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New Leaders Surface in Wave of Texas Protests
The young adults who helped coordinate the Texas Stands With Gaza rally of over 5,000 people set a precedent for twenty-somethings across the United States who want the occupation of Palestine to end. Veteran activists like UT Professor Snehal Shingavi and ICPR‘s Bernice Hecker played a central role in preparing and executing this action, but the large numbers that converged in front of the Texas State Capitol last Saturday can only be explained by the new organizing talent coming out of Texan schools and cities.
Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada has argued that internet literacy has made the Millennial generation more receptive to Palestinian voices: “How many young people on college campuses get their news from the PBS NewsHour or the ABC nightly news or from CNN? Not that many that I meet. The mass media still has a big impact, but I think among young people, they’re not turning to those. They’re turning to media that is uncensored, where the gatekeepers cannot shut out the Palestinian narrative. That’s why public relations like Israel’s cannot ultimately change the direction that this is going.” Dina Kesbeh, a recent graduate of the University of Houston, echoed this observation.“We’ve come to realize that people go straight to Twitter or Facebook for their latest information on Gaza, completely skipping the conventional routes,” she said. Jauzey Imam of UT Austin’s Palestine Solidarity Committee says that proficiency in new media can be empowering as well: “I don’t think technology is a silver bullet to solving these problems, but I do think there are certain areas where young organizers can tap into technology that might bolster those tried and tested organizing methods—through social media, various web applications, and so on.” Tactics used for organizing the August 2nd rally included sharing a Facebook profile picture and the hashtag #TexasStandsWithGaza on Twitter.
The statewide rally wielded the momentum built by earlier protests held around Texas, all coordinated in part by student organizations. The night before the rally, Sana Anam Khawaja Anwar, a member of North Texas BDS, said: “We are hoping to have our voices heard by our elected officials in Texas and beyond in Washington DC. We want fellow Texans, Americans, and the rest of the world to see that we cannot and will not tolerate our own country’s support of Israel while it commits war crimes against the population of Gaza.” Ahmad Kaki, a student at Texas Lutheran University, reiterated this responsibility. “Texans have an obligation to show solidarity with Palestine,” he said.
The day of the rally, young people unloaded and distributed the bottles of water, protest merchandise, and organizational information, and cleaned up the litter after the event was over. Jasmin Ali from San Antonio and Dania Hussein of UT Austin’s PSC served as the emcees of the event, setting the stage for the guest speakers. Jasmin opened by thanking all of the organizers and invoking the crowd to “renew their intentions.” “We are here for Gaza, and we are here for the oppressed people,” she said. In her speech, Dania put the recent bombardment of Gaza in context: “If you are a six-year-old in Gaza, this is the third massacre you are witnessing.”
In the days following the rally, students at UT Austin are not wasting any time pushing the movement in Texas forward. At a meeting held on campus Wednesday night, attendees discussed the examples of Loyola University Chicago and the University of Michigan, whose student governments have tried to pass resolutions calling for their respective administrations to divest from companies involved in Israel’s war crimes. Mohammed Nabulsi, a UT Law student, compiled a list of UT’s implicated equity securities:
|Parent Company||No. of Shares (or Par Value)||Value ($)||Cost ($)|
|COCA COLA FEMSA SAB DE CV
|COCA COLA ICEK SANATI
|ESTEE LAUDER COS INC
|ALSTOM PROJECTS INDIA LTD
|CEMEX SA DE CV
|PROCTER & GAMBLE HYGIENE & HEALTH CARE LTD
|PROCTER & GAMBLE||502||$24,833||$23,715|
|UNITED TECHNOLOGIES CORP||UNITED TECHNOLOGIES CORP||32,982||$3,760,585||$2,809,950|
The group discussed how support for this kind of resolution at UT Austin could be raised. Protests, sit-ins, tabling at other university events, bringing in well-known commentators, and film screenings were some of the ideas suggested. Mukund Rathi, a computer science major, said that political education should be emphasized in all these strategies. Patrick Higgins, a graduate student at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, clarified how student teach-ins could be more effective as an organizing tactic than hosting celebrity speakers. “Students don’t have careers to protect, so they can reach radical conclusions more quickly,” he said.
The proposed resolution at Michigan did not pass, and the resolution at Loyola was vetoed by the student president after being passed twice. Even more discouraging for UT Austin activists is the fact that UT’s investments are handled by an external corporation, UTIMCO. This extra degree of separation makes the adoption of a divestment resolution by any UT student government seem unlikely. Still, Jauzey Imam says that the press coverage generated by the student actions at Loyola and Michigan makes fighting to pass a resolution at UT Austin worth the effort.