Courtesy of Mata Elangovan _ The Highlander

Eric Guerra is a 4th year History major who has participated in and follows Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) advocacy work.

“Todo hombre verdadero debe sentir en su mejilla el golpe dado a cualquier mejilla de otro hombre.” – José Martí, Cuban martyr and revolutionary

In attending this university, of course my learning has happened through both life experience and classes. But a key part of my education has likewise been learning from the various groups and clubs on campus. There are many, many great organizations that are doing good work and deserve credit. Providing Opportunities, Dreams and Education in Riverside (PODER), in their support for the #O4ALL campaign, has done excellent work, for example, and rightly deserves recognition for it. My highlighting of one group does not serve to denigrate any others but to recognize them for their excellence. This highlighting is as follows: from what I have seen, the University of California, Riverside’s (UCR) chapter of SJP is the most politically advanced group on campus. A largely undergraduate club, what SJP has accomplished this year has been impressive at an absolute minimum. SJP’s expressed goal is the liberation of the Palestinian people and helping to facilitate that goal through organizing on this campus in various areas. It is through their actions towards this fundamentally righteous goal that show the club’s advanced political acumen.

At the National Student Day of Action for Divestment’s walkout organized by SJP this year, Professor Dylan Rodríguez of the Media and Cultural Studies department spoke to the specific walkout that day. However, what he said applies to much of SJP’s actions at large. He stated that the Palestinian liberation struggle was moving forward on campus through “the cultural practice of not being underestimated.” That is, the Palestinian liberation struggle was being advanced in the cultural sphere of campus, and one could not simply write it off anymore. Tangible and material wins have been won in addition to the cultural ones. The most momentous of this year was the Associated Students of the University of California, Riverside (ASUCR) divestment resolution.

It was SJP’s honorable president, Hibah Nassar, who co-authored the historic ASUCR bill that will divest ASUCR funds from companies that are on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) list. The senate vote had a massive turnout, galvanized by SJP. It was incredible to witness the club’s ability to control the crowd, ensuring people were on their best behavior. Speaker after speaker went up in support of a vote in favor of the resolution, culminating in the viral moment when it passed. It was surreal to see fellow students who I have walked by or interacted with being praised by media outlets and on social media posts, which they rightfully deserved.

Rather than just getting recognized by outside media outlets, an organic social media presence is crucial to any movement in the modern era. SJP maintains their social media well, specifically on their Instagram account @SJPUCR. Their graphics look clean and professional, posted in a timely manner. The account is active, and posts are clearly planned out ahead of time, showing discipline on the part of the social media team. While social media can be written off as ineffective on its own, the way that SJP uses it in tandem with other campaigns is done very well and shows the usefulness of the medium.

Graphics and flyers made by SJP do not just promote actions or protests, but also different forms of political education. A great many of these are discussions or lectures aimed at teaching about Palestine or related advocacy with different people or organizations. Palestine Legal is one such organization that “Protects the civil and constitutional rights of people in the U.S. who speak out for Palestinian freedom,” which they have collaborated with. In addition to this, major figures like writer and poet Mohammed El Kurd and Professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian, have been hosted by the club. Both of the aforementioned people are under extreme surveillance and targeted by Israel. At the time of the writing of this article, Professor Shalhoub-Kevorkian has just been arrested on “suspicion of incitement,” and her home has been ransacked by the Israeli police. I fondly remember going to her discussion on the third floor of the HUB and can only hope that she will be released soon, able to walk freely in her native land of Palestine.

Perhaps more than anything, SJP is an effective organization because they are not simply reactive, but they have mechanisms in place that allow them to be proactive. SJP has been organizing on campus since its inception, which is clear in its actions. The club has a strong ability to mobilize students quickly with a combination of the following: social media promotion, print flyers, personal as well as club connections and popular support from the student population. This has not just been done for one great campaign but for multiple. When an anti-Palestinian speaker comes on campus, for example, a protest can be organized very quickly because of these already-existing relationships and structures that are ready to go. This certainly drives their effectiveness as an organization, but what bolsters their goal of Palestinian liberation as well is a deep love. In my experience, and I am certain in the experience of many others, the club leaders are personable, dedicated and truly kind. 

It is one thing to have popular support, which the Palestinian cause overwhelmingly has in the hearts of the humble people of this earth. But to harness that support for specific actions requires hard-earned skill, which SJP has shown that they have. It has been an honor to learn from and struggle with members of SJP in my time at UCR. I hope others learn from their example and do not just keep their education to the confines of the classroom. Beyond hope, I have an immovable conviction that Palestine will indeed be free.

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