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What May Come of the Tragedies, Part 2

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What I am about to tell you is a recipe for action that has been growing in my mind for almost a year but I've been waiting for the right moment to put it all together. As I receive more invitations to speak than I can even accept, as I receive requests to join the movement all day long, I am increasingly aware that times are changing in the United States. It may not be perceptible from any one town or city, but as someone who travels from place to place, the overall trend is clear: Americans are more and more skeptical of US foreign policy in the Middle East and increasingly sympathetic towards the plight of the Palestinians. It's not just in the big liberal cities--it's in the smallest Midwestern towns, it's on conservative southern ranches--it's everywhere. In every corner of the country, there is a middle-aged couple who just came back from Bethlehem or a soldier who just came back from Iraq who is outraged. We have reached a critical mass.

The trouble is, change in popular opinion doesn't automatically effect a change in reality. For many years the majority of Americans opposed George W. Bush and his war on Iraq, but until only recently the majority's frustration was in vain. People would throw up their hands with disgust at the nightly news--just as they may today watching the carnage in Gaza--but they were most often too disillusioned or disempowered to change what they saw. Then Obama stepped into the picture.

The significance of Obama's campaign and subsequent victory cannot be
overstated. Obama tapped into the critical mass of disillusioned citizens who were either passive or seperately active, and focused them all into one powerful voice that could not be ignored. He found a way that everyone, no matter who they were, could actively participate in the process and contribute (even if only symbolically with one dollar--it was still a personal investment in the cause). The trouble before Obama's campaign was not that public consciousness for change lacked numbers or even money; the problem was that it lacked organization.

I believe the same can be said about the US movement for justice in Palestine today. People are anxious to see change, but many take no action and those who do often act separately. The middle-aged couple does a presentation for their church; the Iraq veteran talks to whoever will listen; the musicians make hip-hop; the artists paint murals; the labor unions put out joint statements; the ordinary citizen writes a letter to the editor or to congress; the community groups demonstrate or vigil; the organizers put on educational events; the mosques host fundraisers; the teachers talk to their students; the college students work on divestment resolutions; the high school students join facebook clubs...

Many of course do more than one of these things. They are all valuable to the movement, and are much of what accounts for the change in US public opinion, the physical sustenance of the Palestinian people (with financial contributions, especially to Gaza), and the noticable discomfort of Israel (following boycott and divestment efforts). We will--we must--continue to do all of these things. My particular niche has been educational, I plan to continue and expand by founding a new organization later this Spring called Witness in Action, which will facilitate the training of new speakers, placing them to inform communities, and then helping enthusiastic audience members find their place in the movement (more about Witness in Action later this year).

As an educator, I believe my greatest failure has been leaving audiences moved and enthusiastic but not necessarily clear on their next step. I always provide a list of ideas for getting involved, but I only recently realized how overwhelming and unrealistic the options are for most audience members. As much as I wish they would, the average high-school student, senior citizen, or anyone in between is not going to organize an effective divestment campaign. Most won't--or can't--visit Palestine, give talks, or donate significant funds. What is needed is something every single person can do, no matter how little experience, time, or money they have.

I found my answer in the Five for Palestine campaign organized by the American Association for Palestinian Equal Rights (AAPER). The campaign proposes five very simple and accessible steps that by themselves don't amount to much, but if every single person who cares about this issue did them we could change the course of history. The five steps are as follows:

1. Learn about AAPER at www.americansforpalestine.org You've already started by reading this email. Now visit the website.

2. Sign up for the campaign at www.fiveforpalestine.org. You'll have to enter your zipcode so you'll be immediately placed with others in your elected officials' consituencies.

3. Contact your elected representatives 5 times during the year. Most of the contacting can be done quickly via the Five for Palestine website, which will ensure that your letters are grouped with others in the same constituency, giving them much greater impact than if you sent them alone.

4. Contribute $5 per month to the campaign to help it grow. Once there are a few hundred members in a constituency, the campaign can hire a local organizer. Once there are a few hundred more, it can hire lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

5. Find 5 others to join the campaign too. This shouldn't be too difficult for most people on this list who know at least a handful of people involved in the movement.

Again, the issue isn't numbers--it's organization. We have the people, and we could have the financial sustainability, but we lack the infrastructure for a fast-growing and effective campaign to unify us and make our diverse voices resonate as one. I think AAPER has provided that infrastructure and with enough dedication we could be every bit as effective as the Zionist lobby currently maintaining the status quo, in fact even more. We are not talking about a top-down change that begins with Congress or even Obama--this is a bottom-up grassroots campaign through which we will assert--not request--the change that needs to happen.

So will we continue to boycott?--Of course we will! It's what Palestinians have asked of us, and it is applying necessary pressure on Israel to comply with international law. Will we continue to demonstrate?--Heck yeah! But we will compliment all of those things with a solid presence and pressure on Capitol Hill that represents our growing numbers.


In addition to learning about AAPER at www.americansforpalestine.org and joining Five for Palestine, here is AAPER's latest outreach effort (I've paraphrased a bit --Anna). You'll notice AAPER's tactics are largely based on the Obama campaign's successes utilizing internet social networking and promotion:

Dear Friends:

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Anna Baltzer is a Jewish-American Columbia graduate, former-Fulbright scholar, the granddaughter of Holocaust refugees, and an award-winning lecturer, author, and activist for Palestinian rights. As a volunteer with the International Women's Peace (more...)
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