A day in the life of a Palestine solidarity campus organizer

We’ve seen a tremendous surge in college activism and organizing for Palestine in the last few years. Divestment campaigns against companies exploiting the occupied West Bank are growing in size and number (Go California!). Actions and demonstrations for Palestinian rights happen almost daily. MEChA and SJP continue to build together on local, regional, and national levels. Deep-pocketed pro-occupation groups fruitlessly pour hundreds of thousands of dollars into elaborate programs designed to intimidate student organizers. Things are looking up, and the seemingly infinite amount of energy and creativity pouring out of campus groups gives us great hope for a future without occupation, racism, apartheid, and impunity.

But don’t take this progress as any indication that these hardworking organizers live stable lives. Oh no. Here’s a glimpse of an average day.

Wake up, 10:07 AM

Class is in twenty-three minutes and your apartment is ten to twenty minutes away from class depending on how nice the weather is. You probably shouldn’t have spent all night philosophizing on Twitter about the socioeconomic barriers to population migration dynamics in the 19th century nation-state. You tell yourself the same thing every day but never learn. You throw on the first shirt you see — a faded black “Palestine Awareness Week 2010” shirt — and wrap a kuffiyeh around your neck, taking extra time to cover the “2010”. You zip up your coat and wonder why kuffiyehs are so big. You unzip, give the kuffiyeh another wrap, and zip up. Now you’re out the door.

Class, 10:38 AM

Even though you’re running late, you managed to find time for a coffee pit stop. You enter class discretely, lying to yourself that your black-and-white scarf wrapped around your head can’t possibly draw attention. You take a seat in the back, determine if today’s class topic has any relevance to Palestine, pull out your laptop, and take a long deep breath. It’s time to check your email.

Email, 10:40 AM

Somehow, between the time you went to bed at 5 AM and now, you’ve received twenty-two emails about twenty-two different things that need your immediate attention. One email is from a three-year-old thread reminding you to start that op-ed you promised to write. One is from someone named Sasha. Another one is from that one friend that sends you a link to any webpage he stumbles upon with the word Palestine in it. Today he’s sent you a link to a Wikipedia page and he’s looking forward to a thoughtful response. The remaining nineteen emails contain task lists for events and campaigns you’re working on. You quickly sign off and question your role in life.

The Mention, 12:12 PM

The professor mentions the year 1948. Your ears instinctively perk up and your heart races as you wait furiously for your professor, whose politics you haven’t yet figured out, to show her true colors. It turns out she’s sharing the year of her birth. But because you have a propensity to associate everything to the struggle, you turn to Twitter and submit a desperate tweet about how your professor is as old as the occupation and how her wrinkles are as deep as the roots of the uprooted olive trees. #Nakba.

Paperwork, 1:30 PM

Class is done for the day. Your friends head to lunch but you’ve got reimbursements to file and room reservations to submit. You’ll be hosting a particular spoken word artist next month — his fifth appearance on your campus in just two years — so you have to sign your university’s contract form too. You’ll also be hosting a series of open meetings with your campus environmental alliance group to discuss intersectionality and commonalities between struggles. You pull out the stack of papers, roll up your sleeves, and wonder how much you’d make if you were paid for this.

The Fantasy, 1:34 PM

A few minutes into filing the forms, your mind wanders. What would I be doing right now if Palestine wasn’t occupied? You imagine strolling through the hills of the West Bank, picking peaches from orchards near Ein Yabroud, hailing a taxi for the quick ride to the Gaza Strip, walking along the coast of Jaffa. You imagine the typical college experience: class, study, fun, sleep, repeat. You even dare to imagine joining another campus group. You feel guilty though so you stop.

News, 3:14 PM

You’re home now and you crash on your couch, spreadeagle with your kuffiyeh choking you and fully intent on taking the best nap of your life before meeting with your student group’s advisor. But you make the mistake of pulling out your phone and checking the news. Within five minutes, you’re outraged and on your laptop at your desk or dining table Facebooking about the terrible news you’ve just read.

