Our last couple events in South Dakota were amazing. On Thursday night we spoke in a Unitarian Church a bit outside Sioux Falls. The audience was filled with mostly older people and their pastor was an amazing woman who has done a lot of work for raising awareness about Palestine. One of the members of the church is a cousin of Rachel Corrie and at the end of our talk she spoke a bit about Rachel and I mentioned Rachel Corrie’s collected writings, which I just finished and which is quite remarkable, Let Me Stand Alone. I had wanted to bring it with us so that I could read a poem from it, but we didn’t have time to go back to our rooms before heading off to the church. In any case we took a photograph together after the talk:
Interestingly, it does not seem like many people from the church had been over there so I talked to them about groups like Interfaith Peace Builders and Holy Land Trust that do some of these historical/political/religious tours through Palestine. I think that the pastor is motivated to take the group in the near future. All of this in spite of the fact some Jewish member of the community recommended that they not have the bus come to the church. Fortunately, they stood up for defending truth and morality.
Our last events in Sioux Falls were on Friday morning. We started out at the University of Sioux Falls in a class that we were told was a Middle East History class, but in reality was a European history class that included some on the Nazi Holocaust and the state of Israel. But unlike the William Jewell class of students this group had a number of inquisitive questions for us. They didn’t seem to have a whole semester of propaganda under their belts and were genuinely interested in Iraq and Palestine. There was, however, one Vietnam veteran in the room who was adamant that Arabs and Jews have been fighting for hundreds of years and would not ever be able to stop. He seemed rather skeptical that this was not the case by any stretch of the imagination. But he also, of course, had no facts to argue his perception. We had a number of questions about the one-state solution and Paul, who often works in Rwanda, brought up a good point about how it is there now after a massive genocide–that things are getting back to “normal” (whatever that means), but that things can evolve beyond the bloodshed is the main point. I also think it is useful to think of U.S. history and its bloodiness in the Civil War or Civil Rights movement or other aspects that we have not gotten over. Certainly we live with racism in ways that are deeply problematic (most troubling through the prison industrial complex). That is important with respect to imagining a possible, though perhaps difficult, future.
Afterwards we went to the Hyvee supermarket to speak (who knew that that grocery stores had community spaces for lectures?!) for the Democratic Forum, which seems to be a space for the democratic party to meet, discuss local issues, and present information about relevant subjects. Former Senator Jim Abourezk helped to set this event up for us and it was a really interesting group of people. It was also mostly older people again with varying degrees of knowledge. Here is where we encountered the most interesting debate by far on this trip. For one thing there seemed to be a slightly jovial/somewhat hostile bantering between Jim and a local congressman named Mark Feinstein, whom Jim repeatedly referred to as the “Israel lobby.” But Mark never spoke or really asked any questions except when one older gentleman was speaking about Zionism and Mark accused him of mixing up his terms. But the man was correct; he was speaking the ideology not Jews and not the state of Israel. I’m not quite sure what Mark’s point was by all that. Afterwards things got even more interesting. We were leaving the grocery story and a young employee named John approached us and asked a few simple questions about Iraq and Palestine. I answered him, walked to the bus, and a few minutes later he was knocking at our door. He came on and sat with us for about a half hour. He was asking us about so many issues–from Hamas, to presidential candidates, to immigration, to Iraq, to Palestine. He said that he was very interested in understanding more and that he supports President Bush and that he is very interested in all of these subjects from a Roman Catholic perspective. But at the same time he was very open minded, until he wanted to know our position on abortion. Paul helped to save us on that one by diverting the conversation, but I agree that there are far more urgent issues affecting people who are alive and we need to attend to them before we can deal with such issues. Anyway, I sent him off with a copy of Kathy Kelly’s book Other Lands Have Dreams because I think it will help him to continue to question these issues he seems to care about and wants to learn more about.
At the end of the Democratic Forum we learned that there are 39 people from the Yankton reservation who are in jail and won’t be arraigned until Tuesday, I think. Jim Abourezk’s son is handling the legal case and they updated us. We were going to head down there for a few hours before leaving, but we had a blizzard! In late April! It was totally depressing to see snow on trees that are just budding. But didn’t Prince have lyrics to a song that said something like “sometimes it snows in April”?
So instead we drove straight through to Northfield, Minnesota. We arrived at a lovely couple’s warm and cozy home that i quite spacious. The husband spent some time in Beit Sahour last year working for imemc.org in Palestine. Northfield is home of Malt-o-Meal, apparently, something that I now notice in the air as you can smell it. It smells like maple syrup and it’s nice. It’s a cereal that is supposed to be like Cream of Wheat, but I haven’t ever had it. I hope to have some for breakfast before we leave. We also missed something cool last night before we got here Phillis Bennis was speaking at a local church where last fall they had a Palestine fair. Apparently, this town is amazingly active. Our host helped to start Northfielders for Palestine, which is a group of six churches that raises money, awareness, and sends delegations there, I believe.
Today we had one small event in the morning, a vigil in downtown Northfield, and then we went to Carlton College for a really nice, long presentation sponsored by the Amnesty International chapter on campus. There was one Jewish professor there who thanked me for what I said and there were a number of really eager students who wanted to learn more and who asked wonderful questions. They were also interested in divestment and boycott, which is fantastic so I talked about the Motorola campaign. It was interesting to speak on a campus where Paul Wellstone used to teach.
But after the event I got to meet a friend of a friend who filled me in on a very different Carleton College. Apparently there is only one Arab student on campus and there is a policy of not giving scholarship to international scholars from Arab states. The dean of admissions is apparently quite the Zionist and she has even taken a group of 50 students on Birthright, the Zionist free trip to Israel for all Jews under the age of 25. I also learned that there is this odd phenomenon of students wearing “free Darfur” t-shirts while also wearing IDF (Israeli “Defense” Forces) bracelets. Such an odd juxtaposition (unless one realizes how Zionists in the U.S. like to control discussion of and work around genocide so that they can ensure that Jewish suffering is always already elevated to the most important. Of course, the Zionists love Darfur because it enables them to mythologize another history and pretend like it’s an Arab-Black African conflict when it’s nothing of the sort). This student has done some really cool stuff on campus that has gotten her into trouble such as Boxes and Walls, which sounds like the Tunnel of Oppression that we did at Boise State. This is a series of rooms that are set up with actors performing guerrilla theater who are acting out various scenes from the lives of daily Palestinians: at Huwara checkpoint, the Apartheid wall, curfew in Bethlehem for example. For performing this educational service, however, faculty members created a petition against her saying that the exhibition was anti-Semitic. There have been other issues there, too, though there seems to be a stronger group of supporters at St. Olaf College, where we’ll be on Monday. They have a Palestine solidarity group so it should be good.
Back outside, now, to the blizzard here…