By Donna Nevel
Political sensitivity and thoughtfulness, depth of knowledge and analysis, deep commitment and kindness are, in my view, a perfect combination to build a movement for justice and to create meaningful change. These were the characteristics that so moved and inspired me these past couple of weeks as I spent time in Athens with two of the passengers from the U.S. Boat to Gaza — The Audacity of Hope. Let me add that, while I am focusing at this moment on two particular individuals, I had the privilege to meet and spend time with numbers of wonderfully committed people of all ages, backgrounds, and life experiences — all of whom were passengers on the U.S. boat that was part of the international flotilla to break the siege of Gaza.
My first experience with these two individuals — Missy Lane, 32, from Washington, DC and Max Suchan, 22, from Chicago — was watching them interact with others. They both seemed to listen carefully to what everyone around them said and respond respectfully and kindly whether they agreed or not. They exuded a passionate energy and a desire to learn from and with others. My first direct contact with them confirmed my initial observations. For the next several days, my admiration for them continued to grow.
I particularly appreciated how very aware they were of the importance of seizing this moment to bridge struggles in solidarity — that is, the movement to break the blockade of Gaza that had brought them to Athens, and the protests taking place in Athens involving thousands upon thousands of protesters at Syntagma Square. As a result of that awareness, they connected to activists in Athens who were fighting against the austerity measures threatening people’s ability to survive. In both cases, civil society is taking action against oppressive and unjust government and global actions and policies based on a total disregard for human rights and the right to self-determination. From Gaza to Athens, resistance to injustice has been growing, rooted in people’s stories, lived experiences, and courage.
One evening, they invited my husband, Alan, and me to join them at Syntagma Square, where they had been going in the evenings after long, exhausting days of preparatory meetings for the U.S. boat. We immediately saw how naturally they had integrated into the life of the movement there. After meeting Missy at the square at a booth that highlighted the flotilla, we walked with her to meet Max and another inspiring U.S. boat passenger, Steve, who were sitting with several young Palestinian refugees staying at a tent in the square. Max translated for us from Arabic to English as one of the Palestinian men described how he had been treated by the Greek police, who had told him to "go home"; it was made clear he meant for him to get out of Greece and go back to Palestine. What an irony — to be treated like an outsider in the country he was living in, and knowing full well that, in fact, as a result of the Israeli occupation, he could not go back to his original home in Palestine!
I asked Max and Missy what connections they saw between these different struggles. Missy responded that "it’s quite simple." She spoke about "the connections that exist between and among people and movements, that it’s about people defying their governments together." Max spoke about "the destructive role of the U.S. government, the IMF and other global financial institutions that are responsible for some of the worst austerity measures that the Greek people have had to endure." He also spoke about the responsibility "to speak out and take action to support the people of Palestine and oppose the role of the U.S. government that directly funds the oppression they face daily." From Greece to Palestine, Max understood and articulated the role and impact of oppression and exploitation.
Max also spoke compellingly about the "global spirit that is inspiring people across the world," noting that "people are looking for alternatives informed by this global context of change happening everywhere. It is people acting in solidarity with one another, occupying public spaces and resisting" as they struggle for justice. This, he pointed out, is what the people of Athens are doing in Syntagma Square; this is what Palestinians are doing in Palestine with international support in the form of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign and the flotillas, for example; this is what people are doing in Cairo, Wisconsin, Barcelona, Tunisia, Bahrain, and elsewhere. This is resistance; this is solidarity.
Who inspired these inspiring individuals? Missy spoke about civil rights activist and Freedom Rider Diane Nash, whose interviews she has been reading. "Learning about her approach and vision of change made me think more deeply about how I look at struggle and the concrete goals are we are trying to achieve." Max pointed to the first intifada as "an incredible moment in time that was overwhelmingly characterized by a nonviolent resistance movement that included people form every walk of life." He spoke about social transformation and people taking destiny into their own hands — resisting global oppression together, as a community.
Both activists speak of the importance of humanness. "People are social creatures seeking out one another, seeking interconnectedness — as basic to humanity," Max said. They both went back to the slogan of the flotilla mission they were part of — "Stay Human" — and said that these words encapsulate exactly what this mission has embodied for them.
Both are clearly inspired by love and by the quest for dignity. From the streets of Syntagma to the Arab spring to the struggle for justice in Palestine, Missy and Max will, no doubt, continue to build connections and relationships with and amongst people and movements. With humility and an awareness of the wisdom and expertise that those struggling for justice bring with them, they honor and join with all the courageous fighters, offering their hearts and souls and selves to the worldwide movements for justice.
– Donna Nevel is a community psychologist, educator, and organizer whose work is rooted in Participatory Action Research and popular education. She was part of the media team for the U.S. Boat to Gaza. (This article was contributed to PalestineChronicle.com.)