A Better World is Possible

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Authors: Fran M, Justin G, Marlon P, Mehrdad D, Nick B, Nick P

Tens of millions across the globe have stood up in opposition to the Israeli genocide against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and the broader settler-colonial occupation and apartheid regime managed by the Israeli state across the historic lands of Palestine. As we write today, Israel is intent on completing a genocidal expulsion of Palestinians from Gaza. It appears that no one is safe from Israeli bloodlust. Indeed, as if to prove the point, on April 1, Israeli occupation forces murdered with impunity seven aid workers of the World Central Kitchen traveling in three clearly-marked vehicles. These killings added to the over 40,000 martyred Palestinians and hundreds of other slain humanitarian aid workers. An end to Zionism is the only viable political solution.

 

In marches, rallies, sit-ins, obstructions, and other terrains of protest, activists and organizers across the United States have demanded the end of funding and diplomatic support for the state of Israel and the merciless occupation forces it commands. The Connecticut (CT) chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has worked tirelessly with coalition organizations across the state to support the Palestinian liberation struggle. 

 

Notably, CT DSA has organized multiple, simultaneous ceasefire resolution campaigns in cities across the state; helped coordinate a blockade of the Colt arms manufacturing plant in West Hartford; and has undertaken a No Appetite for Apartheid campaign to build a working-class base for the boycott of Israeli products. These activities helped compose the CT Palestine Solidarity Coalition and demonstrate that CT DSA has taken seriously the task of organizing to advance the Palestinian struggle in this crucial moment. 

 

The political stakes of the current moment could not be clearer: either liberation or annihilation. This moment demanded deeper education and analysis on Palestine within our chapter.  Therefore, CT DSA organized a state-wide political education program on the Palestinian liberation struggle: the Palestine Liberation Political Education Series. This project was a collaboration between the International Affairs and Political Education working groups. Following an online primer on the history of Palestine and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement provided by the Palestine Solidarity Working Group, we developed two parallel courses: a local, in-person “Introduction to the Palestinian struggle” course, which developed curriculum around Ali Abunimah’s The Battle for Justice in Palestine, and a state-wide, online “Palestine Socialist Classics” course where Ghassan Kanafani’s “The 1936-39 Revolt in Palestine” and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s “The Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine” were our templates. The Education Series culminated in a group trip to the Palestine Museum in Woodbridge, CT.

 

Not only was the deployment of this course tremendously salient given the shift of activities in the chapter toward Palestine solidarity work, but it was also uniquely successful. Hundreds of chapter members, as well as non-members, applied for the course. Dozens of people across the state in New Haven, Hartford, and Danbury attended the local in person sessions. Dozens more participated in the state-wide course that met online. Over two dozen attended the museum trip. In what follows, we reflect on the practical implementation of this political education series across the state in its various formats. We hope that this reflection can serve as a critical analysis of political education as a tool for developing active, theoretically well-equipped cadre that can engage in disciplined and organized struggle in solidarity with Palestine and all oppressed peoples.

 

CT DSA members and others at a Palestinian Liberation - Stop the Gaza Genocide Protest New Haven green holding DSA and Palestinian Flags

The “Introduction to Palestine and BDS” primer with the Palestine Solidarity Working Group

We opened the political education series with an online presentation prepared and delivered by the Political Education subcommittee of the Palestine Solidarity Working Group (PSWG), providing a primer on Palestine and the solidarity movement. The presentation started with a crash course on the history of the Palestinian liberation struggle, grounded in an analysis of Zionism as a settler-colonial movement and an arm of imperialism, and provided an overview of the structures of the apartheid system, the ongoing genocide in Gaza, and the Palestinian resistance. It then moved on to a survey of points of interventions for the internationalist solidarity movement, including BDS tactics as well as connections between the Palestinian struggle and domestic struggles. The session closed with further organizing resources and a call to get involved.

