Thursday, April 29, 2010

"Seeds of the new movement": US Campaign Steering Committee member Sophia Ritchie reports from UC Berkeley

The following report on the divestment vote at UC Berkeley is shared by US Campaign Steering Committee member and UC Berkeley alum Sophia Ritchie: I am here again for another late night ASUC hearing, at my alma mater UC Berkeley, surrounded by hundreds of students and community members, most of who are here supporting the overturn of Will Smelko’s veto on SB118. It is the same place that we met two weeks ago, but this time it’s a bit more claustrophobic not only because they’ve cut the room in half, but also everyone’s speaking time. My head spins – as speakers rush through their prepared statements in the allotted minute and a half. I strain to hear them as they are left at the end attempting to continue and complete their points when their sound is cut. The anticipation is thick. People are nervous. We just want a decision; didn’t they vote 16-4 to pass this resolution already? That vote feels so long ago. By now we all know the outcome of last night: the veto was not overturned. I could focus on a lot of things: the weak arguments that proponents of the veto used and everything I heard that was presented to challenge their claims, but I think the videos of personal stories and testimony that will be online soon will say better what I could repeat here. I want to write about something else – on what happened after we heard that the veto was sustained and on what is happening at this moment. The now ubiquitous green stickers that read “Another (fill in the blank) for Human Rights. Divest from the Israeli Occupation” were taken off of shirts, coats and purses and placed instead over our mouths. A room full of people whose views and experiences and struggles have been silenced by this outcome. Senator Patel takes a moment to address the room. He directs those of us who support the resolution to raise our right fist, hundreds of arms stay raised in the air as he passionately talks about the “seeds of a new movement”. The seeds have been planted, our roots are deepening and we are growing. That to me is the most important outcome of this entire process. Something has shifted – in the discourse, in the sheer numbers of people who are concerned, in the solidarity work and coalition building amongst a broad and truly diverse range of student and community groups, in the energy around Palestine– that cannot be ignored. In this way, we are winning. After Senator Patel speaks we walk out collectively, silently. Outside, on the steps to the building, we stand around for a bit when someone starts the familiar “Free, Free Palestine” and the response echoes across Sproul Plaza, the home of so many demonstrations and pivotal historical moments, bounces off buildings, and settles deep in my heart. An elder from the Palestinian community addresses the crowd. Beautiful, poignant, raw and wise – he reminds us that this fight is not over. That truth and justice will prevail, even if it takes many more years. The continued chants of “When Palestine is under attack, what we do? Stand up, fight back” feed a growing circle of people on Sproul at 4:30am. It is a chilly bay area night, but I feel warmed and energized by the people, both friends and strangers, surrounding me - by their determination and by their love. More and more people address the crowd - youth, professors, Palestinian students and community members. I see many of the senators who spoke in favor of the resolution join the circle. I think these recent weeks have shown something – Palestinians and those who stand in solidarity with their struggle for justice, equality and freedom, are no longer willing to be silenced. It also shows that more people are hearing what we have to say. More and more of us are raising our voices. Palestine is in the vocabulary of more people. No, we’re not going to shut up and we’re not going away – in fact, we’re getting louder and stronger. As long as the Occupation continues and our tax dollars feed it, as long as there are massacres of innocent Palestinian civilians, as long as Palestinian land continues to be stolen, as long as Palestinian children are being held in Israeli jails without trials, as long as the madness continues we have no choice, but to speak out and work for justice. Alice Walker completes her new essay “Overcoming Speech-lessness: A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo and Palestine/Israel,” by writing, “The world is, at last, finding its voice about everything that harms it…Though the horror of what we are witnessing in places like….Palestine/Israel threatens our very ability to speak, we will speak. And, because almost everyone on the planet acknowledges our collective slide into global disaster unless we profoundly change our ways, we will be heard.” This is an analysis, but more importantly it is also a call to each and every one of us. Are we listening? -- Want to plant more movement seeds? Check out our campus divestment resources, and help grow the seeds that have already been planted by making a tax-deductible donation to the US Campaign!