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Dialing for Change: Students Organize Phone Banking for Palestine Initiative

Sumaya Sultan-Ali

A student holds a ringing phone, waiting. A voice with a tempered tone answers,  yelling about scripts and how useless and shameful the student is. The student cancels the call. This was the scene all throughout Thursday, November 9th for all high schoolers in Pleasant View’s last period class as students took turns calling their respective Tennessee representatives to ask them to support a ceasefire in Gaza.


The messages delivered by the students were sent with the goal to stop the bombing and starving of 2.3 million civilians in Gaza and to stop the death toll from growing higher. Despite the death toll in Gaza being the highest rate of civilian death in 50 years of conflict, the United States Congress just approved a $14 Billion aid package to the military perpetrating the bombings by Israel’s Defense Forces (IDF). Israel insists that the IDF’s tactics are humane, but their astronomically high civilian death count and with 100:1 or 99% fail rate for killing militants says otherwise.


Students around the nation came together in support of the preservation of human life on November 9th. The idea to hold the phone banking at PVS was put into motion by the PVS Memphis Muslims for Justice Club. It was inspired by the recent censure of Congresswoman Rashida Talib after Congress viewed her statement, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” as a call for violence.


An additional motivator for the call banking was how little Memphis Congress members represent many of their constituents’ needs. With the three massive marches for Palestine here in the past few weeks and on the heels of the largest Palestinian protest in US history, Tennessee Congress members continue to express their unwavering support for Israel. Representative Steve Cohen, especially, has become a poor representative of some of his constituents on the Palestine conflict.


The Senior class visited Representative David Kustoff and Cohen in their offices in Washington, DC to urge them to help innocents by calling for a ceasefire, but it didn’t amount to much. Thus, PVS high schoolers were even more motivated to call their representatives to vote against funding the army responsible for more than 26,000 civilian deaths and to call for a ceasefire.


The phone baking event started in the gym, where every student was grouped into five  groups. Every group would go to a classroom together, find their representative’s contact information, and call them. The ones who couldn’t call or didn't feel comfortable emailed their representatives instead. While the response, “I’ll pass your message on” seemed to be a popular one amongst the callers, some of the staffers of the Congress members did respond. Many dismissed students and criticized them reading from a script, shamed students for taking away time from more pressing issues, or chided them for wasting their time by not calling foreign affairs. Most did not dispute the content of the message, but rather the delivery, responsibility and the intended audience. 


In the end, the phone banking event taught high schoolers that they have a voice in local government and that it's our right and duty as constituents to urge our representatives to prioritize our concerns while in office.




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