 

The presentation was attended by about 30 people and served two main purposes: first, for people who did not have the capacity to engage in a longer reading group, to nonetheless provide an accessible primer on the basic history of the Palestinian question; second, to ground those who planned to participate in either of the longer courses in a shared understanding so that we could rely on a common starting point in knowledge. Attendees shared positive feedback about the presentation’s ability to deliver a large amount of content in a short time, while foregrounding a socialist and anti-imperialist analysis. One missed opportunity, in our opinion, were the final calls to action which were geared toward a chapter with less developed Palestine solidarity organizing than CT DSA. We should have done a better job at coordinating in advance with the PSWG educators about highlighting our chapter’s active campaigns.

 

The “Introduction to the Palestinian Struggle” Course

In January, 2024, CT DSA convened its “Introduction to Palestine and BDS” course in three cities: Hartford, Danbury, and New Haven. Participants met in-person for four weekly sessions held every two weeks spanning two months. The course centered on discussion of one text: Palestinian socialist journalist Ali Abunimah’s The Battle for Justice in Palestine. Political education committee organizers split the book chapters across the four sessions. They read the book in advance and prepared reading guides containing the curriculum for each session. The reading guides consisted of ground rules for discussions, summaries of the assigned chapters, and excerpted passages from the chapters tied to questions to facilitate the group discussion.

 

The Battle for Justice in Palestine was a good choice for socialists looking to learn the fundamentals. The book did two things quite well. First, it convincingly presented the contradictions in the norms of Israeli society – namely between its supposed democratic pluralism and its Jewish supremacism – in a way that laid bare the material bases that drive Israel to continued dispossession of Palestinian land and labor. Second, it offered an internationalist analysis, highlighting the global imperialist forces acting against Palestinians and the transnational solidaristic strategies necessary to resist them, namely BDS tactics. In doing so, the book integrated into its analysis how these forces act against other dispossessed populations, such as Black and Native Americans, who experience the brunt of Israeli-designed policing tactics.

 

The reading guides provided a useful bridge from the text to the discussion. The comprehensive summaries and excerpts offered all participants entry into the conversation, regardless of whether they had a chance to read the chapters. In all three reading groups, these written materials helped structure the discussion around key concepts, keep the text in front of us, and foster conversation between participants with open-ended questions toward an analysis shared across the three locations spread out across the state. Prepared in advance, the questions aimed to allow participants to arrive at answers together by combining the text with their real-world experience. Some participants rightly noted that sometimes, the questions were too dense, making them difficult launchpads for discussion. Some facilitators found it helpful to break down the complex questions into their constituent parts, guiding the group to pass through a series of intermediate conclusions on the way to a final conclusion on a given topic.

 

Organizers also found preparation of the reading guides to be quite time-intensive. In the future, the committee may consider delegating curriculum development and group facilitation tasks to different members. One potential drawback to this approach would be that facilitators and curriculum developers may not develop the same insights from the readings, causing gaps in understanding. Regardless, in the future, the political education committee ideally will have more hands able to contribute to curriculum development.

 

Different branches of CT DSA have different levels of development, as well as varying levels of urban density. Nevertheless, all three branches were able to turn out a consistent group of participants for each session, ranging from 8 to 15 people depending on location. Reading groups of this intermediate size helped foster close conversation among peers, while also ensuring the presence of diverse perspectives that advanced our collective knowledge of Palestinian liberation. In Danbury, where the Western branch is based, the course helped build important bridges between CT DSA and the community, which had only previously been mobilized around the Starbucks union drive.

 

The curriculum effectively directed insights gained through each session into invitations to participants to join CT DSA’s existing Palestine solidarity campaigns, such as No Appetite for Apartheid. Participants were also invited, and became active members of campaigns for various ceasefire resolutions, as well as rallies, phone banks, and other actions. In Danbury, participants even rescheduled a session to attend a town hall meeting in support of a local ceasefire resolution. Course facilitators did a good job of directing people interested in getting more involved. The in-person conversations and social events after sessions helped foster conversations about DSA’s Palestine solidarity efforts and organizing more broadly.

