A dozen Palestinian flags rippled in the cold wind as protestors chanted “Ceasefire now!” outside of Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s, D-Mich. office in downtown Detroit last Thursday. Arms locked together, protestors stood in front of the door to the building as organizers made speeches to the crowd of more than 100 people.
The protest was organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement, Jewish Voice for Peace Detroit and Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, along with a coalition of other organizations. One Palestinian Youth Movement organizer, a Palestinian American named Yasmeen, told The Daily that the coalition is asking three things of Stabenow: to publicly endorse a ceasefire, to commit to ending the Israeli siege of Gaza and to commit to ending U.S. funding to Israel. Yasmeen requested that The Daily not publish her last name for security purposes.
Another Palestinian Youth Movement organizer, Meriam, spoke to the crowd about the importance of holding politicians accountable. She requested that The Daily not publish her last name for security purposes.
“We must speak their language (and) stop the flow of money and the destruction of war,” Meriam said in a speech.
Since 1948, the U.S. has given about $130 billion in military aid to Israel, and in 2016, pledged to give $3.8 billion to Israel annually. After the escalation of violence in Gaza, the Biden administration is seeking to provide an additional $14.5 billion in aid to Israel.
Michigan voters at the protest were fed up with their tax dollars being used to fund Israeli aggression that experts have said puts Palestinians at “a grave risk of genocide.” Since Oct. 7, more than 11,000 Palestinian people have been killed by Israeli airstrikes in what the Israeli army calls retaliation against an attack by Hamas that killed around 1,200 people. One Palestinian American at the protest described feeling “filthy” knowing that her tax dollars are used to fund Israeli airstrikes in Gaza. She requested anonymity for security purposes.
“I don’t even want to pay taxes knowing that it’s just all going to buying missiles from Boeing,” she said.
Stabenow has historically voted to uphold the Israeli occupation of Palestine by supporting military aid to Israel and a two-state solution, which some experts call unfeasible. In 2017, she also controversially supported the “Combating BDS Act,” which would allow states to take action against individuals and businesses that boycott Israeli goods and companies. After voting “yes” on that bill, which the American Civil Liberties Union called “unconstitutional,” Stabenow received $164,000 from pro-Israel lobbies during the 2018 election cycle. Throughout her time in office, Stabenow has received more than $800,000 dollars from pro-Israel lobbying groups.
Stabenow’s stance on Palestine hasn’t changed, despite the chanting of her constituents. “If we had a ceasefire yesterday how many would be alive today?” protestors asked outside of her office. Given the rapidly increasing death counts in Gaza, as well as the ground offensive that has displaced 1 million people, the need for a ceasefire becomes more pressing every day.
“I would like for the legislators to unilaterally take a firm stance against this war and call for a ceasefire,” said protester Kegar Johnson in an interview with The Daily. “Every day that there isn’t a ceasefire, there are more people dying.”
Protesters voiced frustration with the silence of their elected officials, including Stabenow, who has yet to release a statement on the bombardment of Gaza. Canton resident Mau called on Stabenow to take a stand in an interview with The Daily. They asked that The Daily not publish their last name for security purposes.
“If you are a politician, why are you a politician?” Mau said. “If you’re here for the people, if the people are saying to stop the genocide and call for a ceasefire, who are you representing?”
The protest outside Stabenow’s office was part of a national shutdown for Palestine organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement. Organizers encouraged individuals and groups to mobilize by walking out from work and school, picketing outside Israeli embassies and consulates, picketing outside of companies that fund or arm Israeli occupation, hosting speakouts and wearing keffiyehs or black armbands. At the University of Michigan, SAFE enacted a day of action in accordance with the “Shut It Down For Palestine” movement, which included a die-in on the Diag. PYM has planned another shutdown for Nov. 17.
Although these movements mean to prevent the ongoing genocide in Palestine, they have often come under scrutiny and have been vilified by Zionists, who have labeled pro-Palestinian activism as antisemitic. Jewish people at the protest argued against this idea, with one speaker saying that “to conflate Jewish people with the state of Israel is antisemitic.”
Zoe, a Jewish Detroit resident who attended the rally, told The Daily she was encouraged by the multi-racial and multi-ethnic nature of the pro-Palestine coalition. She requested that The Daily not publish her last name for security purposes.
“I think it’s important that Jews and other non-Palestinian allies of good conscience are showing up to these things to shatter the false idea that there’s consensus in the American Jewish community on this issue,” Zoe said. “Many of us are aware that the oppression of Palestinians is wrong, that there needs to be equal rights for everyone between the river and the sea.”
Organizers and protestors interviewed expressed a commitment to intersectionality. In an interview with The Daily, Yasmeen said that the colonialist structures that enforce white supremacy in the U.S. are also being used against the Palestinian people in their ancestral lands.
“As a Palestinian American, recognizing and continuing to work with Black and Brown communities who come from different backgrounds is critical,” Yasmeen said. “We recognize that our struggles are joint and our liberation is joint as well.”
MiC Managing Editor Safura Syed can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.