson, Emily Henoshowitz and the Abu Ramah family and Israel's systematic use of tear gas against non-violent protesters and the attack on the freedom flotilla. Several of those injured and put at risk were in fact constituents in the districts of those we were lobbying. In a real democracy would it not be the duty of our so called Representatives to call for an investigation and take decisive action? We also brought up the frightening trend of the targeting of American peace activists by the FBI, who are being served grand jury subpoenas for simply exercising their constitutional rights! One aide after the other sympathized with our plight and even shared our frustration in actively perusing such matters. Still, as one of the aids bluntly put it, (paraphrasing) here politics is more important than law.
We urged the reps to recognize the trends of people's movements taking place here in the US as well as in the Middle East and North Africa and the importance of Congress to play a positive role which promotes true democracy, for and by the people. All and all it was an excellent conference to learn from some of the most active organizers and academics, and a timely opportunity to not just witness but participate in US democracy, up close and personal. Though it was clear the politicians did recognize the significance, they tried to downplay the magnitude of the incredible developments. As I sat in those rooms I could not help but think how desperately US needs a Cairo moment, here in the US.
Traveling to Egypt
At the end of this month I will be taking vacation time to travel to Egypt to learn from those who inspired me and the world with their incredible courage in overcoming some of the greatest challenges. There I hope to witness and report back, as the future is being written and history is being made. I hope to also learn about the true meaning of democracy and that change against insurmountable odds, is indeed possible, if the people want it badly enough and are willing to stand their ground in unity and strength, until it is achieved.