Organizing an academic panel or a public meeting is something many people can do: it just takes energy and experience, an interest in the matter being discussed and some consideration for the people attending. If it is a matter of public interest, of injustice and oppression, and the meeting itself is part of a struggle for justice – now there are fewer people who can do it. Now, make the topic Palestine, where saying obvious truths in public brings counter-demonstrations, threats, and condemnation from the major media all the way to the parliaments of the country, and the people who can enable education in this context are just a few rare gems. We just lost one of those gems in Mary Jo (“MJ”) Nadeau.
For me MJ is the perfect example of the Lao Tzu proverb.
“A leader is best
When people barely know she exists
Of a good leader, who talks little,
When her work is done, her aim fulfilled,
They will say, “We did this ourselves.”
In 2010, Studies in Political Economy published an article by MJ (with co-author Alan Sears) called The Palestine Test: Countering the Silencing Campaign. The article was about this element of MJ’s life’s work. MJ and Alan argued “the Palestine test is becoming a crucial measure of commitment to freedom of expression, social justice, and academic freedom on North American campuses in the context of a silencing campaign to shut down Palestine solidarity work.” The following decade, the silencing they outlined in the article has positively roared.
It is not easy to define what an organizer is. For activists, it’s an exalted title. I can try to put it this way: Much writing, speaking, marching, and demonstrating goes on. Whether anything changes, whether there is a chance to struggle another day – that effort succeeds or fails based on what organizers do. To put it another way: what’s the difference between a mailing list and an organization? The difference, in at least one case I know of, is whether there is an organizer – in this case, MJ. Often those who know appear arrogant or unapproachable in proportion to their experience of knowledge – MJ proved the opposite to be true, with vast knowledge and vast humility.
Around when the article was published I had to call MJ about some organizing problem. When she picked up, I said, “I’m ready.” “For what?” “To take the Palestine test. I think I’m ready to take it.”
The silencing campaign MJ warned about is pervasive and now involves the tech giants and social media platforms that promised to make communication easier. Amid the ever-intensifying silencing, it seemed that less and less was possible to do. But if you wanted to know what was possible, and what people were doing, you could find out by going to MJ.