Charlotte Silver, a great Bay Area-based reporter and my colleague at The Electronic Intifada, interviewed me about In Our Power for Truthout. The book is out on November 4!
An excerpt of the interview:
The book is charged with the feeling of momentum the students have generated. And, as it chronicles a campaign that is still unfolding, In Our Power is really the opening chapter in an unfinished story. Filled with engaging anecdotes and tales of hard lessons learned in campus organizing, the book compels readers to think about an expanding space of activism on college campuses that is being opened up by committed students who see the fight for justice in Palestine as intrinsically linked to the greater fight for justice in the United States.
I met with Barrows-Friedman in her Oakland home just weeks before her book is scheduled to hit shelves across the country. We talked about what makes this movement sustainable, why it’s growing in the face of an amply funded opposition, and how the BDS strategy is a game changer.
Charlotte Silver: Your book is based on the premise and expectation that the Palestine solidarity movement on US campuses is growing. What do you think is the seed of that growth?
Nora Barrows-Friedman: It’s definitely a movement that’s growing, and it didn’t come out of a vacuum. There’s been over a century of Palestinian organizing in this country – which I was surprised to learn about, actually, though it also wasn’t shocking given the level of oppression and repression that Palestinians have faced since the Balfour Declaration (1917) and even before.
But since the second intifada, students in the US really ramped up their organizing because of the level of outright atrocity and barbarity Israel has meted out against Palestinians: Settlements have expanded; Gaza was cut off from the world and Israel has expanded its routine attacks on Palestinians.
And then after Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, the enormity of violence that was seen and felt and heard by students struggling for Palestinian rights really galvanized the movement even more.
I finished the book literally two weeks before the three Israeli youth were murdered in the West Bank, which set off a vicious series of events and ultimately resulted in Israel’s seven-week attack on Gaza. Now there has been a new galvanization of this movement. Students are coming back to school and asking what can we do to ramp up this movement.
A lot of people don’t know that Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is a relatively new superstructure for all of these dispersed groups to organize themselves under and learn within. Tell me about how it formed and has grown over the past several years, and what they are doing differently from past Palestinian activism in the US, which, as you discuss in the book, has a long history.
SJP is relatively new. And the beginning was really at UC Berkeley, where the first student solidarity conference happened in 2002. The students at UC Berkeley were spearheading this – though I don’t think they knew it was going to be this massive superstructure, like you said.
SJP has since grown into this national organization; there are over 150 different chapters. Dozens were just added in the last couple of months since the school year started because people are outraged about what happened this summer.
The national organizing committee is not a hierarchical structure, and they’re learning every day how to grow the organization and how to be allies and mentors to new SJP members and chapters. It’s all grassroots: No one gets paid for what they do. These are all undergraduate and graduate students who are spending most of their time trying to get through school and in their spare time they’re working on this.