Mobilizing structures in the UBC pro-Palestine encampment

Interesting from a social movement perspective:

The UBC encampment for Palestine has been going strong since April 29. Working as a horizontal organizational structure, the encampment is a leaderless, non-hierarchical space where everyone is equal. We have groups in charge of different tents related to the daily operation of the camp, including food, safety, supply, medicine, art, and library. General meetings are held as frequently as possible and are the only platform to decide the goals of the encampment. It is a process of direct democracy where everyone’s voice is heard and considered, with final decisions being made based on majority votes.

Everyone who shows up to this camp is intelligent, kind, and capable of doing great things, however, we are humans, and deep down, we all seek a sense of belonging. This whole encampment is like a community, and within it, each tent is part of the group. However, it did not always feel like a cohesive community. Before the camp reached this structure, it was run by multiple “invisible” hierarchies.

Initially, there were instances where outgoing white, cisgender, and conventionally-attractive men were automatically assumed to be smart, reliable, and worthy to make decisions, while non-conforming and marginalized individuals had to work harder to be acknowledged. I don’t think this was done purposely, but can be attributed to the mixture of pressure at the encampment and the unconscious biases ingrained in colonial ideologies. The constant struggle to have all our voices heard caused tension in the supposedly democratic structure, as well as relationship mistrust in the camp. This was not what I and a lot of comrades expected from this space, where solidarity with Palestinians against colonization demands democratic practice and decentralized decision-making.

As a young, gender-non-conforming person of color, my voice was often overshadowed in favour of white, cisgender campers. We took time to acknowledge and address these biases and hierarchical structures and we came up with alternative ways to ensure every voice was heard. I believe our camp is being managed in a more inclusive way, moving toward good causes, rather than replicating oppressive systems.

Personally, I think the progressive obsession with the identities of their messengers is counterproductive to effective political organizing. A person’s ideas are good or bad based on their content, not the demographic characteristics or group identity of the speaker. Viewing people as legitimate or illegitimate participants because of arbitrary features of their identity turns them from active thinking agents to mere group representatives. Also, this sort of privileging and de-privileging puts feelings of purity and moral superiority ahead of the question of whether the activism is having any broader societal effect.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

One thought on “Mobilizing structures in the UBC pro-Palestine encampment”

  1. “This in turn demonstrates a tension between pragmatism and idealism in how the climate justice movement sought to select spokespeople, insisting that marginalized groups and frontline communities were the most important to give a platform to. This is at odds with the perspective that decision makers are influenced by groups in proportion to their power, which suggests an alternative strategy of seeking spokespeople who are already influential and represent constituencies with real power within the target institution.”
    p. 100 FN 184

    “How strict an ideological screen to apply to prospective organizers is one dimension of how commitment to particular principles in organizing affects the practical choices of campaigns. There is also a question of relative emphasis, between seeking to achieve ideals of equity in organizing within campaigns and seeking to influence outside actors who are generally indifferent to such considerations. This tension between idealism and pragmatism can be seen as well when movement leaders like Thunberg and McKibben de-platformed themselves in favour of marginalized voices.”
    p. 194

    Ilnyckyj, Milan Prazak. Persuasion Strategies: Canadian Campus Fossil Fuel Divestment ampaigns and the Development of Activists, 2012–20. University of Toronto, 2023.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *