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Madison Conference Report, June 24-26, 2005

US Campaign Upper Midwest Regional Organizers Conference
University of Wisconsin, Madison
June 24-26, 2005
Conference Report
Pre-registered participants:  54 (including Josh and Kymberlie)
Total participants: 65
No-show: 3
Total organizations/groups represented: 21
  • *ADC Wisconsin, WI
  • Anti-War Anti-Racism Effort, IL 
  • *CPT, IL and OH
  • *Christians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East, IN
  • *Committee for Just Peace in Israel/Palestine, IL
  • *End the Occupation, DuPage County, IL
  • International Solidarity Movement-Chicago, IL
  • Iowans for a Free Palestine-West Branch, IA
  • *Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, WI
  • *Magdalena, WI
  • *Michigan Peace Team, MI
  • *MidEast: Just Peace, MI
  • *Not In My Name, IL
  • Peace Seekers of West Bend, WI
  • Peace Seekers of Washington County, WI
  • Solidarity, WI
  • StopCAT Coalition, IL
  • US-El Salvador Sister City Project
  • Voices in the Wilderness, IL
  • Wheels of Justice Tour, IL
(* denotes current membership with the US Campaign)
Total states represented: 7
·        Iowa
·        Illinois
·        Indiana
·        Michigan
·        Missouri
·        Ohio
·        Wisconsin

Conference Summary
Friday, June 24
Public Event
Dr. Norman Finkelstein
Beyond Chutzpah: The Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History
Attendance:  Approximately 100
Dr. Norman Finkelstein, Professor of Political Theory at DePaul University, and author of Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict, presented a keynote address that was free and open to the public.  Finkelstein addressed the paradox between the near consensus among civil society and most countries on the facts of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the large amount of controversy in this country that has served to impede a resolution to the conflict.  His address lasted about 80 minutes and was followed by a twenty minute question and answer period. 
Saturday, June 25

Welcome/Ice-Breakers and About the US Campaign
Mike Murray welcomed conference participants to Madison on behalf of the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project.  Kymberlie Quong Charles, US Campaign Membership Outreach Coordinator, 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.
Skills-Building Workshops
Workshops were designed to be practical, hands-on, skills-building sessions to increase the effectiveness of conference attendees’ activism.  Conference attendees chose three out of four workshops.  For the media and grassroots advocacy workshops, conference attendees were encouraged to plug into national taskforces facilitated by the US Campaign. 
Divestment: Facilitated by Mohammed Abed, al-Awda Wisconsin; Karima Berkani, al-Awda Wisconsin and UW Arab Student Organization; Mark Evenson, Faculty, UW-Platteville, and The Association of University of Wisconsin Professionals
There were three workshops on divestment.  Mohammed Abed opened this workshop with a brief explanation of the definitions of boycott and divestment, using practical examples in the context of Palestine to illuminate the definitions of each.  This was followed by a timeline of the University of Wisconsin Divestment Campaign, with detailed information about the type of research and strategies that were used to move the campaign forward.  Mark Evenson gave an explanation of the type of work that he did as a faculty member at UW-Platteville where the faculty senate passed a divestment resolution.  Following these explanations space was created for workshop participants to discuss work that they have done on divestment and boycott in their respective communities, and to ask questions of the facilitators and each other. 
Sister City Projects: Facilitated by Jennifer Loewenstein, George Arida, Jim Goronson, Kathy Walsh, Madison-Rafah Sister City Project
Grassroots Advocacy: Facilitated by Josh Ruebner, US Campaign Legislative Task Force
Josh Ruebner led three 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.
Media: Facilitated by Rima Mutreja, Palestine Media Watch/US Campaign Media Task Force
Rima led three 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.  25 individuals signed up to be local media coordinators. 
Conclusions & Evaluations
Because of time constraints and the collective energy level of conference participants, conference organizers changed the agenda to include some conclusions and evaluations in the Sunday strategizing session. 

Social Hour/Dinner

A social hour and Middle Eastern dinner was organized at The Crossing, a campus religious center.  Both conference attendees and the general public were invited to the dinner.  An estimated 65 people came to socialize, network, and enjoy excellent Middle Eastern food prepared by a local Palestinian restaurant. 

Rebuilding Homes, Rebuilding Hopes in Gaza
Cindy and Craig Corrie, the parents of Rachel Corrie, a US peace activist who was killed by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip, and Khaled and Samah Nasrallah, family members who lived in the house that Rachel tried to prevent from being demolished when she was killed, presented the story that links their families together.  The panelists were introduced by Joe Carr, a member of Christian Peacemaker Teams, who performed a moving spoken word poetry piece about and for Rachel. The panelists spoke about their involvement with the Rebuilding Homes Alliance.  There was also a fundraiser for the US Campaign. 

Strategizing Session
Initially slated to be a regional strategizing session, Josh and Kymberlie made a decision to keep the structure of this session open to account for the need to catch up from the previous day, and because the participants who still remained on this day did not necessarily fit easily into regions.  The very first part of the meeting was spent creating an agenda for the three-hour meeting.  We devoted the next period to feedback and conclusions from the previous day.  Following the feedback and conclusions we spent about 45 minutes dealing with the questions, “How do we grow?” and “What is a win?”  This period evolved into a self-taught grassroots organizing training where participants shared experiences with organizing in their communities, addressed questions of what worked and didn’t work, and even responded to particular challenges that some participants were experiencing.  This discussion was recorded on butcher paper on the wall, and these notes will be synthesized into a resource for participants, perhaps posted on our website, and could also serve as a framework for future organizing workshops. 

