When I come back from doing any kind of public campaigning on behalf of Palestinian rights, I often have to struggle not to sink into depression – even with the strides we’ve made in recent years in opening the eyes of parts of the American public, it still feels like there are so few of us, surrounded by oceans of indifference if not hostility.
But that isn’t at all how I felt after this past Sunday’s rally and march for Gaza in San Francisco – in fact, I found that event positively exhilarating: it was huge (something on the order of 6,000 people, far more than at any other Bay Area action for Palestine I can remember), exceptionally diverse, and united in outrage, solidarity, and determination. (The text, photos, and especially the videos here give a good sense of the size and flavor of the event.)
Today I took part in a much more modest demonstration, one I expected to be boring at best, but it too turned out surprisingly gratifying. Last evening a friend forwarded a message from someone I don’t know who had just, on his own, decided to organize “a little Jewish sign holding for peace and against the Gaza invasion” during Tuesday’s rush hour at a busy intersection in one of the working-class sections of Berkeley (University and San Pablo Avenues, for those who know the city). He threw together a Facebook event page and spread the word through friends and their networks.
In the event, something like 20 or 25 people, predominantly but not exclusively Jews, showed up – enough so we could have a cluster of people at all four corners of the intersection. Most of us had home-made, handwritten signs. The one I made said in big, bold letters “Let Gaza Live.”
The amazing thing was the reaction we got from passing drivers and passengers: in the hour and 15 minutes we spent out there, I saw not a single gesture of hostility or disapproval, and a remarkable percentage of drivers honked in support and/or waved, flashed a v-sign or thumbs-up. At times, we got that kind of reaction from every third or fourth car. Not surprisingly, the strongest support seemed to come from people of color.
One phenomenon I thought I noticed: it often seemed that once one driver honked, others right behind would join in – as if a lot of people were sunk in their usual passivity, but actually agreed with us, and once one person had the gumption to hit the horn, the others were inspired to express themselves, too.
The moral of the story: it appears to me that the horrific images we’re all seeing from Gaza are starting to have an effect, and more and more people are seeing through the politicians’ rhetoric about “Israel’s right to defend itself” and coming to understand the sheer viciousness of the Israeli onslaught – and the racism that underlies it. Obviously, Berkeley, even its non-elite sections, are by no means typical of America, but it’s hard to believe similar dynamics aren’t unfolding elsewhere. Even if that’s true, I don’t expect any change in US government policy in the near future, considering the grip of the Zionist establishment on our politicians and media, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.
And activists taking to the streets can only help that awakening along. If you’re part of a local organization that can put out the call, all the better, but as our experience today showed, it’s not necessary: all you need are a few like-minded acquaintances to spread the word and some markers and poster board to make signs with. There’s not a lot we can do, in the short run, for the suffering people of Palestine, but I suspect most of them would appreciate even a simple effort like this.
A concrete suggestion, based on the one criticism I had of today’s little action: some of the signs people brought or made were fairly wordy, and the letters small and/or thin – to the point, I suspect, that drivers zipping by probably couldn’t make out what they said. My advice: simple slogans and big, bold, dark lettering.