Toward a new coalition

Opinion by Lily Zheng
Dec. 1, 2016, 1:28 a.m.

On Tuesday night, a hundred people gathered at Pigott Hall to begin organizing a unified coalition against oppression, hate and intolerance in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. In the audience were undergraduate and graduate students alike, as well as faculty and staff and non-Stanford-affiliated community members looking to contribute to the discussion. This meeting was an effort to bring together people — some of whom had never organized before — to strategize, organize and create a comprehensive coalition against hate and in support of marginalized and targeted communities.

During spring quarter last year, after the 2016 Activist Open House held during Admit Weekend, I wrote an op-ed expressing hope for the future. At that point in time, the student-led Who’s Teaching Us? (WTU) coalition galvanized broad student support for more diverse faculty, more inclusive academic and campus spaces and more broadly, social justice at Stanford and beyond. In the op-ed, I wrote that “the seeds for change laid long ago by a history of student activism … perhaps [are] beginning to shift.” The unprecedented level of political and social awareness of Stanford students, staff and faculty had organizers and activists poised on the edge of something big. We felt like a new generation of activists would lead Stanford into a new era of social change. To make this into a reality, I argued last year that “we need to find ways to share and pool our collective knowledge — to reach past our identities and organizational borders to find the common truths in our work … to contextualize our work in the world beyond Campus Drive.”

During the mass meeting on Tuesday night, we created several working groups to tackle a plethora of issues we believed to all be interconnected. One group connected people to Stanford Sanctuary Now, the effort to make Stanford University a sanctuary for undocumented people. Another sought to form a collective of individuals working to unify individuals, departments, institutions and businesses against hatred and prejudice. Still others worked to create physical coalitions of different activist initiatives supported by digital resource networks, planned potential direct action in support of off-campus efforts, and discussed ways to make activism and organizing more accessible.

I was impressed. Not because the working groups themselves developed novel ideas, but because the ethos of the space itself and the people in it suggested a more sustainable coalition with a membership diverse in not only identities but also skills, knowledge and expertise. I felt that rather than simply creating another issue-based organization at Stanford for a stretched-thin activist community, what we witnessed in that space was the creation of a coalition that could bring together existing organizations to organize together and bring in members from different backgrounds to collaborate. I was humbled by the input of non-Stanford community members who contributed to the space, staff who pledged resources and faculty who pledged support. I was inspired by frosh leadership and thankful for the activists in that space who shared their experience and organizing work.

That being said, hope that a coalition can succeed is only the barest of starts to the work that must be done. I think of the energy of the Who’s Teaching Us? movement last year, the power of the Black Lives Matter protests and the divestment campaign two years ago, the work of community centers to support their students for decades. Is it possible to bring all of this together? To bring together those fighting for worker’s rights, fossil fuel divestment, queer and trans liberation, reproductive justice, immigration, prison divestment, anti-racist work, decolonization, peace, representation and everything else? What does it mean for activists who have dedicated years to disparate issues to coordinate a coalition that connects all this work and more?

We have the people, but not the answers just yet. The work of coalition-building is unglamorous and difficult, but that’s all the reason why we need to take this work seriously. What we need to do now is to bring everyone with positive intentions to make a difference into a larger coalition, to engage in the work of community education and to bring the important work of organizations scattered across campus and beyond into collaboration with each other. Op-eds like these cannot move beyond the realm of visibility politics unless they genuinely connect people to the work that needs to be done. In this spirit, I’ll end by providing contact information to get involved:

Community Action Meeting Planning Group: sucommunityaction ‘at’
Stanford Sanctuary Now: stanfordsanctuarynow ‘at’
Against Hate: suagainsthate ‘at’
Digital/Physical Resource Network: lilyz8 ‘at’
Direct Action: laurensn ‘at’
Showing Up for Racial Justice: surj.peninsula ‘at’
Who’s Teaching Us?: whosteachingus ‘at’
Breaking the Bubble: sageis ‘at’,  cspears ‘at’      
Student and Labor Alliance: stanfordsala ‘at’


Contact Lily Zheng at lilyz8 ‘at’ 

Lily Zheng '17, is a weekly columnist for The Stanford Daily, a Social Psychology major and co-president of the student group Kardinal Kink. Her weekly column revolves around consent culture, queer and trans identity, social justice and activism. In her spare time, she enjoys wearing too much black clothing, accidentally sleeping in her makeup and spending quality time with her partners. Contact her at lilyz8 'at' – she loves messages!

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