A woman unfolds a black t-shirt with white lettering from a pile of similar ones. Across a table, several other piles can be seen. Several people gather around to receive the shirts.
Organizers of the Anti-Colonial Resistance Open Mic hand out t-shirts with the words “Free Palestine” on the front of the shirt and other words on the back to people who attended the event. Emily Alberts/Daily. Buy this photo.

About 200 University of Michigan students and community members gathered in the basement of Trotter Multicultural Center Wednesday for an open mic night organized by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality and its coalition organizations. The open mic, titled “Anti-Colonial Resistance: The Stories Behind Our Liberation Movements,” hosted performers who shared stories of liberation and resistance from all over the world.

Many speakers at the event were associated with student organizations involved in SAFE’s coalition, including the Bangladeshi Students Association and the Urban Wordsmith Society. Attendees shared a variety of spoken works during the event, including chants, songs and original poems. Some speakers even engaged the audience in movement, as members of the Oceania Student Association led attendees in the Siva Tau, a Samoan war dance.

The event opened with a reading of “Heaven and hell,” an anonymous poem about Palestinian liberation published by The Michigan Daily’s Michigan in Color section. Subsequent speakers presented works centering on the topic of anti-colonial resistance from past and present liberation movements from across the world. Students also shared famous poems about liberation, including “We Teach Life, Sir” by Rafeef Ziadah and “Love Liberates” by Maya Angelou.

LSA junior Tarana Sharma, advocacy chair of the United Asian American Organizations, told The Michigan Daily in an interview that the open mic aimed to provide students with a space to express and share their feelings and perspectives around topics of anti-colonialism.

“We wanted to give students a space to just be able to get out what they’re feeling, what they’re thinking,” Sharma said. “To come together, learn how to listen to each other and also learn how to articulate everything we’ve been through and everything we’re feeling right now.”

Sharma said she was inspired and impressed by how willing U-M students were to share space and stand in solidarity with one another, even as the University has yet to address the demands of SAFE’s coalition. Since the Israeli government began carrying out land and air attacks on the Gaza Strip following the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas, SAFE has held multiple protests on campus in support of Palestine and in honor of the thousands of Palestinians who have been killed since the Israeli military campaign began. The organization and its allies have called for a ceasefire and demanded that the University divest from corporations that fund Israel. 

“I think it’s incredibly powerful to see the conviction that students have even though we have been getting snubbed by the administration repeatedly for over a month now,” Sharma said. “There’s no sign of slowing down. I’m just so incredibly proud of everyone who shows up at these events.”

LSA senior Hevji Shahab, vice president of the Urban Wordsmith Society, recited a spoken word piece about Kurdish independence and identity. In an interview with The Daily after his performance, Shabab said the open mic provided an opportunity for students to discuss decolonization from less-known perspectives.

“This was a great opportunity to talk about decolonization, which is something that isn’t talked about enough,” Shahab said. “Coming from a Kurdish background, I felt like this was a great opportunity to let people know how we feel and what happens to us. Like almost everyone (at the event) said, ‘None of us are free till we’re all free.’”

LSA senior Zainab Hakim, SAFE Education Committee member, helped organize the event and told The Daily the event is a continuation of the coalition’s campus-wide conversations around how anti-colonial struggles across history intersect with the current siege on Gaza. Solidarity among on-campus organizations is integral to showing how Palestinian liberation affects everyone, she explained.

“We’re not free until Palestine is free, we’re not free until everybody is free,” Hakim said. “And so, when people see that, like, it helps them feel less alone. I’ve been on SAFE for a while, and when it’s just us it’s so much harder than when it’s everybody.”

Hakim said she hopes other organizations within SAFE’s coalition, such as the Black Student Union, can similarly benefit from standing in solidarity. BSU recently commemorated the first anniversary of its More Than Four Platform, which aims to address a lack of Black student enrollment and promote more diversity, equity and inclusion policies at the University. 

“I hope that it can be the same for the (Black Student Union) and for others in the coalition who are, a lot of times, fighting against the university alone,” Hakim said. “And for them to also know we are behind them, they have the masses behind them.”

Engineering senior Sambujang Fofana performed at the open mic and told The Daily the event was an important way to raise awareness about humanitarian issues.

“It allows people who are unaware of what’s going on to be able to understand how everyone should be involved,” Fofana said. “It’s important as humans to know that other humans are suffering, and that it’s not a one-person thing or a one-culture thing.”

Attendees said they were moved by the performances. Public Health junior Jessica Hsu said they were inspired by the personal stories performers told through their poetry.

“I think that much of the poetry that was said today was very moving,” Hsu said. “I think it shed light on the way that writing can be used as a tool for resistance, social justice (and) activism. Especially in terms of how a lot of the poems were very personal and vulnerable, and that raw vulnerability itself is very inspiring and moving to witness.”

Shahab said the event was an important way for students from marginalized populations to organize and create a community on campus.

“I think one of the biggest things that minority communities (have) is being united, if we are united we are much stronger than being separated,” Shahab said. “We have all these organizations, and most of us don’t have more than 50 members, but when we come together, we start becoming a majority. I think being united is really how we make any type of change.”

Daily Staff Reporters Bronwyn Johnston and Joshua Nicholson can be reached at jbronwyn@umich.edu and joshuni@umich.edu.

Editor’s Note: The Michigan Daily’s Michigan in Color section was not involved in the editing of this piece.