There is no one-way to start a campus group. Here are a few suggestions on how to get started and some things to think about along the way.
What kind of group are you starting?
• Get a peer group together that is dedicated to making noise about the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestine. When starting it will be essential that you ask yourselves important questions about the focus of your group. Take into consideration the needs of your campus and what already exists. Why are you starting a group? How do you see your role as student activists to be unique? Does your campus have political awareness and little action or action and little political awareness? Are there cultural groups on campus that touch on similar issues (i.e. Muslim Student Association or Jewish Student Union)?Are you interested in solely concentrating on the Wall or are you interested in other issues that impact the Middle East and Palestine in particular? Do you advocate a solution to the conflict?
Become a Chartered Registered Group on Campus
• Once you have found a group of like-minded people to share in this work you need to establish yourselves on campus. Go to your student union or student government association and fill out the appropriate paper work to become a bona fide campus group. The benefits and requirements of being a registered group vary from campus to campus, but often result in a meeting/office space in the student union, an organizational email account, an organizational mailing address, a web address, access to faxes, computers, phones and possible funding.
• In a time when activism around Palestine is increasingly silenced and repressed on campus it is important to go through the proper channels to become an official group. In recent months universities have attempted to stifle political activity. Do not let your group be caught by loopholes (the appropriate paper work was not completed, permits not obtained etc). By adhering to your institution's rules and regulations you may be able avoid these impediments.
Write a Mission Statement and Strategic Plan
• A mission statement will help you define and clarify your group's objectives. It may also be a necessary component to become registered on campus. Here is one example:
SAMPLE MISSION STATEMENT
(Students for Justice in Palestine Berkely @ http://www.justiceinpalestine.org/tikipage.php?pageName=About+SJP)
I. MISSION Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is a diverse group of students, faculty, staff, and community members at the University of California, Berkeley, organized on democratic principles to promote justice, human rights, liberation, and self-determination for the Palestinian people.
II. GUIDING PRINCIPLES As an advocacy group, SJP is committed to a core set of principles to which it expects its members to adhere. SJP believes that while the Palestinian people must ultimately be able to decide their future in Palestine, certain key principles, grounded in international law, human rights, and basic standards of justice, will be fundamental to a just resolution of the plight of the Palestinians. These include the full decolonization of all illegally held Palestinian lands; the end of the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank; including East Jerusalem; the implementation of the right of return and repatriation for all Palestinian refugees to their original homes and properties; and an end to the Israeli system of Apartheid and discrimination against the indigenous Palestinian population. Just as SJP condemns the racism and discrimination underlying the policies and laws of the state of Israel, SJP rejects any form of hatred or discrimination against any religious, racial, or ethnic group. SJP's strength is in the great diversity of its membership. SJP welcomes individuals of all ethnic and religious backgrounds to join in solidarity with the struggle for justice in Palestine.
III. CODE OF CONDUCT SJP's activities include educational events, demonstrations, civil disobedience, and a campaign demanding that the University of California divest from Israel. SJP will conduct only nonviolent actions. SJP rejects actions that violate the guiding principles as stated above. Individuals or groups acting as members, representatives, or sponsors of SJP agree to abide by the code of conduct and endorse the principles of the organization. SJP may elect to endorse programs or actions of other groups whose principles and code of conduct are consistent with those of SJP.
• Create a strategic plan for your group. A strategic plan is an outline of your group's goals and future campaigns. You may want to wait until you have a group of core members or a first meeting before working on a strategic plan. But don't let your work on this plan become all-consuming and overtake your actual work on campus
Choose a Faculty Advisor
• Choose a professor or staff person that you know is well-informed about these issues. Even if your institution does not require you to have a faculty advisor in order to be chartered it will be advantageous to have an ally in the institution or the administration. This advisor can be helpful by providing guidance as well as by sharing information about the administration and institutional policies.
• Colleges and universities have short institutional memories due to high student turnover each year. By talking to faculty at your institution you will gain access to institutional memory and begin to understand who and what came before you. This might be interesting to you as an individual, student, or activist, but it also may be politically and strategically useful. Did your institution divest from apartheid South Africa? Has there ever been a Palestine group on campus? Is there a history of civil rights activism?
Funding: Do your Homework
• Funding will be an essential component to your group. It will enable you to bring speakers to campus, to attend conferences as a group, publish leaflets and more. Every institution has different sources or ways for student groups to obtain funding and it will be important to find this information sooner rather than later. The earlier you apply for funding the greater the chance that you will receive your requested amount. Go to your student union or student government association to find out all of the necessary information and paperwork.
• You may also be able to obtain funding for specific events by co-sponsorship with student groups or academic departments. Most departments have funds set aside for this very purpose and want to help student groups bring speakers to campus. Many schools have Near East Studies or language departments and are excited to co-sponsor an event. Co-sponsorship will likely help you raise funds but more importantly it will allow you to strengthen and build connections between your group and other students and faculty on your campus.
Become Web Savvy
• Once you are established, set up a web page. Most schools give registered student groups access to free domain names. Keep the web page updated by posting petitions, calls to action, event calendars, relevant news and campaign updates. Your web address will also be useful to post at the bottom of publicity (i.e. leaflets or flyers).
