May 21, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Day 4: UO students at risk in pro-Palestine encampment discuss democratic self-governance

9 min read
John: Many people who are at this camp right now are risking everything, from losing scholarships and education to outright deportation. There are serious threats of violence and state repression, and in order to figure out how to make sure that everyone who is at risk is heard, we need to continue to work on exactly how we're going to fit together the camp as a whole and the executive decision-making bodies.

Todd Boyle reports from the UO campus where students established a pro-Palestine encampment on Monday. By participating, many students risked disciplinary action, expulsion, loss of scholarships, and even possible deportation. The students met on Day Four—Thursday—to ensure that everyone at risk could participate in decision-making.

Will: My name is Will. Hi, everyone. So glad that we can all gather here. So happy to finally have our first, like, 5:30, 5 p.m. mass meeting. In this meeting, we’re kind of going to be going over basically the organic structure and the kind of formal structure that we have for the camp as it stands.

[00:00:40] When we first organized this a week and a half ago, there was an Exec Committee that was made up of two representatives from all four of the organizations that started planning this together. That is Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, Grads for Palestine, and the Young Democratic Socialists Chapter at UO. So, that is the Steering Committee as it stands.

[00:00:40] This group, all of us, we are the mass meeting assembly of the camp. Organically, as camp has developed, each of these committees has formed to handle some sort of running of a function of camp or a function of our organizing as a whole. Those committees are: Art; Onboarding; Programming; Food and Waste; Security / De-escalation; Supply; Medical; Media and Communications; Outreach; Negotiations. Each of these committees has to be somewhat autonomous to our body and to the steering committee, which was previously referred to as ‘Exec,’ but I think that’s not the best way to refer to it because they weren’t making executive decisions as much as they were just steering our large boat of the camp.

[00:01:59] So, because they’ve all developed kind of informally, organically, we thought it was really necessary to bring this forward. And at the end of this meeting, we’re going to ask folks to kind of break out into groups of folks who’ve already been in these kind of organically-formed committees, and folks who are interested in getting involved with those committees, so that we can strengthen the number of people we have organizing, and run our camp and our campaign to win divestment.

[00:02:29] John: Hey, my name’s John. I’ve been working helping the camp. I’m a community member. I am one of the folks that raised my hand when asked about having a camp before. I was part of the Occupy Movement. We had this exact same model, so I just wanted to motivate it really quick. First off, I want to clarify that this is a kind of proposal we’re bringing to the group. This is not a decision that’s being reached. We need people to talk about this. Democracy doesn’t work if a few people make decisions and everyone else passively follows, right? (Finger snapping in approval)

[00:02:56] Like, I’m, I’m on Exec (Committee). The folks on Exec are like constantly trying to pass work off, are constantly trying to get people involved, are constantly trying to build this thing. The whole reason we go from informal to formal is to facilitate and make that process easier, right?

[00:03:12] So I’ve heard some folks think like saying, like, ‘This is like camp versus leaders, whatever.’ That’s bulls**t. I want to clarify that real quick. Like, everyone is doing the best they can. Everyone is straining and everyone has like made immense sacrifices. But I think one thing that’s important in this struggle versus most is that the distribution of risk is ridiculously uneven, right?

[00:03:36] Like, many people who are at this camp right now are risking everything, from losing scholarships and education to outright deportation, alright? There are serious threats of violence and state repression, and in order to figure out how to make sure that everyone who is at risk is heard, we need to continue to work on exactly how we’re going to fit together the camp as a whole and the executive decision-making body.

[00:03:58] So again, this isn’t a ready-made decision that’s being presented, this is an opening of a conversation. We have to figure out how to condense information as quickly as possible and make good snap decisions because it will be required to defend the camp from what will be coming eventually, right? The reason so many Occupy (efforts) lost was because people broke up into groups. They refused to share information. And you had cliques f*** sh** up, right? I’m not saying, ‘Oh, I see that.’ I think this is a phenomenal, really positive, really good space. But that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of people are asking, ‘Who’s on Exec? What’s the next step? Who’s talked to Administration and whatnot?’

[00:04:40] So, this is just a matter of clarifying information and trying to stabilize things. And in order to make it work, once again, we need y’all to talk about it. Talk to the people around you. Ask what they think. Do you have issues with this? Do you have problems with this? Do you have other ways? So, this is to help us win. And that’s the reason. (Applause, snapping fingers in approval)

[00:05:01] Will: Yeah. I think one other thing I want to add: There needs to be some way for these committees to interface with this meeting and the Exec. And we think it’s best that, you know, there’s one person who is chosen from the committee who is helping run that committee who understands everything going on, who can then come to this meeting and be like, ‘This is what’s happening with the committee. This is how you can get engaged. This is where we need support.’

