By Roger D. Harris
A “No Business as Usual Rally in Solidarity with Gaza” temporarily shut down the Federal Building in San Francisco on Oct. 19, as people coming from work filled the streets. Called in less than 24 hours notice, the “All Out for Gaza” emergency protest amassed 2,000-3,000 people demanding an end to the siege on Gaza and an immediate cessation of U.S. aid to Israel.
With spirited chants of “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” an ocean of demonstrators stopped traffic as Homeland Security police looked on and a helicopter hovered overhead.
Activists chained themselves together, blocking the entrances to the Federal Building. From the podium, it was announced that the building had been shut down to the cheers of the growing crowd.
Flags and handmade signs proliferated, some proclaiming “You Can’t Hide Genocide.” The main hospital in Gaza, Al-Ahli, had just been bombed by the occupation forces. Two local Lowell High School students, Palestinians, who had led a student strike, spoke eloquently and movingly to the enthusiastic assemblage.
More flags and protesters arrived as the rally in solidarity with Palestine grew. A young man wearing a kippah (yarmulke) freely mingled in the diverse throng. Far from being antisemitic, a clear distinction was drawn between cultural and religious Judaism and the explicitly apartheid political ideology of Zionism.
A speaker, who was introduced as a Jew who opposes Zionism and was born before the state of Israel was established, was especially warmly received by the overwhelmingly youthful protesters.
Some of the speakers from Palestine told how on a daily basis they have had family martyred in Gaza since Oct. 7 and how their grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles were subject to collective punishment, trapped in the open-air prison that is Gaza, with no escape. But, as speaker after speaker declared, their determination to see Palestine free in their lifetime was more resolute than ever.
Egyptian, African American, Filipina, South African and Native American speakers all affirmed their common humanity. “We are all Palestinians,” they proclaimed. And to a person, they identified the common menace to humanity as U.S. imperialism, joined at the hip with its junior partner Zionist Israel.
President Joe Biden had given unconditional approval to the genocide that was unfolding in real time. Mention of his name evoked repeated “shame, shame, shame” chants. Likewise for U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi and for California Governor Gavin Newsome, who had scurried to the crime scene where he too obsequiously gave his unlimited endorsement for what were described as crimes against humanity.
Organizers included Al-Awada, Arab Resource and Organizing Center, Jewish Voice for Peace, Party for Socialism and Liberation, Palestinian Youth Movement and Workers World Party.
A man clutched an olive branch in hopes of a better world. A sign held high read: “Free Palestine, free the people, free the land.”
Roger D. Harris is with the human rights organization Task Force on the Americas, founded in 1985.