So if you haven’t already heard and/or been inconvenienced, today at lunch a group of student activists barred the main stairs leading up to the Usdan dining hall to raise awareness of Shuhada Street—a city in the West Bank, much of which has been unfairly off-limits to Palestinians since 1994. (Apologies if I’m getting any of this wrong; this is all from the info sheet that I was handed as part of the unfortunately-typo’d “International Day of Acton.”)
I think we can all agree that Israel should change their policy and open up Shuhada Street. Regardless, that’s not the problem here. The problem is that this blockade is a terrible way to effectively raise awareness of this issue—and, even if some kind of blockade could have been, in theory, a good idea, this particular blockade was incredibly poorly thought-out. Here’s why:
Pissing people off is not a good way to get them on your side. Let’s face it, not being able to go up the main stairs is annoying. Sure, it’s not that annoying—you could just go up the side stairs—but it was still a little bit annoying, especially at lunch, when students are often in a huge rush to wolf down disgusting amounts of grilled cheese sandwiches before dashing hurriedly off to class. Obviously, I get the parallels between the blockade and the Shuhada Street situation, although it’s not a very clear parallel (for something really daring and thought-provoking, how ’bout only letting the Jewish-looking kids past the blockade?) But the bottom line is that this was a campaign to raise awareness of an issue, and by irritating people, the students running the blockade turned many peoples’ conversations from, “Wow, that Shuhada Street thing is really terrible” to, “Wow, that stair blockade is really annoying.”
Keep in mind that I’m not approaching this from any kind of moral or ethical standpoint—I’m not saying it was wrong of them to block the stairs, and of course, having to walk an extra ten feet is nothing compared to what thousands of Palestinians go through every day. Look, maybe it is douchey of us, the privileged, bourgeoisie students, to get annoyed about a tiny little stair blockade in the name of justice. But that’s not the point, because regardless of whether people abstractly “should” or “shouldn’t” get annoyed, in actuality, people were annoyed. From a purely practical, realpolitik standpoint, if you’re trying to get people to be on your side of an issue, inconveniencing them is not a good way to start.
Furthermore, this particular blockade was run very poorly. It wasn’t at all clear what was going on—some big signs or banners might have been nice—and I overheard a number of people wondering if the dining hall was closed for the day. When I attempted to talk to one of the blockade-runners about what was going on, he simply shoved a flier in my hand and pushed me out the way. Okay, no big deal—but the flier is not an effective flier, because it doesn’t tell you anything about what you can do to help! Seriously, even after the annoyance I was ready to sympathize with the cause and maybe help out a little bit, but only such info on the flier is a link to an online petition. Why not have an actual petition available to sign in front of the steps? Or something else? I’m not sure exactly what we can do about this whole thing, but that’s the point: of course I, a random, uninformed student, have no idea. If you’re going to blockade the stairs, at least tell me what I can do.
Anyways, I don’t mean to go “against” the students in charge of the International Day of “Acton.” I mean it as constructive criticism: maybe next time, they’ll find a way to raise awareness without annoying everyone—it would, I think, be a lot more effective.