Evaluation Summary
Conference evaluations were distributed with each conference packet.  Of 60 distributed evaluations, 11 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: 1 respondent
4: 3 respondents
5: 7 respondents
average score: 4.54
  • “Thanks for illuminating us!”
Divestment Workshop
1: 0 respondents
2: 1 respondent
3: 0 respondents
4: 3 respondents
5: 3 respondents
average score: 4.14
  • “Great to have people who actually organized a divestment campaign.  Maybe too focused on their specific campaign, though.”
  • “Poor, cluttered slides, not always relevant to discussion.  Too much from panel on personal specifics, not enough workshop sharing.  Good Q and A, but too panel directed rather than sharing.”
Media Activism Workshop
1: 0 respondents
2: 0 respondents
3: 1 respondent
4: 2 respondents
5: 6 respondents
average score: 4.5
  • “Rima’s awesome.  Amazing experience and knowledge.  Maybe could have been a little more interactive.”
  • “Great resources.”
  • “Slides were too fast.”
Grassroots Political Activism Workshop
1: 0 respondents
2: 0 respondents
3: 1 respondent
4: 2 respondents
5: 6 respondents
average score: 4.5
  • “Tried to cover too much in too short a time, had to rush through the end.”
  • “Good facilitation and encouraging input from participants.”
  • “Very informative and well done.”
Sister City Workshop
1: 0 respondents
2: 0 respondents
3: 0 respondents
4: 1 respondent
5: 5 respondents
average score: 4.8
Regional Strategizing
1: 0 respondents
2: 0 respondents
3: 0 respondents
4: 3 respondents
5: 1 respondent
average score 4.28
  • “A little disorganized, but good room for flexibility.  Maybe more structured lunch and dinner discussions.  Don’t be afraid to cut people off…they’ll thank you later!”
Report Back and Conclusions
1: 0 respondents
2: 0 respondents
3: 1 respondent
4: 1 respondent
5: 1 respondent
average score: 4
In brief, the sessions were rated in the following order, starting with the best
1-     Sister City Workshop               4.8
2-     Introductory Session                 4.54
3-     Media Activism and Grassroots Political Activism – both 4.5
4-     Regional Strategizing                 4.28
5-     Divestment                               4.14
6-     Report Back/Conclusions         4
The following is a sampling of remarks from the questions:
Why did you decide to attend the US Campaign’s regional organizing conference in Madison, WI?
  • “Excited to network regionally and nationally, make contacts, etc.”
  • “Networking, skill/knowledge acquisition”
  • “To become better organized”
  • “I support the goals of the conference.”
  • “I came because I knew very little about the issue but wanted to learn more.”
  • “To find ways to support the liberation of Palestine.”
What was the most useful part of this conference and why?
  • “Networking, concrete campaign focus, focus on action and doing, not just self-educating, etc.  Good that we could attend almost all workshops.  I liked that they were repeated.”
  • “Practical suggestions on political activism, especially dealing with Congressional offices and staff.”
  • “Grassroots activism- it gave an insiders understanding with practical suggestions.  Very helpful especially because most people are so skeptical about the political process.”
  • “Media and Grassroots Political Activism workshops.”
  • “The keynote talk by Finkelstein was great.  The closing panel with the Corries and Nasrallahs was also wonderful.  And I thought the panels were well designed and very well presented.”
  • “Just having this space to bring together organizers/groups to make better connections, collectively focus...”
  • “Sunday morning [strategizing session] because of the wisdom of group members.”
What was the least useful part of this conference and why?
  • “Divestment.  It’s still valuable, but less so since model was of a university and we hope to work with government.”
  • “Talk on Saturday night, though it was inspirational.”
  • “No weaknesses, except you should try to get a funding source!”
Do you have suggestions for future conferences?
  • “General grassroots advocacy workshop, more structured networking and regional strategizing, better facilitation of meetings.”
  • “More networking and cross-polinization.”
  • “It would be great to have one-on-one time with the people giving the workshops with individual organizations to deal with unique difficulties, overall plans, etc.  Maybe also set up mentoring relationships with experienced activists.”
  • “Limit number of sessions running simultaneously to keep attendance above a critical mass.  Place presentations on website after conference.”
  • “Invite government representatives or their staff to conference as guests.”
  • “Do a second upper Midwest conference next year!”
  • “Use reusable cups, plates, and flatware.  As we learn to care about people it would be great to care for the earth too.”
  • “Lists for everything readily available for both support and donations for the various programs.”
  • “Have more time for participants to share experiences.”

Outreach Summary
0 new individuals signed on and paid the $30 membership fee.
0 new organizations signed on and paid the $100 membership fee.
8 other organizations have been identified as prospective new members of the Campaign, to whom we will outreach in the coming weeks.

CDC Summary
Five new activists joined the Congressional District Coordinator network at the conference.  These activists are from Congressional Districts in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Missouri.