• Create an organizing listserv just for student activists who are interested in organizing for the group. An organizing listserv will allow you to communicate outside of your proscribed meeting times. Here you can trouble shoot, delegate responsibility, and discuss timely issues. This listserv will never replace face-to-face communication but it is a great way to communicate with other organizers quickly.
• Create a general listserv for interested students, faculty and community members. Use this list to send announcements, calls for action, and event listings. This list will also function as a compilation of interested students and activists on campus and will be strategic when your group needs help with an event or action.
• Place your group's e-mail on a national listserv that puts out calls to action. Receiving these e-mails will equip you to organize your campus in conjunction with national events and days of action. Find out if these national organizations have places on their websites for local event listings or pictures of past events. Get the word out -- you are likely to get local folks out to your events and let national organizations know that you support their work.
• Groups are often so busy trying to educate others about what is happening in Palestine they neglect to make education a top priority for members of their own group. It is a good idea to establish an education rotation where a member of the group recaps current events during your meeting time. Your group can also establish a Newslistserv dedicated to posts about news in Palestine. The designated education person of the week can be primarily responsible for posting news articles to the list for the week, along with any other interested folks.
Meetings: Here are Some Tips
• Once you are a recognized campus group establish a regular meeting time and place. Your institution should provide a free meeting space, but if that fails choose a convenient meeting space like a local library or community center. Make sure to respect members time needs and begin and end the meeting at the previously agreed upon times - or ask permission to extend the meeting by a few extra minutes.
• Be sure that your meeting doesn't overlap with other pertinent and relevant group meetings (i.e. Muslim Student Association, Progressive Jewish Alliance, Peace and Justice R US, Amnesty International etc.).
• Create a meeting agenda at the beginning of each meeting and allow everyone in attendance the opportunity to add to the agenda. If the group does not finish the meeting agenda, start with the items that were missed at the beginning of the next meeting.
• Establish a rotating facilitator and note taker; create this rotation in advance. These rotating positions will help decentralize some of the power in the group and in turn empower newer members to facilitate, take minutes, and get involved. The rotation also creates ways for newer members to learn skills from more experienced student activists. Be sure to send the meeting minutes to the internal group listserv so students who couldn't attend the meeting can still be informed about what was discussed.
• Set aside meeting time to discuss current events. As said above internal education is essential. Establish an education rotation where a member reports back to the group about the events of that week.
• Don't forget to set aside meeting time to evaluate past events. By taking time for evaluation you can avoid previous mistakes as well as gain a greater understanding of the needs of your campus. Some questions to ask yourselves: What was good about the event? What could be improved? Was the event well attended? Who came to this event? Did we give ourselves enough time for fundraising? How was our publicity? Was a campus newspaper at the event? Would we hold an event/speaker like this again? Evaluations will ensure easier and more successful organizing in the future. (See Appendix for Sample Evaluation Form)
Agree Upon a Decision-Making Process
• A decision making process can take many forms including consensus or majority rules. The decision making process will vary from group to group and will depend on the membership and the size of the group. There are many types of procedures; two are listed below. While group decision-making is crucial, empower individual members and committees to make final decisions for specific projects. This will not only decrease bureaucracy but it will also empower individuals and encourage creativity.
• Consensus: Consensus process requires the entire group to agree upon items being discussed. This process is likely to take longer then regular voting but for a smaller group it will likely produce feelings of accountability to the group as a whole and may make more sense for a smaller group. Voting: This process may be more effective for larger groups. Decide upon the voting margin; you may want to require 2/3 majority for a vote to pass or majority rules.
• Be clear about the decided upon voting process and don't be shy about consulting Roberts Rules of Order. Check Out: www.robertsrules.com.
Keep Your Group Sustainable
• Decentralize power. When activist groups successfully decentralize power newer and younger activists often feel more comfortable to get involved. Without new student activists the future of your organization is doomed. Help newer members feel comfortable and learn the ropes. This will ultimately keep your group more sustainable and productive in the long run. Create rotations (i.e. facilitation, note taking, listserv moderator, tabling etc.) to allow newer members to gain first hand experience as well as the opportunity to see experienced activists at work. Be accessible and don't use too much jargon at open meetings. Encourage younger members to pair up with older members to bring a speaker or plan an event. Be sure that members of your group personally greet new members at all meetings and events.
• High student turnover causes short institutional memory both within your university and college as well as within the confines of your very group. It is a good idea to keep files of past events. Include in the files past flyers, evaluations, and contact information. It may seem tedious at first to keep these records, but the future of your organization will thank you.
Don't Get Stuck in the Status Quo
• Be sure to revisit all of your decision-making processes and the structure of your group periodically. It is imperative that past decisions and campaigns continue to reflect the shifting membership of your group. Set up a day or weekend retreat at the beginning of each semester (or when necessary) to reflect upon past successes, failures and the status of the group. Student activists are busy people so try to set up this meeting when many members can be in attendance. While this may seem tedious at the time it will ultimately make your organizing easier and more effective.