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Sept 28, 2018; St. Paul, MN – United Methodist activists in UMKR, Denise Nicole Stone (left) of the Western Pennsylvania conference and M.Theresa Basile (right) of the California-Pacific Conference, attend USCPR's national gathering Together We Rise with Paul McAllister (center) a leader in The Church of God.
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Seminal Conference of 2018 Makes Clear:
The Future of Justice Activism is Intersectional
October 2018 – Some 550 people from across the U.S. and the world, including one to two dozen United Methodists, gathered at USCPR’s 16th national conference, Together We Rise, in St Paul, Minnesota, September 28-20, 2018. A palpable energy filled the air during this three-day event, as justice advocates enthusiastically connected and networked, while also getting inspiration from a lineup of impressively diverse presenters and learning from experienced leaders how to strengthen the movement’s work for Palestinian rights across the United States.
Many people came to this conference with high expectations
for the opening keynote address on Friday, Sept 28 by
renowned Rev. Dr. William J. Barber (photo, right), national
co-chair of the 2018 Poor People’s Campaign, the architect
of the Forward Together Moral Monday Movement,
president of Repairers of the Breach, and co-author of
Revive Us Again: Vision and Action in Moral Organizing;
Barber also serves on the NAACP National
Board of Directors.
Rev. Barber did not disappoint. In his address, he brought to bear all of his knowledge and experience in combating racism and oppression, as he examined the intersections of his multi-faceted personal heritage: native American, African American and white) and the lessons he learned from his remarkable father who taught him about Palestine.
His central message focused on the belief that all people are imago dei, made in the image of God, and as such are deserving of equal rights and equal protection from the destructive power of empire manifested in colonialism and ethnic cleansing. He reminded the audience that the fight against empire requires a firm commitment to nonviolence, but also an insistence that there is no moral equivalence between the tanks, warplanes, and bombs of empire and a stone in the hands of a Palestinian child.
Describing the oppression that Palestinians endure, the diplomatic failures that include the recent expulsion of the Palestinians’ top diplomat in Washington DC, and the impasse in which Palestinians are now caught, Rev. Barber declared: “In the face of such extreme injustices, it would be its own kind of violence not to speak out. We would be committing violence if we did not speak out.” In referring to a famous quote by James Baldwin, Barber also said: “I don’t believe any longer that we can afford to say that it is entirely out of our hands. We made the world we’re living in and we have to make it over.”
Reflecting the name of USCPR’s movement-building conference, Barber repeatedly affirmed the power we have when we “get together,” and “link up,” when individuals combine their personal power to change powerful systems. He spoke movingly about his personal struggle after doctors told him he would not walk again, and the strength that so many people in his life had provided, enabling him to disprove that prediction for his future. From that, he offered a hopeful perspective for this national justice movement, in spite of – and even perhaps because of – the disturbing leadership coming from the highest U.S. political offices. See more below about this tone-setting keynote address. Watch the video of Barber's address.
In the Saturday evening session on Sept 29,
Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-Minn.) (photo, right)
became the first sitting Member of Congress to name
Israel as an apartheid state, during her speech in
acceptance of USCPR’s Congressional Leadership
Award, for spearheading of the first-ever bill in Congress
that advances Palestinian rights: HR 4391, the Promoting
Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of
Palestinian Children Act.
Learn more about this bill
In her article on the USCPR conference, political analyst Phyllis Bennis reports: “The world has a name for the form of government that is codified in the Nation-State Law,” McCollum said. “It is called ‘apartheid.’” There was a collective gasp, and the audience, many in tears, leaped to their feet in a massive ovation.
Watch the video of McCollum’s address
Download McCollum's address
USCPR WALKS THE TALK
USCPR’s entire program unmistakably demonstrated their commitment to intersectional gender, economic, environmental, cultural, religious, and racial justice. The conference maintained a consistent and strong focus on intersectional solidarity, including plenary sessions on such topics as Intersectional Feminism and Gender Justice, and Global Struggles for Collective Liberation.
Participants also had dozens of innovative, practical workshops to choose from. The following sample of topics gives a taste of the movement’s solidarity scope:
• Freedom Cities: Shifting Power & Policy with Cross-Movement Municipal Campaigns
• BDS Beyond Palestine: The Vision and Practice of Cross-Issue Divestment
• “From Palestine to Mexico, All the Walls Have Got to Go:” BDS and Border Militarization
• BDS in the Labor World: “Wokewashing” and What to Do
• Indigenous-Palestinian Solidarity: Connecting Native Struggles
• Palestine, White Supremacy, and Collective Liberation
• Anti-Oppressive Facilitation: Whose Voices Are We Amplifying?
