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Kansas City Conference Report, 2004

The US Campaign's regional conference in Kansas City, MO on November 13, 2004 was a huge success!  The following is a full report of the conference, including the results of our participant survey:

Conference Report

Kansas City, MO Regional Organizers’ Conference
University of Missouri, Kansas City
November 13, 2004
Pre-registered participants: 46 (including the organizers and workshop leaders)
Total participants: 61
No-show: 6
Total organizations/groups represented: 15
· People for Justice in Palestine – Iowa City, IA
· *Citizens for Justice in the Middle East – Kansas City, MO
· Muslim Student Association – University of Missouri, Kansas City, MO
· Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice – Manhattan, KS
· Students for a Just Peace in the Middle East – Lawrence, KS
· Veterans for Peace – Columbia, MO
· Boone Tikkun – Columbia, MO
· American Friends Service Committee – Kansas City, MO
· Muslim Public Affairs Council – Halstead, KS
· Tulsa Peace Fellowship – Tulsa, OK
· *Madison-Rafah Sister City Project – Madison, WI
· *Palestine Media Watch – Dunn Loring, VA
· CPT, Kansas City – Kansas City, MO
· *Peace and Social Justice Center – Wichita, KS
· *Kansas Committee for Just Peace in the Middle East – Lawrence, KS
(* denotes current membership with the US Campaign)
Total states represented: 6
· Iowa
· Kansas
· Missouri
· Ohio
· Oklahoma
· Wisconsin

Conference Summary

Introductory Session: Matt Quinn and Kymberlie Quong Charles
Matt Quinn, president of Citizens for Justice in the Middle East in Kansas City, addressed the conference participants and welcomed them to Kansas City.
Kymberlie Quong Charles introduced the US Campaign and a brief history of it, its framework of international law and human rights, organizational structure, projects, and taskforces. She also discussed the Campaign’s vision for building the movement by expanding the coalition through increasing membership, as well as the “benefits” of becoming a member of the Campaign.
Keynote Address: Israel/Palestine and US Foreign Policy-Andrea Whitmore and Josh Ruebner
Andrea Whitmore, a member of Citizens for Justice in the Middle East in Kansas City, shared a brief account of how she became active in working for justice in Israel/Palestine. She explained the ways in which ideas that she held as truth were slowly dispelled as she researched the topic, and finally made a trip to Israel/Palestine with an FOR delegation in October. The remainder of her presentation consisted of a slideshow presentation of her trip, interspersed with anecdotes about her experience with the people and landscape of the region.
Josh Ruebner used Andrea’s presentation as the context for a brief history of US involvement in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and to dissect US foreign policy in the region. Much of his presentation focused on US aid that directly and indirectly supports the Israeli occupation.
Skill-building Workshops: Participants were split into two groups that alternated between the Media Activism Workshop and the Grassroots Political Activism Workshop.
Media Activism (including volunteer media activists): Rima Mutreja
Rima Mutreja of Palestine Media Watch led two 1-hour workshops on the role of US media in US perceptions of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and provided tools for engaging and challenging the media to be more balanced and inclusive in reporting on Israel and Palestine. She illuminated the various methods that the US media uses in order to distort the facts that are reported to a US audience, and explained the filters through which much information must go in order to get to Reuters, AP, etc. Following this explanation of US media manipulation, Rima suggested different strategies and projects that people can use in order to monitor and challenge US media outlets, including tips on writing letters to the editor, opinion editorials, and making phone calls to editors to encourage them to run particular stories. In addition, about 30 participants signed up to become part of Palestine Media Watch’s network of volunteer media monitors and activists.
Grassroots Political Activism (including new CDC’s): Josh Ruebner
Josh Ruebner led two 1-hour workshops on how to effectively engage elected representatives, focusing on Members of Congress. The workshop highlighted successful examples of US Campaign member groups educating and pressuring their Members of Congress to change their voting record on Israel-Palestine. The workshop also covered the various modes of communicating with Members of Congress and how to maximize the effectiveness of these communications. The workshop addressed other topics such as how to write an appropriate letter to Members of Congress and how to schedule and have an effective meeting with Members of Congress. The workshop also covered some pro-active ideas that local grassroots organizations can implement to have a positive effect on their elected representatives. In addition, 13 participants in six states signed up to become Congressional District Coordinators with the US Campaign. Of the 13 new CDC’s 8, of them are in districts where we did not previously have CDC’s. We have 2 new CDC’s in Missouri, 2 new in Kansas, 1 new in Iowa, 2 new in Wisconsin, and 1 new in Oklahoma (our first Oklahoma CDC!).

