We are delighted to present the April 2016 Patriot Award to Alison Glick of Freedom2Boycott Maryland. Watch our interview with Alison, or read the transcript below.
CHIP GIBBONS: Hello everyone. I’m Chip Gibbons, the Legal Fellow at the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Defending Dissent Foundation. We have a monthly tradition here where we honor a true patriot with a Patriot Award; somebody that embodies our values of speaking up for dissent, speaking up for the Bill of Rights, and engaging grassroots activism to protect the rights of everyone.
I’m joined today by my good friend Alison Glick who happens to be our April Patriot Award Winner. Thank you very much for joining us today Alison.
ALISON GLICK: Thanks Chip for having me.
CG: So Alison you are Chair of the Freedom to Boycott Coalition as well as a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. Why don’t you tell me a little bit about what the Freedom to Boycott Coalition is and how you came to be involved with it?
AG: Sure. The Freedom to Boycott – Maryland Coalition is a coalition of organizations and individuals who came together to defend our first amendment right to engage in boycotts and specifically to support and engage in the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement or the BDS Movement to support Palestinian rights. We heard in late Fall that some establishment Jewish organizations were going to try to push an anti-BDS bill in the Maryland legislature so we regrouped having defeated a similar measure back in 2014 to once again defeat this bill and so far we’ve been successful because so far no bill has been introduced and the Baltimore Jewish Council in fact announced – contrary to what they had said in the Fall – that they were dropping the idea of an anti-BDS bill.
CG: So you obviously had a very successful campaign against this bill and you know that there are similar bills in other states. We heard today that the New York State Senate has voted to defund CUNY – the City University of New York – by one third because of pro-Palestinian activism; activism which they’re conflating with anti-semitism. So there’s obviously been a lot of attempts to suppress speech around Palestinian rights advocacy and sadly a lot of them have actually been successful, but your movement was successful itself, so you stopped the suppression of freedom of speech. What did you coalition look like? What kind of groups were supportive of the effort, broadly?
AG: Well in addition to Jewish Voice for Peace DC Metro Chapter which I’m a member of, we have faith-based organizations as well as civil rights and social justice organizations that joined the coalition, as well as individuals not representing any particular organization. So really it’s an ideal coalition because it brings together people acting from their faith based values, long-time civil rights and social justice activists across the state of Maryland, as well as individuals simply acting out of their conscience who are real believers in and defenders of the First Amendment.
CG: So could you talk more about the First Amendment angle to the anti-boycott bill and what role you feel like that played in your coalition to defeat this bill?
AG: I think it was actually key in our victory because regardless of what you feel about the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement of even the use of boycott as a political action or as political speech people feel very strongly about the Constitution and feel very strongly about the rights that it enshrines and protects so focusing on the First Amendment and political free speech I think resonated with anyone who would support those values. There are many of us who have been long-time Palestinian solidarity activists and who have been working on issues related to justice in Palestine for many years and we are obviously very firm believers in the right to engage in BDS. But in creating a coalition that is much broader focusing on the First Amendment and the right to free speech really enabled us to broaden the coalition as well as talk to issues that are very pertinent to many of us.
CG: And what would the bill in question have done specifically?
AG: Well, of course because our victory in fact was defeating even the attempt to introduce a bill – so we don’t know what the bill would have done because it wasn’t actually introduced we believe it would have been similar to other bills that have been passed, bills that you mentioned earlier, where it would have essentially punished individuals and business for adhering to the boycott of Israel, and it also could have forced the state to divest its pension fund from business that were boycotting Israel. So it was essentially a punitive measure meant to stifle the free speech of individuals and business owners.
CG: And you mentioned there’s an earlier history of the Maryland General Assembly pursuing a similar bill several years ago. Could you talk a little bit about what that one was like?
AG: Sure. In 2014 the BDS Movement had a very big victory when the American Studies Association – at that time I believe it was the largest academic association of its kind – passed a resolution that said that the association would boycott Israeli institutions, and it’s very important to note here that that resolution was boycotting institutions and not individuals, people. So in response to that there was someone in the Maryland legislature who introduced a bill that essentially attempted to defund the sector of the public, higher education system in Maryland for its support of the American Studies Association boycott vote. So it was a rather outrageous attempt to punish the higher education system in Maryland for the act of free speech, not unlike what’s happening at CUNY now.
CG: So I’m going to ask you one final question. So the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Defending Dissent Foundation is a civil liberties organization so obviously we don’t have a position on Middle Eastern policy or the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement, although we do strongly support the First Amendment right of anyone that wants to participate in that movement to do so, and we’re deeply troubled by the crackdown across the country on the BDS movement and on Palestinian human rights advocacy more broadly. So as a result, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and Defending Dissent Foundation wasn’t a member of the Freedom to Boycott Coalition but we did work very closely together. Can you talk about some of the work – what was it like working with us? Did we make things better or worse?
AG: In all honesty, the work of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation was really key in our victory because there were talking points that the Committee wrote that helped us both in our legislative efforts in contacting our legislative representatives, and when we were in Annapolis a few weeks ago on Lobby Night the handouts that we had – that the Committee was key in developing – and the training that was done in preparation for the Advocacy Night, was really helpful because without clear explanations of what can be a rather complex issue I think our message could have easily gotten lost so it was with the help and support of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee that we were able to clarify our message, be very on point, and make our voices heard very clearly in Annapolis in a very successful lobby effort.
CG: So one of the things we try to do at BORDC/DDF is to try to work with grassroots activists and empower them to fight these battles on a local level, because while we do a lot of national work on the Hill and whatnot, a lot of these fights have to be waged and won at the local level and there’s a lot that can be done with civil liberties there. That’s why we try to work with grassroots activists, not coopting their struggle or coming in and telling them how best to do it, but giving them the tools and empowering them. So it’s really good to hear that we were able to do that, and it’s really great that we have the honor of giving our April Patriot Award to Alison Glick who is the type of grassroots activist that we really admire at BORDC who represents our thoughts on coalition-building and work at the local level. Thank you very much for joining us Alison.
AG: Thank you very much.