 

Unlike the model of exclusionary capitalist university pedagogy, socialist political education seeks to build analysis through sincere, communal deliberation. The first goal is to foster conversation – to bring a diverse group together to understand the forces that act against them as well as working and dispossessed people everywhere, and how to organize against them from where they live. Each group compared Palestine to oppressive structures in the United States. We discussed connections between Jim Crow and Israeli apartheid; the U.S. dispossession of indigenous peoples in the Americas and Israeli settler-colonialism; and the cross-training of Israeli and U.S. police forces, including from Connecticut. The goal of the course was to learn from and educate one another on Palestine’s place in our struggle. In that, this course was successful.

 

The “Palestine Socialist Classics” Course

The second component of this political education series was a more intensive, online, statewide course. The purpose of this course was to help active organizers who may have already been familiar with the conflict in Palestine, its history, its political development, and so on, to cultivate a deeper Marxist analysis. To this end, we decided to cover two key texts from the Marxist tradition in Palestine: Ghassan Kanafani’s The 1936-39 Revolt in Palestine, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s (PFLP) The Strategy for the Liberation of Palestine.

 

This course was practically distinguished from the “Introduction” course in two ways: First, it was held online, and thus made readily available to anyone across the state, regardless of whether they lived. This expanded access to political education content without depriving the political education series of the benefit of in-person community building entirely. Second, the course aimed to develop an explicitly Marxist analysis of the history of struggle against dispossession and colonization in Palestine, and while also allowing participants to solidify their understanding of  fundamental aspects of Marxism.

 

One element that cannot be overstated is the value of turning to texts that provided a historical materialist analysis of concrete events in Palestine. For example, Kanafani’s text demonstrated the application of historical materialism in practice, providing the opportunity to evaluate the merits of such an approach as applied to a specific historical example, rather than attempting to introduce this concept in the abstract. In other words, pivotal elements of Marxist analysis were made tangible and thereby teachable in a way that a course focusing on the concepts alone would not have been able to. Similarly, the PFLP text offered the opportunity to dissect concepts such as “scientific socialism,” the mass line strategy, and the composition of a Marxist-Leninist party capable of challenging global imperialism, as they pertained to the struggle for Palestinian liberation in specific, concrete terms.

 

While analyzing the fundamental texts of the Marxist lexicon is important to the development of socialist consciousness, it is worth considering how daunting and alienating it can be to design political education content solely around these texts. They are dense, complex, and dated, and thus can be off-putting to comrades that may not yet have had the chance to develop this theoretical foundation.

 

Relatedly, such political education typically invites the intrusion of the oft-maligned “theory bros,” (the typically white, male comrades who are not quite sure when to stop talking about Marx) which can easily derail otherwise generative conversations in these environments. By turning to texts that emphasized the concrete over the abstract, we were able to learn about the history of Palestine while simultaneously training the muscles of Marxist analysis, and avoided fostering an exclusive environment that appealed only to the most well-read among us.

 

By nature of holding this course online, it did not provide the same space for building relationships and on-ramps into the organizing work that was happening on-the-ground. This was a necessary concession that we made in order to have a space with a lower geographical barrier to entry. In any case, the course concluded on a strong emphasis for involving oneself in the work, and the texts we chose to analyze, because of their practical emphasis, similarly promoted organizing over armchair theorizing.

 

The course routinely had 10-12 comrades in attendance, many of whom were not the active organizers we originally anticipated. In some ways, this was a pleasant surprise. Participants who may not have been deeply involved in the organizing work revealed themselves as astute analysts with a wealth of personal knowledge, both through their individual experiences and intellectual backgrounds. This led to many deep, engaging discussions over the source material and identified people in the chapter who could become further engaged in the organizing work.

