Reflections from a San Francisco protest in solidarity with Gaza

ActivismIsrael/Palestine
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San Francisco protest against Israeli attacks on Gaza, Nov. 19, 2012
(Photo: Angela Sevin/Twitter)

In solidarity with the besieged people of Gaza under their 6th day of bombardment by the Israeli military, Bay Area residents gathered for the second time at the Israeli Consulate in downtown San Francisco.

The emergency action was planned by a coalition of groups including the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Middle East Children’s Alliance, Students for Justice in Palestine, American Muslims for Palestine, Al-Awda, Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network, International Socialist Organization, CODEPINK, and Revolutionary Books among others.

I am not a journalist, and I’ll leave the reporting to those with better expertise, but I would like to share with you my reflections on the night as I took part in the protest:

As I stared across the street at the handful of Zionists waiving Israeli and American flags I found myself thinking, “What on earth is going through their minds?” I asked this question to a few of the people around me, and they thought the same thing. “What could motivate someone to instantly react in favor of oppression? Who taught them this? Why? How?” No matter how much I try to understand the Zionist position, something about it always baffles me.

Numbers – Our demonstration numbered in the hundreds and continued to grow throughout the night, spilling into the streets and stretching a whole city block. In contrast, there were never more than 50 Zionists (in my estimate) counter-demonstrating, while their numbers sank below 25 by the time the sun went down. How come? Is it because of how absurd it is to cheer-lead assault on a defenseless population? Or because Zionists are so comfortable in their power that they do not feel the need to defend themselves, confident that the media and our government are on their side? Or because it doesn’t matter what any of us think anyway, as long as it only amounts to slogans on a street corner?

Regardless of the answer to the above questions, what I think is important here is the message the disparity in numbers showed to passers-by. We might not have the money or political clout to drown out enemies of truth and justice but we are still here and there are a lot of us.

Demographics – Our group did a fantastic job showcasing the rich diversity of the pro-Palestine movement, perhaps evidencing the universal appeal of values of truth and justice. There were self-identified Christians, Jews, and Muslims. All age groups were present from teenagers to elders, while the bulk of protesters were young adults. We were a rainbow coalition –White, Black, Arab, Persian, Hispanic, Asian, and more – mostly composed of people of color. The Zionists, on the other hand, were on the whole over 40 and white with the exception of one woman of color and a handful of young people.

Discourse – Our signs and slogans spoke against racism, apartheid, imperialism/colonialism, and in favor of justice, human rights, and an end to occupation and siege. Zionists held signs about rockets and Jihad. To me this says ours is a movement based on ethics, while theirs is a movement steeped in militarism, religious bigotry, and ideas too embarrassing to say out loud (how does “I support ethno-supremacism” look on a cardboard sign?). Our chants were the usual ones: From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free; 1 2 3 4 We don’t want your racist war, 5 6 7 8 Israel is a terrorist state; End the occupation; No Justice, No Peace. The Zionists countered with: What Occupation, Morons? They came off as childish, ill-prepared and historically ignorant.

Solutions and Connections– Rather than just a protest to raise awareness, or show Gazans that they are not alone (important causes in their own right), the demonstration was heavily focused on informing participants of the ways they could truly contribute to the struggle. Groups passed out BDS pamphlets, chanted “Boycott! Divest” and spoke of the importance of convincing our government to spend our tax dollars on curing poverty and disease instead of war and ethnic cleansing. We connected our financial problems at home to misplaced priorities abroad, and called for an end to all occupation, from Gaza to Iraq and beyond.

But even after all these reflections, the most sobering moment for me was when I left the protest to head home, weaving in and out of traffic deep in the heart of the Financial District. As I walked past corporate headquarters, multi-national banks, stock tickers and well-dressed businessmen unaware of the screaming and shouting only a few blocks away, I realized simultaneously how ignorant most people truly are about what’s going on, and how complicit our institutions are in the oppression of millions of people around the world. As sobering as that thought is, it reminds me of how many minds there still are to win over, how many board decisions there are to influence, how much potential we activists have to effect radical change. Whether in times of acute crisis or of the banal procession of time under unending occupation, we have a responsibility to the people of Palestine to do all that we can to make sure our slogans and actions aren’t just empty moral posturing.

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