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Sritama Chatterjee is a second-year Ph.D. student in the Department of English at the University of Pittsburgh. You can find her on Twitter @SritamaBarna.
In the last month and a half, I woke up almost every day to receive terrible news arriving from India that ranged from state-sponsored police brutality on students at Jamia Milia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University to the passing of a law that specifically targeted minorities. Furthermore, right-wing goons beat up students and faculty mercilessly inside Jawaharlal Nehru University, one of the premier research institutes in India. To make things worse, most of these things were happening during finals week, when many grad students would have final papers due along with other deadlines to meet, such as submitting grades. Being so far away from home, I suffered from a strange sense of guilt for being abroad when perhaps I should have been there on the ground. But it made me even more resolute to fight against the right wing.
However, the ascendancy of right-wing governments to power is not unique to India, because in the last few years, right-wing governments have been increasingly on the rise globally. It is time to build solidarity across borders, because the fight against the right wing needs to be sustained over time, as it has insidious and long-term effects on people’s lives. This requires commitment, which is especially difficult when you are a graduate student employee pressed for time. The challenges of organizing as an international graduate student are unique, because one is not always familiar with the intricacies of organizing work in a different country.
There are, however, some strategies for organizing as an international graduate student and ways in which one can be involved, even when one is far away from home.
Get permissions: Although it varies from one country to another, if you have to organize a peaceful protest meeting or a rally in a public space, you generally need to get permission from the city authority as well as the police, so that you are legally safe and protected. Check the website of your city and the state (if you are located in the U.S.) to read guidelines about how to go about seeking permits. Sometimes you need to apply for permits well in advance of the meeting/rally, so make sure that you have enough time between the time of application and the date of the event. In case you have any doubts about the procedure of applying for permits, do not hesitate to call up or visit the permit office in person for more clarity. Officials at the permit office are helpful and often coordinate with the police. Also make sure that you check jurisdictions to understand what space falls under whose jurisdiction, because you might need multiple permits.
Organize a teach-in at your university: Teach-ins are a powerful way to reach out to people and let them know of circumstances under which people are living in countries governed by right-wing governments. One of the ways teach-ins can be organized is to reach out to student groups and faculty in your university who you think could be your allies in organizing a teach-in. Once you have a core group (this could be a small group of about six or seven people), consider having a meeting to decide the date, time, venue and the topics that will be covered in the teach-in. You don’t need to be doing everything on your own. Assign responsibilities to individuals to get things done faster and more effectively. My roommates, Silpa Mukherjee and Rahul Kumar, who are also fellow organizers, and I swear by Google Docs and Excel sheets to allocate responsibilities. Teach-ins are also wonderful spaces to publicly ally with minority groups who have done grassroots work and are affected by the right-wing government in their home countries. For instance, at the University of Pittsburgh, where I am located, we have a teach-in on the 17th of January, where we will aim to combine information sessions about what’s going on in India with participatory and creative sessions of art-making for a rally against fascism in India, organized for the 26th of January.
Reach out to local solidarity and coalition groups: Make a list of coalition groups and solidarity networks might be supportive of your cause. Email them (again, divide responsibilities) and be specific about the kind of labor and support you need from them. There is a possibility that they have more experience with organizing rallies and marches. So request their help -- chances are that they will respond positively.
Communication platforms and Listservs: Coordinating and disseminating information is key. Therefore, it is a good idea to have a Listserv that has all the contact details of organizations and people that you want to reach out. Decide what communication platform you will be using for easy communication. If you fear that your communication platforms, such as WhatsApp, is being surveilled, then you might consider using an alternative communication platform such as Slack. Check the privacy policies of the communication platform that you are using.
Put up fliers: I recognize that sometimes we might be located at places where collective organizing is difficult because of less student strength. In that case, you might consider printing out fliers that outline the events happening in a country and a call for mobilization. Designed fliers are great, but they do not need to be fancy as long as they are pithy. These fliers could be put up on bulletin boards and other places that students visit frequently.
Be active on social media: Hashtag activism, for all its limitations, can be tremendously effective in getting the word out. Tweet, retweet and share pictures, videos and testimonies of people affected by right-wing brutalities. However, make sure that you keep your accounts safe so that you don’t end up losing your accounts or getting logged out (happened to me multiple times).
Quotidian conversations: It is important to keep the momentum going against the right wing, and therefore the organizing cannot end at simply having events. The conversations need to be kept alive on an everyday basis -- therefore talk to people you know in the elevators, in the WhatsApp groups that you are in (it can be difficult, but don’t exit those groups) and while catching up with an old friend over coffee. There is more power in simple daily conversations than you might think.
Archive: Document and archive everything. From moments of violence, voices of resistance and photographs, to fliers and protest songs, everything need to be archived to build a narrative against right-wing forces. Only time will tell how important this archive is going to be.
So what are you waiting for? Let’s join hands to build an international movement against the right wing!
What are some of the steps that you have taken as an international student to fight against right-wing forces? Please let us know through your comments!