Performers at the conference included Dua Saleh (photo, right), a multidisciplinary artist (using they/them pronouns) who centers afrodiasporic resistance through a socio-politically black, queer, and Muslim lens. Saleh’s art transcends traditional classifications, and their work is in direct conversation with people at the margins of reality. Hear their music at https://www.duasaleh.com/
2018 - YEAR OF THE WOMAN
Presenters in the plenaries and workshops throughout the weekend were overwhelmingly indigenous peoples, persons of color, queer activists, and others from marginalized communities, with an appropriately large representation by Palestinians. Perhaps most notable was the preponderance of women among the speakers throughout the conference. The following are a small sample from dozens of remarkable women appearing that weekend:
Coya White Hat-Artichoker (photo, right) spoke in the plenary session on Intersectional Feminism & Gender Justice, exploring what intersectional feminism means in practice, how gender justice is an inherent part of all struggles for freedom including for Palestine, and how we can build across movements without conflating those struggles or erasing how they overlap. She is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and indigenous rights activist, writer and speaker on issues regarding race, equity, and sovereignty, who was named among the “40 under 40” LGBT leaders by The Advocate. White Hat-Artichoker is also a founding member of the First Nations Two Spirit Collective, building a stronger political presence for Two Spirit people within the national dialogue of queer rights, an advisor for the Host Home Program, providing safe homes for homeless queer youth, and serves on the board of SisterSong, a reproductive justice organization.
Maya Berry (photo, right) participated in the plenary session discussion of Palestine in US Politics, examining the widening partisan divide on Israeli-Palestinian issues, particularly under the Trump administration, and the opportunities that presents for grassroots activists. Berry is Executive Director of the Arab American Institute based in Washington DC and a long-time Democratic Party activist who has attended their national conventions as a Delegate or Committee Member since 1992 and who served on the Platform Committee for the 2016 Democratic National Convention.
Noura Erakat (photo, right) appeared on two evenings, giving a rousing introductory address in the conference’s opening session, and, in the Saturday evening plenary (Sept 29), presenting the history behind the present political moment in which we understand Palestine in an intersectional framework and as central to a progressive justice agenda. Explaining that she spoke from her “location in North America,” she focused in detail on the history of the Black-Palestinian solidarity movement of which she knows a great deal.
Erakat is a human rights attorney who teaches at Georgetown University and George Mason, is a board member of the Institute for Policy Studies – “one of the five major, independent think tanks in Washington” – and a policy advisor to the Palestinian think tank Al-Shabaka. With many academic and legal publications to her name, she has served as legal counsel in the House of Representatives and Legal Advocacy Coordinator for the Badil Center in Palestine. In 2016, Erakat produced a project on the Gaza Strip and Palestine, which includes a short multimedia documentary that can be viewed in four parts, Gaza In Context, presenting Israel’s wars on Gaza within a settler-colonial framework. She is also the producer of the devastating short video (2.5 mins), Black-Palestinian Solidarity. Erakat has helped to initiate numerous campaigns for Palestine in the U.S. and has appeared widely on television news programs, including CBS News, PBS Newshour, MSNBC, FOX News, NPR, BBC World Service, Al-Jazeera English and many others.
Watch the video of Erakat’s Sept 29 address
Huwaida Arraf (photo, right) participated in the plenary discussion of Global Struggles for Collective Liberation, exploring black, brown, queer and other marginalized communities’ shared experiences of police brutality, mass incarceration, gentrification and forced displacement, militarized borders and refugee bans, and corporate exploitation of this suffering.
Arraf is a Palestinian-American attorney and human rights activist, co-founded the International Solidarity Movement, and her writings have been published in books, magazines, and journals around the world. She helped build the first accredited clinical legal education program in the Arab world, at Al-Quds University. She organized the first delegation of lawyers to enter Gaza following Operation Cast Lead (2008-2009), and co-authored the subsequent report: “Onslaught: Israel’s Attack on Gaza and the Rule of Law.” Arraf is also the former Chairperson of the Free Gaza Movement, and led five successful sea voyages to the Gaza Strip to confront and challenge Israel’s illegal blockade. In 2011, She was one of the six Palestinian Freedom Riders, who, inspired by the U.S. Civil Rights Movement’s Freedom Rides of the 1960s, attempted to ride segregated Israeli settler public transport, for which they were harassed and violently arrested.
Watch Huwaida Arraf’s powerful TEDxTalk: Humanity Has No Nationality
UNITED METHODIST LEADERS SHOW UP
UMKR enabled two activists to attend both this and the FOSNA conference that immediately preceded it in St. Paul: UMKR Steering Committee member M. Theresa Basile and Denise Nicole Stone (photo, right), a student at Boston University and a United Methodist from the Western Pennsylvania conference, a young adult who led the effort for conference’s adoption of a resolution on behalf Palestinian children in 2018.