 

The Palestine Museum

The final component of our political education series was a chapter-wide trip to the Palestine Museum in Woodbridge, CT. We benefited immensely from having such immediate access to one of only three museums dedicated to Palestinian art and culture in the Western hemisphere. This was an opportunity for building in-person relationships with chapter membership in a low-stakes, social environment that still centered the cause of Palestinian liberation.

 

In that vein, the trip had a much more diverse turnout relative to our political education courses. More than two dozen people came out for the museum tour; a group comprised of course participants, other DSA members, and, encouragingly, their friends and family. People new to the chapter were exposed to DSA and Palestinian culture in a very comfortable setting, which provided the space for conversations about ongoing work in DSA.

 

With that being said, this was the least politically explicit component of the course. While much of the art included in the museum has an inherently political dimension as it is rooted in the historical and present experience of Palestinians, and the museum is beloved by local activists and organizers, it is also first and foremost a cultural rather than organizing space. Since DSA did not lead the tour, we also did not attempt to use this as a platform to get our own message across, deferring instead to the museum owner’s tour. Thus, we may have missed an opportunity to offer an onramp for attendees to get involved in the socialist struggle for Palestinian liberation at home and abroad, or to ground the visit in a deeper understanding of the role of cultural production to the Palestinians struggle.

 

Indeed, one of the participants shared in a feedback survey that the museum visit could have been more effective if preceded by a discussion on the relationship between art, politics, and history, particularly in the Palestinian context. However, what we lost in political content we certainly made up for in the community-building that the museum visit provided, and the ownership of the museum was heartened to see such a large group show up on a Sunday morning and to find out that many of the participants had been learning about Palestine for months.

 

Aside from the particularities of the museum itself, we found that it was beneficial to engage with Palestinians in our community as a component of our political education series. One can easily imagine other events that could substitute for a museum trip that would still have the benefit of exposing chapter members to their Palestinian neighbors, their history, and their culture.

 

More generally, the notion of connecting political education to the community in this way is something we will continue to encourage, as it provides a more dynamic space to accomplish the goals of running a political education course (e.g., member engagement, education, and politicization) while simultaneously building relationships with relevant members of the broader community who might similarly become or are already engaged in struggle at some level. Indeed, the museum space was offered to us for hosting future chapter events.

 

Conclusion

Political education has an intrinsic value in scaffolding the analysis of organized socialists. However, we find ourselves in a time of profound disorganization, which requires that political education be implemented in such a way that rebuilds and reimagines political organization for our times. In running the Palestine Liberation Education Series, we attempted to put this theory into practice. The program served both purposes explicitly: developing our shared analysis of the contemporary and historical struggle for Palestinian liberation, while simultaneously providing an on-ramp into our chapter and the organizing projects taking shape on the ground. CT DSA created a space for people who were already thinking about the Palestinian issue to convene and develop answers to outstanding questions while avoiding “armchair theorization”– precisely because there were concrete projects to be plugged into. Indeed, some of those who attended the reading group later committed themselves to solidarity campaigns like No Appetite for Apartheid, or consolidated into local cadre groups who continued to attend mobilizations for Palestine together, especially in less established branches where that coordination was previously missing.

 

Today, despite the immense horror of the genocidal occupation in Gaza and Palestine more broadly, our struggle is advancing and winning. We are in unprecedented times, and the fate of Palestine hangs in the balance. Since April, we have witnessed the massive student intifada in support of Palestinian liberation. This protest movement struck at a crucial lynchpin in the ideological apparatus that legitimizes Israel: the academy. By demanding the disclosure of university investments and the divestment from Israeli firms, or firms that otherwise support apartheid in the occupied Palestinian territories, the students revitalized the successful legacy from the fight against South African apartheid.

 

The need, therefore, to continue to engage in this struggle has only become more important. To do so effectively, and to outlast our class enemies, will require both the deepening of our political analysis, and the expansion of our organized base. We believe that the Palestine Liberation Education Series achieved both aims, and we intend to continue improving upon this method of political education within our chapter.