Advisor meeting, 5:00 PM

You’re sitting in front of your advisor right now. He wants to discuss, his email said, “ways the campus can be better receptive to your group’s mission”. This is the third such meeting you’ve had with him and nothing has ever changed. Plus, the last time you met him, he congratulated you “and your cultural people” on your successful performance at the annual South Asian Student Union dance show, the one you’ve never been a part of. You were so overwhelmed by his desperate attempts to come up with something nice to say that you just nodded your head and ignored his Orientalist tropes. Your expectations for this meeting aren’t too high, and when your advisor’s first words today are, “Hey, there’s this new Israeli Republicans group on campus we want you to dialogue with,” you bury your head in your hands.

Bane of your existence, 5:43 PM

You’ve survived your meeting by reminding your advisor (and the two more advisors he brought in for support) why you don’t engage pro-occupation groups. Exhausted from the sheer amount of energy it takes you to not walk out in the middle of these meetings, you dream of your comfortable bed. But your phone’s vibration snaps you out of your daze. “Did you put up the flyers?” No, you didn’t, so now it’s time for a two-hour trek around campus, hunting for thumbtacks and pushpins that campus administrators never seem to want to fund.

Food, 7:50 PM

Once your fingertips are sore, your back is sweaty, and your shoes are muddy, you realize you haven’t eaten. You declare a no-politics hour and head to the closest cafeteria where you ingest obscene amounts of caffeine and sugar. Your friends make the same little quips they always make. “You’re supposed to be saving Palestine not eating!” or, “Isn’t there a rally you’re supposed to be at?”

Homework, 9:19 PM

You realize you have a paper due at the end of the week so you head to the library. Where there is lightning quick internet. Where Google Images loads fast. Where you begin your night searching for images of kittens. Where you tweet or send them to your sphere of activist friends who each begin their own search for the one kitten that will bring world peace. Needless to say, your homework is postponed until further notice.

Home, 11:39 PM

You’re finally home. You have absolutely nothing to do and any sane person would go to bed. But you decide to check your email once more, just in case. It’s good that you did because a local university’s Palestine solidarity student group just came under attack from the Dean of Campus Activities for protesting the invitation of an Israeli occupation soldier to campus. The soldier proudly participated in procedures restricting Palestinian rights to move, to build homes, to access available healthcare. You join the citywide coalition established less than an hour ago to challenge the local university’s role in marginalizing the Palestinian struggle and restricting students’ right to protest.

Action, 11:58 PM

You volunteer to draft an action alert. You send a barrage of emails to co-organizers. You remember something in the news that recently attached the soldier’s platoon to an independent investigation. For the time being, Google’s trifecta (Search, Drive, News) becomes your most valuable resource.

The Plug, 2:50 AM

You’re nearly finished with the final draft of the action alert which will go live early tomorrow morning. Your co-organizers have found great evidence against the soldier and you are making last-minute calls to confirm a time and place for an emergency protest in case one is needed. Has the network covered all of its bases? You proofread the written alerts and op-eds for language and drop in the final touch: a small but relevant mention of BDS. Let this serve as a hint of what’s coming to these campuses.

Ynet, 3:43 AM

You call it quits for the night. You’re too exhausted to do anything else. You dive into your bed. You’re still wearing your Palestine Awareness Week 2010 shirt. A jumbo Palestinian flag hangs on the wall next to you. You pull out your phone to set your alarm and “accidentally” tap the Twitter app icon. The first tweet you see is a Ynet headline. You laugh at the absurdity and flip your pillow. Tomorrow is another day of hard but necessary work.

***

As stressful and as difficult as organizing for Palestine on college campuses often is, thousands of students across the U.S. remain steadfast in their selfless dedication to the struggle for justice in Palestine. These students may or may not lead stable lives but their sacrifices pose a great threat to Israel’s occupation. Plus, this isn’t the only kind of things they do. They are all multi-talented and fully capable of juggling many different interests and contributing to many great causes. At the end of the day, these organizers would never choose to do anything else.

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