'Palestine is Freeing Us': 300,000 People March in Largest Pro-Palestine Protest in Washington, DC
Date: 
November 08 2023
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On Nov.4  an estimated 300,000 people flooded Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C. to participate in a national march for Palestine that was organized by a coalition of grassroots and national organizations. It was the largest protest for Palestine in U.S. history. 

Demonstrators came from all corners of the United States, flying in or traveling on one of the hundreds of buses coordinated across the country. Others walked over from their D.C. residences. The crowd was diverse, spanning generations, and united by an outrage over 75 years of ethnic cleansing and settler colonialism, as well as the unfolding Israeli genocide in Gaza.

The mobilization was organized by the Palestinian Youth Movement, ANSWER Coalition, American Muslim Alliance, The People's Forum, National Students for Justice in Palestine, the Palestinian Feminist Collective, Al-Awda: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition, US Palestinian Community Network (USCPN), US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), Maryland2Palestine, and the Palestinian American Community Center - New Jersey; it was endorsed by more than 400 organizations.


Demonstrators at Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC on Nov. 4 carry signs and protest for Palestine. Photo by Laura Albast.

In one month, Israel murdered more than 10,000 Palestinians under a deluge of aerial bombing and illegal white phosphorus, targeting hospitals, churches, mosques, schools, bakeries, residential buildings, exit corridors, UN shelters, water supplies, and refugee camps. Since Oct. 7, more than one million Gazans have been displaced from their homes and several towns across the West Bank have faced dispossession and ethnic cleansing. More Palestinians have been displaced in the last month than during the entire Nakba, and nearly just as many have been killed. In the wake of what many are now calling a genocide (including scholars, legal experts, and UN officials), and what Palestinians have long referred to as part of an ongoing Nakba, the masses in DC were there to declare that enough is enough.

The rally began at Freedom Plaza, where attendees were greeted with cultural tunes, free posters for all, erect banners by regional contingents, and dozens of pseudo-caskets draped in Palestinian flags lined up along the plaza steps. By 12:45 p.m., about an hour before the official start of the protest, thousands of Muslims lined up for prayer, initiated by an athan (call to prayer) from the stage. 

The event featured a diverse lineup of speakers, ranging from religious leaders and activists to lawyers and celebrities. These included: Nadya Tannous, Dr. Hatem Bazian, Lauren Pineiro, Mahdi Bray, Melanie Yazzie, Omar Suleiman, Macklemore, Maysoon Abu Gharbieh, Nihad Awad, Rasha Mubarak, Mohammed El-Kurd, Noura Erakat, Osama Abu Irshaid, Lamis Deek, Vijay Parshad, and 36 others. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Portraits of speakers at Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC on Nov. 4. From left to right: Omar Sulaiman, Rasha Mubarak, Macklemore, Mohammed El-Kurd, and Noura Erakat. Photo by Laura Albast. 

The crowd continued to swell as the day progressed. Several key themes emerged during the speeches: the recent events were not isolated and occurred within the context of an ongoing Occupation, the Palestinian struggle was interconnected with all anti-colonial struggles throughout history, and the Palestinian cause, though marked by loss and mourning, was undoubtedly a just and hopeful cause for all people, wherever they may be. As the final speeches concluded, hundreds of thousands of people moved up 14th Street. 

The crowd marched toward the White House, chanting several demands, including a call for an immediate ceasefire, an end to the siege on Gaza, and an end to U.S. military aid to Israel. Brian Becker, Executive Director of Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition and one of the march’s national organizers emphasized a significant public shift in the Palestine movement.

“We are experiencing a fundamental change in public opinion in the United States on the issue of Palestine,” Becker said. He added that the indisputably horrific footage coming out of Gaza, the Biden administration’s disgraceful embrace of Israel’s racist regime, and the outspoken and growing number of Arabs and Muslims across the United States, have all led to the historic numbers observed at the march. Though no one reason alone could account for the over quarter of a million Americans marching in their capital for Palestine, it was clear that the tide was turning in the United States.

Yara Shoufani, another national march organizer and member of the Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM) said: “In a country where education, healthcare, and good jobs need funding, the American masses do not support their tax dollars going towards the Zionist state’s genocide against the Palestinian people.” 

In the last year, the child poverty rate in the U.S. has more than doubled as a result of dwindling COVID-19 pandemic funds, and homelessness has been steadily on the rise. Despite the inaction of U.S. officials, almost two-thirds of Americans are now calling for a ceasefire. 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Demonstrators chant and carry signs in front of the White House in Washington, DC on Nov. 4. Photo by Laura Albast.

Nour Jaghama, Palestine coordinator for the feminist anti-war group CODEPINK, had a message for U.S. politicians.

“Are [you] comfortable being remembered as inhumane warmongers taking part in the genocide of men, women, children, and the elderly,” Jaghama said, emphasizing American tax dollars being used to fund Israel. “Or will you take a stand… and call for a ceasefire?”

While U.S. officials have refused to take action to stop Israel's carpet bombing of Gaza, funded in the billions by American taxpayers, they have intensified efforts to suppress free speech, expand surveillance, and criminalize the activism of Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, and their allies across the country. This crackdown against pro-Palestine voices, referred to as a "McCarthyite backlash" by Palestine Legal, has created an environment of fear designed to suppress the growing movement. The rise in eerily familiar post-9/11 rhetoric has not only manufactured consent for the relentless killing of Palestinians in Palestine, but it has also led to the tragic murder of Palestinians in the United States. On Oct. 14, Wadea Al-Fayoume, a six-year-old Palestinian-American boy was murdered in a hate crime. Al-Fayoume was stabbed 26 times by his landlord, a man whom he previously viewed as a trusted adult figure. In a week, the man who had once built the young child a tree house had become his killer, radicalized by the rhetoric that is once again making its way from news screens into public life.