Among the other United Methodists attending USCPR’s gathering: Paula Roderick, UMKR Steering Committee member, and two United Methodist church staff who are Liaisons to the UMKR Steering Committee: Mark Harrison, Peace With Justice Director at The General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) and David Wildman, Executive Secretary for Human Rights & Racial Justice at The General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM).
A PROUD MOMENT FOR UNITED METHODISTS
On the same evening as McCollum’s address, there was another stirring event, especially for United Methodists who were present, when the plenary body heard a Letter of Welcome written by UMC Bishop Bruce R. Ough (photo, right) of the Minnesota Conference (photo), who has served as President of the UMC’s General Board of Global Ministries and the immediate past President of the Council of Bishops, among many other offices in the church.
In his letter, Bishop Ough described the evolution of United Methodist advocacy on Israel/Palestine, which includes divestment actions in his conference and “which eventually led to the managers of our [denomination’s] pension funds deciding to divest from the private prison firm G4S as well as five Israeli banks that fund illegal settlements in the West Bank. As a denomination, we have also approved boycotts of products from these settlements.” Each of the BDS actions his letter reported earned cheers and applause from the packed ballroom.
The Bishop singled out both UMKR and USCPR for mention: “Those most involved in this effort have been part of United Methodists for Kairos Response, members of which are in attendance with you here in the Twin Cities. I commend them, and all of you, for your work. I, likewise, am pleased that the United Methodist Church has been supportive of US Campaign since its inception.” That last statement is particularly significant in light of a piece of legislation that was brought to the UMC General Conference of 2016, attempting unsuccessfully to sever United Methodist Church ties to the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. Read Bishop Ough’s letter.
Commenting on the Saturday evening plenary, Paula Roderick said: “This was the conference to be at. History was made last night by Betty McCollum, and Bishop Ough's letter was a powerful and just act.”
TOUGH WORK , GOOD NEWS
In her review ofTogether We Rise , Phyllis Bennis notes the increasing challenges as well as opportunities ahead for the movement as it builds upon this seminal Minnesota event:
“…dramatic shifts are underway in public engagement on the issue, from movements to the media to policymakers…. The pace of transformation of public discourse is unprecedented in the last 25 years or more….It will not be easy to maintain the strong solidarity work with the most progressive and left sectors of communities of color and movements fighting for immigrants, environmental justice, women and LGBTQ rights, against racism, for Native justice and more—all while reaching out to more mainstream organizations. “
As he closed his keynote address to the conference, Rev. Barber offered encouragement for the challenges ahead:
“In this moment when Trump evangelicals have linked up with Zionist extremists and the corporate fascism of white nationalists around the world, it may seem like this Campaign’s goal of Palestinian rights is at a low point. But I stopped by today to say that, in an unexpected way, our present troubles may increase, intensify and embolden agitation for Palestinian rights and for all human rights. Indeed, this is what we are seeing, as people who have been fighting in our silos link up across issues and recognize the intersectionality of our campaigns.
The same corporate interests that used white nationalism to put Trump in the White House and leaned into Zionist extremism to move the U.S. Embassy to Tel Aviv, also want to cut taxes for corporations, deregulate, ignore climate science, take away healthcare, deny living wages, cut the social safety net and give more and more money to the U.S. military. But here’s the good news: There are far more of us than there are of them. And, God have mercy, even some of them have joined us when we’ve come together in truth and love and mercy.”
Without a doubt, Paula Roderick’s (photo, right) comment on that weekend in September aptly captures the total experience of Together We Rise: “This was the conference to be at.” USCPR’s conference has clearly set the path for the future of justice activism for Palestinian rights: our moral and strategic power will be found in our intersectional work across movements, as we embrace and unite the common struggles of diverse marginalized and oppressed communities.
Appropriately, at the same time this conference was being held, United Methodists for Kairos Response (UMKR) was making the groundbreaking decision to join its justice efforts with the denomination-wide intersectional United Methodist movement, the Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC) . (Read more about this UMKR action.)
The timing could not have been more perfect.
See all of USCPR’s videos from the conference at their Youtube channel, including the speeches by Rev. Dr. William Barber, Rep. Betty McCollum, and Noura Erakat.
UMKR recommends the article on this conference by Phyllis Bennis: “The Discourse on Palestine Is Shifting. Will Concrete Policy Changes Follow?” which includes her analysis of what the events at this conference indicate for Palestinian and intersectional justice movements today.
Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and a leading political analyst on the Middle East. We also recommend her highly readable book, presented in an question and answer format, Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer, which has been recently published in its fifth edition and is one of the best educational resources available on the conflict.