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Demonstrations for a free Palestine continue

Three reports from the front

Three Tempest members report on demonstrations in New York City for Palestinian self-determination and a ceasefire.

Brooklyn, October 21-Keith Rosenthal

Between three and five thousand people protested in solidarity with Palestine and against Israel’s war in Brooklyn on Saturday, October 21. Organizations behind the demonstration included Within Our Lifetime, Samidoun, and CUNY for Palestine. The multi-generational crowd was largely Palestinian, Arab- and Muslim-American. The protest was in Bay Ridge, a heavily-Palestinian neighborhood. The mood was angry and somber, but also hopeful.  People stayed out all day. As night approached, the police moved in to clear the streets, attacking people, and many fought back. About fifty were taken into police custody.

A child hangs from a lightpole waving a Palestinian flag.
Photo by Keith Rosenthal.
A child rides the shoulders of a marcher in a massive demonstration for Palestine. She is carrying a broad Palestinian flag.
Photo by Keith Rosenthal.

New York City, October 20-Mel Bienenfield

I attended the Oct 20 rally and march organized by JVP, DSA, and other groups. Despite periods of heavy rain, the demonstrators were very spirited and determined. The main demand was for a ceasefire, although chants to free Palestine, end the occupation, and hold Biden responsible for genocide were enthusiastically taken up by the diverse crowd. The march ended in front of the New York offices of Senator Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, where a planned sit-in (beginning around 6:30 PM and lasting over an hour) drew about 200 participants. Third Avenue was entirely shut down, but police waited over an hour before arresting protesters. News reports put the number of arrestees as between 100 and 150. State Assembly Member (and DSA member) Zohran Mamdani condemned the occupation and spoke about the demand for a ceasefire during the sit-in.

A night time vigil/sit-in for palestine
Photo by Mel Bienenfield.
A night time vigil/sit-in for palestine
Photo by Mel Bienenfield.

Ann Arbor, October 25-Ted McTaggart

On October 25, I attended a Palestine solidarity event as part of the walk-out on over 100 campuses. SAFE (Students Allied for Freedom and Equality) – a Palestine solidarity organization that has been on campus for over 20 years – was the main sponsor of the rally, but dozens of student organizations as well as GEO, the graduate student workers’ organization, co-sponsored and helped to build it.

A little bit of historical background: SAFE was founded in the months following 9/11 by Palestinian-American and Arab-American students with a focus on divestment from Israeli apartheid. This was the left wing of a split within the campus anti-war movement that largely fell along racial/ethnic lines, with a larger and predominantly white group called Anti-War Action being the larger organization. It had a liberal-pacifist bent and became a safe space for liberal Zionists who insisted that the anti-war movement not be “divisive” by talking about Palestine. I worked within Anti-War Action along with a few other leftists and a couple of Muslim students who were willing to struggle within this milieu to build a united anti-war movement. Most Arab and Muslim students stayed away and related more to SAFE, the leadership of which drew inspiration above all else from Edward W. Said and websites like Electronic Intifada. We brought some great speakers to campus including Noam Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein, Ali Abunimah, et al. We were frequently lambasted and vilified by the liberal Zionist organizations on campus who kept the white anti-war movement from coming near SAFE with a ten foot pole. Sadly I was the only white, non-Arab, non-Muslim member of the group for most of the time I was active.

Back to Wednesday: I got to the Diag on the center of campus about 15 minutes after the rally’s start time and was surprised to find a crowd of what looked like well over a thousand people, a very young and multiracial crowd. There were very good speeches from GEO leadership as well as from SAFE and other student organizations and loud chants of “Free, Free Palestine” that resonated throughout the whole crowd. After about an hour, the crowd marched, pouring into the middle of a city street going around campus. I am unsure whether the march was planned or not, but the crowd came off the street and started pouring into the Ruthven Building, where the President and Board of Regents regularly meet, to present our demands. My nurses’ union has packed that building for Regents’ meetings in the past but this was unlike anything I had ever seen. I was a little scared from a fire safety perspective because the first and second floor were totally packed as were the stairwells. The loud chanting continued all the while. President Santa Ono ostensibly had office hours in the building that day but apparently did not show up. Leaders of the rally declared they would occupy the building until Ono came and talked to them.

An hour later, the crowd had thinned somewhat but there were still hundreds in the building. A few police had shown up but weren’t making efforts to disperse the crowd. Eventually, a little before 5 p.m., the Vice President for Student Life and another administrator came and offered some platitudes to the crowd to widespread jeers. He promised a meeting with the administration in the next couple of days to hear the demands for divestment from Israel.

Soon after that, the event’s leadership, clearly skeptical that anything would come out of this promised meeting, nevertheless encouraged the crowd to disperse and continue the struggle another day. The alternative would be mass arrests that the organizers had not really prepared participants for in advance.

It was an inspiring moment. I was proud to see how far the movement had come from the days 20 years ago when any critical mention of Israel, Zionism or the words apartheid or divestment were shouted down as “divisive” without challenge from the white anti-war establishment.

Large rally inside domed building atrium; banners reading GEO Stands With Palestine and Divest Now.
Photo by Ted McTaggart.

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Keith Rosenthal, Mel Bienenfield, and Ted McTaggart View All

Keith Rosenthal is the editor of Capitalism and Disability: Selected Writings by Marta Russell. He is a graduate student in Disability Studies and History and a member of the Tempest Collective.

Mel Bienenfeld has been a socialist activist since the late 1960s. He belonged to the International Socialists in the 1970s and 1980s and was involved then in labor and anti-imperialist struggles. More recently he has been president of the Westchester Community College Federation of Teachers, retiring from that position in 2019.

Ted McTaggart is a registered nurse and trade union activist in Michigan.