Regional Strategizing Sessions
Conference participants divided into three strategizing groups: Group 1-Kansas City area, Group 2-Greater Kansas, Group 3-a group for people who were unaffiliated with an organization or did not fall into either of the other geographical groupings.
Group 1-Kansas City Area: Participants from this group began by introducing themselves and the work of the various organizations that they represented. The bulk of the strategizing session was devoted to pursuing plans to do a local media monitoring research project of coverage of Israel-Palestine in the Kansas City Star. The group also discussed plans to pressure the newspaper for better coverage after conducting its research. Citizens for Justice in the Middle East recruited several new members.
Group 2-Greater Kansas Group: Participants from this group began by sharing email and other contact information with each other in order to begin a Kansas-wide list-serv. They also made preliminary plans to cooperate on events together by pooling resources, as well as to share each other as speakers in order to bring new faces into each respective Kansas community.
Group 3 consisted of individuals from Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio. Several of these participants are affiliated with active groups, and four of these individuals are unaffiliated but are interested in jump-starting groups in their communities. Those who are already active with groups shared background about the history of their groups, how they came together, the process of creation, and the activities that they’re currently involved in. They also talked about the challenges of sustaining and growing a group, and brainstormed different ways to deal with such challenges, such as creating activities that have a timeline, rather than being one-time projects, creating networks that do continuous work on issues like Congressional pressure and monitoring media coverage, etc. Individuals who are unaffiliated talked about some of the challenges they are experiencing or foresee experiencing in jump-starting groups in their areas. The group offered advice and support to these individuals and took a close look at the US Campaign resource “How to Start a Group.”

Report-Back and Conclusions
Because the conference fell on the Eid (for some people), this session began with a brief explanation of Ramadan, the philosophy of fasting, and the celebration of the Eid by a member of Citizens for Justice in the Middle East. This was followed by the report-back from strategizing groups.
Conference participants generally seemed to feel very positive about the conference and about returning home and beginning or continuing the work in their areas. Many conveyed appreciation for holding the conference in Kansas City and for creating a forum for folks to meet each other and network. Josh and Kymberlie closed the session and the conference by thanking everyone for their participation and hard work and provided encouragement for the future.

Evaluation Summary
Conference evaluations were distributed with each conference packet. Of 58 distributed evaluations, 28 were returned completed.
Participants were asked to rate each session on a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the highest mark, as well as to comment on four other general questions. The following is the breakdown of these ratings.
Introductory Session
1: 0 respondents
2: 0 respondents
3: 4 respondents
4: 9 respondents
5: 14 respondents
Average score: 4.37
Israel/Palestine and US Foreign Policy
1: 0 respondents
2: 0 respondents
3: 0 respondents
4: 7 respondents
5: 20 respondents
Average score: 4.74
Media Activism Workshop
1: 1 respondent
2: 0 respondents
3: 0 respondents
4: 5 respondents
5: 21 respondents
Average: 4.67
Grassroots Political Activism Workshop
1: 0 respondents
2: 0 respondents
3: 0 respondents
4: 5 respondents
5: 23 respondents
Average score: 4.82
Regional Strategizing
1: 0 respondents
2: 0 respondents
3: 3 respondents
4: 7 respondents
5: 14 respondents
Average score: 4.46
Report Back and Conclusions
1: 0 respondents
2: 1 respondent
3: 2 respondents
4: 4 respondents
5: 13 respondents
Average score: 4.45
In brief, the sessions were rated in the following order, starting with the best
1- Grassroots Political Activism Workshop—4.82
2- Israel/Palestine and US Foreign Policy—4.74
3- Media Activism Workshop—4.67
4- Regional Strategizing—4.46
5- Report Back and Conclusions—4.45
6- Introductory Session—4.37
The following is a sampling of remarks from the general questions.
Why did you decide to attend the regional organizers conference?
“To expand my ability to present information to end the occupation and to connect with national and local groups.”
“I have been a war tax resister since 1969 when I studied Middle East history at UMKC…I do not care to pay taxes to kill Palestinians.”
“I’ve been active on this issue in a very non-progressive state (Oklahoma) and I want to implement a local campaign on this issue.”
“I’m concerned about America’s involvement in Palestine and the low level of public awareness.”
“To get connected with the national movement.”
What was the most useful part of this conference?
“Grassroots political activism and making contacts with Iowa organizations.”
“Networking! I had no idea there were such activist groups in KC.”
“Talk on Israel/Palestine foreign policy and grassroots political activism workshop.”
“The tangible steps to take in approaching media and Congress.”
“[Realizing] our ability as individuals to change events.”
What was the least useful part of this conference?
“There was not enough time for regional strategizing. It was hard for our group to focus.”
“At the final session everyone was tired and many people had already left.”
“The regional strategizing lacked a format.”
Do you have suggestions for future conferences?
“More publicity. I am a student at UMKC and saw no advertising for this event. I learned about it by pure luck!”
“Schedule more time for questions and discussion.”
“Information on cultural events. How to humanize the Palestinian people by non-news images and cultural programs.”
“I would set up an email exchange table and group information exchange table so people can better coordinate their efforts after the conference in over.”
“See if people need a session on Israel/Palestine 101.”
“More time spent on political activism and how to mobilize more people.”

Outreach Summary

7 new individuals signed on to the Call to Action.
1 new organization, People for Justice in Palestine in Iowa City, IA, signed on to the Call to Action.
5 other organizations have been identified as prospective new members of the Campaign, to whom we will outreach in the coming weeks.