by Micki Luckey
Showing Up for Racial Justice partners with organizations led by people of color, supporting their efforts and following their lead. What do our partners do and how do we show up for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color? How does accountability manifest in these relationships? This article is part of a series exploring these questions in depth for the fifteen community partners of Bay Area SURJ.
Did you join the 10,000 people who protested Trump’s Muslim Ban by shutting down San Francisco International Airport in 2017? Or the thousands who took part in the Block the Boat demonstrations, which succeeded in preventing an Israeli ZIM shipping line from docking and unloading at the Port of Oakland in 2014 and again in 2021? These successful actions were organized by AROC, the Arab Resource and Organizing Center.
What is AROC?
AROC describes itself on its website as “a grassroots organization working to empower and organize our community towards justice and self-determination for all.” AROC engages in this work by building community power, organizing demonstrations and political campaigns, providing education and advocacy for working class Arab residents in the Bay Area, and developing leadership skills.
AROC works on local as well as international anti-militarism campaigns. For example, AROC played a leadership role in the Stop Urban Shield Coalition, a successful six-year-long struggle to end the global weapons expo and militarized law enforcement training that took place in Alameda County from 2007 to 2018. To AROC, Urban Shield “represented everything our movements are fighting against — from depicting Arabs and Muslims as terrorists, collaborating and training with ICE, hosting the white supremacist militia the Oath Keepers, training with and sending officers to apartheid Israel, glorifying policing and militarization…” Many SURJ members also worked on the Stop Urban Shield campaign alongside activists from AROC. SURJ’s previous liaison to AROC, Jason Wallach, and its current liaison, Chris Taaffe, both cited their collaboration on Stop Urban Shield as inspiring them to work directly with AROC. Jason observes that “AROC deeply values solidarity, and they practice what they preach. They do the heavy lifting to build broad coalitions when needed, and they also show up when other allied organizations take the lead.”
AROC built and led the Block the Boat Coalition, which carried out the blockades of the Port of Oakland with support from over a hundred trade unions and other organizations and in conjunction with actions in cities across the world from Oakland and New York to London, Genova, and Durban, South Africa. AROC states, “We have made it clear that there is consensus across social justice movements: Entities that do business with, profit from, or are connected to Israeli apartheid are not welcome and will be boycotted!”
As part of the Bay Area Palestine Action Network, AROC has led multiple demonstrations to protest the bombing of Gaza and to oppose the build up toward war in Iran. They also participate in the movement to de-normalize relations with Israel’s apartheid regime through Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS), which was started in 2005 by a broad coalition of civil society organizations in Palestine.
Currently AROC is focused on multiple campaigns related to Palestine: 1) pressuring members of the House to support HR 2590, a bill to stop U.S. funding of the imprisonment and displacement of Palestinian children and their families, 2) pushing for condemnation of Israel’s recent labeling of six human rights organizations as criminal/terrorist organizations, 3) opposing the forced removal of Palestinians and other Arabs from Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Sheikh Jarrah, and 4) working with Google and Amazon workers in #NoTechforApartheid led by Jewish Voice for Peace and MPower.
Education Justice and Youth Organizing
AROC also engages in education justice campaigns and organizes working class Arabs and Muslims around local campaigns to achieve material gains for their communities. Through their youth arm, Arab Youth Organizing (AYO), youth leaders shape and lead campaigns throughout schools in San Francisco and Oakland. In response to requests from Arab parents and youth, they advocated for the teaching of Arabic in San Francisco public schools, which was finally approved in 2018. Parents and youth were also concerned about students missing school for the Eid holidays. In response, AROC, AYO, families, and students successfully worked with the San Francisco Board of Education in 2022 to move towards a culturally-responsive school calendar by recognizing Eid as an official school holiday.
As a leader in the Coalition for a Liberated Ethnic Studies, AROC helped establish an ethnic studies curriculum, including Arab-American studies, for middle and high school students in California. Their cultural programs also build community and awareness. Chris Taaffe adds that in all this, “AROC is also developing leadership skills in young activists and educating white folks about Zionism as a form of racism as well as Arab and Palestinian history.”
In their direct services with low-income Arab and Muslim immigrants, the AROC staff serves around 350 Arab immigrants each year, providing legal representation for family reunification, deportation defense, asylum, and FBI repression cases. Their social services also include counseling, case management, language access, and Know Your Rights education.
Partnering with SURJ
SURJ’s work for racial justice and combating White Supremacy includes fighting anti-Arab racism and Islamophobia. AROC is leading the way nationally in challenging Islamophobia in the media and in the streets. Consistent with AROC’s vision for “powerful and liberated Arab communities living with dignity from here to our homelands,” SURJ Bay Area is currently working on a statement calling for justice for Palestine and an end to the occupation, and condemning the brutal apartheid regime in Israel. SURJ’s support for AROC was recognized by their executive director, Lara Kiswani, who in a recent email said, “Thank you so much for supporting AROC, and for being such a solid, consistent and resourceful ally.”
As their website states, “AROC sees the liberation of Arab people inextricably tied to the liberation of all oppressed people.” The breadth of their vision and their work leads Jason Wallach to describe AROC as “one of the most inspiring organizations in the Bay Area…they hold an important place in the struggle against white supremacy because they are clear about their politics and principled in their actions.”
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