An eyewitness to the historic student general meeting at UQ

By Declan Kerr 

On Wednesday 29 May, over one thousand students at the University of Queensland attended campus to register their vote for the university to cut ties with Israel at a student general meeting.  

UQ Union SGMs have only occurred twice this century, and this student general meeting was the first in the history of UQ to be called by requisition, requiring the petition of 2% of UQ students. 300 students were required to attend for the meeting to be valid, but by 5:30pm nearly a thousand students had formed a line from the UQ Centre, completely overwhelming the 500-seat theatre booked for the meeting and winding through campus almost reaching Student Central.  To walk from one end of the line to the other took nearly four and a half minutes. Students who were unable to get a seat in the meeting room piled into three overflow rooms to watch the proceedings on Zoom. 

The purpose of this meeting was to discuss three questions which were submitted by Students for Palestine, the organisers of the UQ Gaza Solidarity Encampment. These questions were:  
1. Should UQ sever ties with companies that supply the Israeli Defence Force?  
2. Should UQ shut down the Boeing Centre?  
3. Should UQ financially divest from Israel?  

These questions were raised on the basis of making a strong statement that students reject their university having anything to do with the ongoing genocide in Gaza, and to extend a gesture of solidarity to the Palestinian people. 

Before the questions were voted on, four students volunteered to speak for them in the affirmative.  Summing up the purpose of the vote, Students for Palestine speaker Oula said, “Do we want our tuition fees, our effort, our knowledge and our research going towards aiding and abetting a genocide, or will we do everything in our power to stop this genocide and stand with Palestine?” 

Only one person chose to speak against the motions. The vote was then taken, and the theatre erupted with cheers as almost every student in the room raised their hand to vote yes. Only roughly five students out of 500 voted against. The lecture theatre erupted with chants of “Free Palestine” and “Disclose, Divest!”. A large majority of the students stuck around for an impromptu march and rally to the chancellery building on the other side of campus. This rally is likely the largest UQ in a decade, and it happened at 8pm at night. 

This is a historic moment for the student solidarity movement in Australia. It represents the culmination of months of work building up a student-led movement to demand our universities cut ties with Israel, and to give a voice to the Palestinian people. In just a few short months this movement has spread around the world. Students in our city led campaigns against the Vietnam war and South African apartheid in the 70s and 80s and we should be proud of that history. Student general meetings were important turning points in those campaigns. The students at UQ this week joined that history. 

Moments like this show the importance of being an activist. Young people have been abhorred by the events unfolding in Palestine. But there comes a time when your disgust at the horrors of the world cannot be confined to your thoughts, to your conversations with friends, or to your social media feed, although those things are important. You have to do something about it.   

The Gaza solidarity encampment at UQ and the SGM happened because students like you decided that it was worth their time to do everything they could to make it happen. I think it’s worth your time too. Whether that means handing out leaflets for the next rally or making an effort to devote a significant amount of your time to activism, there is all the reason in the world to contribute what energy you can to building this movement. Students were faced with this same choice during the campaign against the Vietnam war, and it’s because they made the right one that they were able to build a global movement which helped bring that war to an end. 

It’s time to get involved. 

Free Palestine.

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