[00:05:26] There will also be some way, interfacing with Exec / steering committee / whatever we want to call it. At this point, it’s still an open question of whether the chairs of each of these committees should be part of Exec or should they be interfacing directly with a member of the steering committee / Exec. That is something that we will have 24 hours to think about and decide on. But there definitely needs to be someone who’s like reporting back on each of these committees here, and so Exec understands what’s happening.

[00:05:58] We’re visualizing like a Tactics Committee, thinking about our long-term strategy and tactics. And a lot of that strategy has to be discussed here in the mass meeting. But a lot of that is also high risk, and, you know, should be only discussed among the folks who are ready to be arrested.

[00:06:15] So, people working on tactics need to be involved with the steering committee, but also Negotiations committee, the Outreach team, and the Media and Comms team, as well as connected to the Security and De-escalation team and the folks who have that direct experience with doing direct action. I guess we should move on to questions about that.

[00:06:38] John: Can I get hands up high please?

[00:06:41] Question: What sort of governance structure do we want? And then, does the committee chairs to be connected to Exec, right? Do we want them to be in Exec or do we want them to be reporting to Exec?

[00:06:55] Will: I think that, I would say, we could say reporting to Exec, but I, I don’t know, I wouldn’t use that word because I also think that Exec needs to report to them, too. (Okay, interfacing with.) Yeah.

[00:07:09] Question: How is consensus formed? And then once it’s formed, how is it articulated?

[00:07:14] Will: That is a great question. I think that, personally, as it stands, the next meeting in, 24 hours’ time, we should have folks who come up with their own proposals, and from there, with those proposals on the floor, we should have people motivate those proposals, and then speak against them, and, you know, also give opportunities for amending those proposals.

[00:07:38] I know folks don’t always like it, but I think Robert’s Rules (of Order) would be great for facilitating a meeting and proposals and debate of a group of this size. (What is that, Will?) Robert’s Rules is like a parliamentary procedure thing. If we are going to formally use it in 24 hours, we will also have an explanation of how to use it. We absolutely need to be making sure everyone understands how to engage in the conversation in order to make this actually democratic.

[00:08:13] John: We’ve got about three questions. Do we have other hands up? I just want to make sure we got some students as well.

[00:08:19] Question: I don’t know if everyone can hear me, but it might be more approachable to approach, maybe, the sort of the part of camp that you live in, and maybe know people there…

[00:08:28] John:  Thank you for sharing that. If you wouldn’t mind kind of building that up and bringing it tomorrow night, that would be phenomenal. We really encourage that. That’s an excellent example of exactly what we need to make this camp work. Thank you very much.

[00:08:39] Question: Oh, well, thank you guys. This is all a great idea. I really appreciate what John said about making sure this is democratic and this is not like a separation between a ruling class and the ruled, right? So the point I want to make is that I’m quite familiar with the Rojava movement. Please raise your hand if you know what came on in Rojava. So they are building a direct democracy. And I think we cannot and should not exactly copy that, but we should have committees and members can rotate and each committee should bring up what they think is the most important and what we can do.

[00:09:17] And I also really recognize that we should have specific committees for women, specific committees for LGBTQIA people, specific committees for people from Global South, and all those people should meet in small groups, and we should have a more bottom-up rather than from top-down. And those people from bottom-up, they bring their issues. A couple representatives, ideally. I know gender is very complicated, but one identifying male and one identifying as non-male, whatever that might be, right? So that’s my two cents, I hope it’s useful, but I think we should really make sure it’s democratic. (Snapping fingers in approval.)

[00:09:59] John: Alright, we’ve got time for one more. I saw your hand up.

[00:10:03] Question: Oh yeah, I just have two things. If I could get like an agenda for next meeting where all the issues we’re discussing and proposed on it, if we could get those and then all talk about them (yeah). And then second: Are there going to be any processes in place in order to make the Exec Team more like a fluid structure, where there is an Exec team right now, but maybe people want to rise to the occasion or they want to change roles, fluctuate.

[00:10:33] John: The Exec, due to the fact that we’ve got lots of people who are deeply involved in the struggle for a long time, as well as a lot of nuance, that’s something we still need to discuss. There is a balance between keeping folks who are very like entrenched in the struggle in a leadership position and making sure there’s availability.

[00:10;47] So that’s a very good question. Please, that’s like kind of at one of the main cores right now, is: How do we make sure that folks that are deeply invested in the movement and folks who are just coming in all are participating? So that’s a really good note to end on. That’s what—please talk about that. Talk about with each other, think about it, take time to think.

[00:11:02] No time for discussion or anything else, unfortunately. A lot of community members have taken time out of their evening to be here to work with us tonight. We’re going to respect that time they’ve taken. So think, talk, and plan for the meeting tomorrow night. Thank you all very much.

[00:11:15] John Q: Todd Boyle reports from the University of Oregon, as students at the pro-Palestine encampment seek to apply lessons from the Occupy Movement and enable broad participation in decision-making.

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