Neither the anti-Palestinian rhetoric in this moment of history nor its deadly consequences are new. Mohammad Abou-Ghazala, a march organizer with PYM, echoed this sentiment.

“I am Palestinian, I have carried that always… I grew up in the post-9/11 climate where Palestine was beyond taboo and there was an intense sense of fear.” Abou-Ghazala said. 

And the attempts at stunting momentum for Palestinian liberation span far beyond Sept.11, 2001. Abou-Ghazala emphasized that much of PYM’s work is based on a “post-Oslo [Accords] framework” that has come to define the modern state of the world, in which “Palestinian students, women, trade unions… and in the diaspora… all got severed after Oslo,” from a more cohesive organizing structure. 

Demonstrators carry signs at Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC on Nov. 4. Photo by Laura Albast. 

The widespread campaign to suppress and factionalize Palestinians has only served as evidence of the movement's strength. So while the attempts to isolate and instill fear in Palestinians have a long history, too does the Palestinian solidarity movement, as countless protesters in DC who spoke with Palestine Square (this blog) pointed out. 

Micah Khater, a protester who flew in from California to attend the march, told Palestine Square that “the history of the movement is nearly a century, and what is so rich about it is that it refuses to forget.” The young refuse to forget the history of the old. And those struggling refuse to forget those who struggled alongside them. Khater, in imagining a world without colonialism, “always think[s] about June Jordan and how she constantly invoked the connection between feminism, Black liberation, and Palestinian liberation.” 

Isabella Dominique, a DC-area organizer and march attendee said: “It is important to realize how much our struggles are connected… People assume issues that happen outside of the country are just that, but they are interconnected.” 

Dominique emphasized the connection between militarized forces in America and Israel, linking the tactics used by Israeli Occupation Forces against Palestinians to the tactics used by U.S. police against Black and brown Americans 

Hadiya Afzal, a Chicago-based organizer, spoke to the connection between imperial powers in the formation of modern-day borders. 

“Pakistan was established a year before the Nakba with borders drawn up by the same colonial powers that benefited from the imperialist, extractionist empire before it,” Afzal said.

 Like all people faced with violent repression, Afzal underscores that, “when a people are subjugated… their solidarity will inevitably burst forward and across those imperial lines to unite and tear down their oppressors with the demand for self-determination.” The struggle for Palestinian freedom is part of a web of freedom struggles across time. It is a struggle that teaches others and learns from others as a part of a collective fight for liberation. 

Lujain Al-Saleh, an organizer with the Palestinian Feminist Collective (PFC) and the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), said: “We learn so much from other struggles like the Haitian revolution, the Algerian revolution, and I think it’s crucial at this time to bridge our organizing and our struggle with others.” 

Al-Saleh also said: “The history of the United States is based on genocide and the removal of native people along with slave-owning and racial capitalism. If we want to be on the right side of history, what’s happening right now makes it our duty to fight against our government to say that this needs to stop.” 

Demonstrator films march from Freedom Plaza to the White House in Washington, DC on Nov. 4. Photo by Laura Albast. 

While the path to Palestinian liberation does not run through Washington, D.C., or any governmental or non-governmental organization, the world is witnessing a growing awareness of the issue. Even those at the heart of the imperial core recognize and are inspired by the urgency of this moment. From the United Nations to the U.S. State Department, employees are resigning over global leaders’ despicable stance on Palestine. And while the liberation of Palestine will not come from any of these institutions, Saturday’s march was a sign that it will surely come within this lifetime.

The recent wave of mobilization, forged from the fire of a nearly century-long struggle for freedom and dignity, is a testament to the inspiring steadfastness of the Palestinian people. 

Recent demonstrations in Egypt have seen hundreds of thousands take to the streets, even though protest has been illegal in the country for over a decade. The masses have chanted: “In freeing Palestine, Palestine is freeing us.” A sentiment that has since reverberated all across the globe. 

PYM’s Shoufani pointed out: “Where revolutions are repressed, the struggle for Palestine is a struggle that unites us and frees us all from the shackles of imperialism and colonialism.” 

Indeed, the masses see themselves in the struggle for Palestinian liberation.

To the people of Palestine, the message is this: we love you, you are not alone, and the world stands with you. Every word uttered at the march in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 4 was about your bravery, your dignity, your sacrifice, and your steadfastness. From those who just learned about Palestine this week to those of us living in exile, waiting for return, you are an inspiration to everyone, of all levels of political consciousness, all over the globe. 

It is because of you that many are now calling into question the so-called “complex” narratives that were once accepted as fact. It is because of you that ‘the situation’ in Palestine, which was once ambiguous to Americans, has now become incredibly and unequivocally clear. It is because of you that millions everywhere have been mobilized to action. It is because of you that so many people see themselves in Palestinians. We see ourselves in your joy, we see ourselves in your tears, and we see ourselves in your liberation. Most importantly, it is because of you that Palestine will be free, and we will all be freer for it.

Demonstrators hold signs at Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC on Nov. 4. Photo by Laura Albast. 

About The Author: 

Noor H. is a Palestinian writer and public health student based in America. She is interested in research related to Arab women's health and health equity through the lens of structural determinants of health. 

From the same blog series: Genocide In Gaza

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