Students for Justice in Palestine Succeed in Moving USAC Board to Endorse Divestment

SJP and all allied organizers have moved USAC (Undergraduate Student Association Council) to officially endorse UC divestment from US companies that profit from the oppression of Palestinians.

The endorsement not only sends a message to Palestinians, their allies, and all marginalized communities that solidarity is both possible and active, but will help to clarify key dynamics of university power when UC management has already announced its opposition to disvement.

The effects of this victory, and similar victories at other campuses, will ripple through the UC for a long time to come. Congratulations and thanks to SJP. Be sure to read their statement following the vote.

Looking forward, the growing consensus amongst representative bodies of students (such as student governments) that the UC should divest from companies profiting from the oppression of Palestinians will not in and of itself push managers to break financial relationships that managers and their allies benefit from monetarily and ideologically.

The only managers that will have to change their agendas as the result of this vote will be those in the student-handler class of lower management. The ones who we often hear saying things like:

“We really are so sorry we can’t do anything about this right now but we share your concern and we’re committed to working on this in the future,”

“We’re interested in having a dialogue to understand where you’re coming from,”

“Would you please mind getting back on the sidewalk? I’m worried about your safety,”

and lest we forget,

“You are such a good leader. I’m really glad I can work with somebody reasonable like you.”

Maybe a Chancellor or Regent will have to grudgingly make a dismissive statement before changing the subject.

The vote, pushed by SJP, inevitably sets up a showdown between management and students who are interested in forcing the UC Regents to divest. Whether on this issue or any other that is opposed to the white supremacist privatized university, students inevitably learn in these showdowns – generation after generation – the hollowness of UC’s appropriate channels, approved systems of representation, and shared governance when students are looking for outcomes and not just a friendly audience of suited “adults” who will “listen.” The constant cycling of students through the university is a tremendous obstacle to building the collective memory necessary to continue effective resistance against management. And this is not lost one people whose entire job is to get us to do what they want – managers have learned how to standardize, structure, and process our resistance.

The expressed admiration when you “stand up and get involved” as long as it’s in a free speech zone. The performance of thoughtful consideration when you “let your voice be heard” as long as you have a permit for that and don’t use amplified sound before 12PM and after 1PM. The feigned defeat when they let it slip that you’re a “strong advocate” for students when they agree to the tiny mitigating concession for their latest predatory policy, the concession they had been approved to give you long before they met with you and is being provided so that you’ll go out and tell others “Look what we won, fellow students!” These are all small parts of this phenomenon, built on the desire for affirmation that most of us share – the literal gold star and later the figurative gold star being the wage of the school system from kindergarten onward. All of this becomes moot when students demand more than gold stars and promises, but that the university become something different.

Will this showdown result in disillusionment for students who believed that they did have power? Will this showdown alienate students who believed that they were part of a “UC community” when they realize that such a community never has and never will exist – that the myth of community is about veiling the war that management is waging against us?

We can be cautiously optimistic that this will not be the case for divestment, and SJP’s organizing is the cause for that optimism. SJP’s efforts to build of a vast coalition of supporters establishes the basis for students to resist rather than retreat not only on this issue but for all attempts to turn their university into our university. The persistence of SJP’s efforts and their commitment to long-term struggle models engagement with struggle that is rare when activists are defeated by their own expectation that victory come immediately and easily. The multilayered and multipronged approach to organizing which was systematic and involved nuts-and-bolts organization and tactics and effective engagement with social media and art demonstrates that students can build sustainable, focused, and effective vehicles for their projects.

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