Students At California Universities Stand Up For Palestinian Human Rights

ByKate Mayer

On Tuesday night, the Associated Students of Stanford University’s Undergraduate Senate voted on a bill of divestment from companies that violate international law and human rights in Israel/Palestine. Although it did not pass, the bill and the discussion surrounding it have generated a lot of attention for Students for Palestinian Equal Rights (SPER), the group that has spearheaded the divestment movement at Stanford since 2007.

Our group’s new website, which went live on March 4, has received over 10,000 hits in the last several days. The divestment bill was the subject or one of the subjects of ten pieces in the Stanford Daily, the school’s newspaper, since February 20th, including news pieces on the three Senate meetings in which divestment was discussed, five op-eds concerning the bill, a piece on the many statements by prominent individuals about divestment, and the full endorsement of Stanford’s bill from Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

This experience marks a milestone for divestment, having attracted the attention of the community and both galvanized existing supporters and broadened their ranks.  SPER aims to capitalize on this attention and growing support as we move forward in our campaign.

One of the highlights of Tuesday night’s Senate meeting was seeing the turnout of over 75 individual students who lined the path from the senate meeting room to the outside of the building, wearing white shirts and holding signs expressing their support for the bill.  In the previous week’s meeting on February 26, representatives from ten separate student groups came to speak in favor of divestment. We wish to continue to engage with these allies, collaborating with them on future events, supporting them in their respective social justice campaigns, and ensuring that those connections remain strong.

In addition to increasing collaboration and communication with current supporters, we plan to take advantage of the attention we have attracted to expand our base. We want to increase outreach through awareness campaigns. We aim to hold talks in dormitories and other small spaces, to reach students on a personal and individual level. Stanford is talking about divestment, and we are going to make sure they don’t stop.

SPER’s main tool in our selective divestment campaign over the past six years has been our petition, which had nearly 1000 signatures when it was altered in 2011, and since then has accumulated over 600 signatures from students, plus more from faculty, alumni, community members and student groups. Now that the campus’ attention has been drawn to divestment, we want to work to add to that number in the coming weeks. We have been calling for people to sign the petition online since the bill was brought up, and we can now mobilize physically, bringing the petition, and with it the conversation, into every space on Stanford’s campus.

The divestment movement at Stanford has in recent weeks attracted the attention not only of Stanford students, but also of movements for Palestinian equality at college campuses across the country and across the globe.  We hope to look to our counterparts at other schools for inspiration and advice, and collaborate further in the future. Different groups choose different tactics and modify their strategies to the unique characteristics of their communities, but we all can benefit from one another’s experiences. Right now, in particular, we are inspired by our fellow student activists at UC Riverside and UC San Diego. The student senate at UC Riverside passed a divestment bill on March 6. That same day, student senators at UCSD spent eight hours discussing their own bill before adjourning until next Wednesday.

Finally, we wish to encourage dialogue around this issue while at the same time emphasizing that the pursuit of justice for Palestinians cannot stop at dialogue. We must have conversation, and we must listen to and learn from one another, but our conversation must lead to action. We firmly believe that direct actions such as divestment are the most powerful means to effect change. Stanford students must understand the need to act, and we want to provide them with the tools and opportunities to do so.