What do an activist Rabbi, a Quaker organization, and a revolutionary feminist have in common?
Answer: A passion for social justice and solidarity with victims of violence along the US/Mexico border and in Gaza.
This passion was demonstrated at the “Stop the War on Children” protest in downtown Oakland on Thursday, July 24. Organized by the International Action Center, a national organization devoted to a variety of social justice causes, the peaceful event drew comparisons between the Israel/Palestine conflict and the violence along the US/Mexico Border, calling for an end to both racism and war.
The protest was supported by a variety of organizations, including Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC), East Bay Immigrant Youth Coalition (EBIYC), Jewish Voice for Peace, Middle East Children’s Alliance, Women’s Fightback Network, and American Friends Service Committee, among others.
As is the case at many Bay Area events, attendees were an energetic and diverse crowd of a wide range of ethnicities, religions, and ideologies. From men in yarmulke to women in hijabs to Latino children holding Palestinian flags, approximately 200 people gathered from 4 to 6 p.m. in front of the Oakland Federal Building at 1301 Clay Street to call for an end to violence, both at home and abroad. At one point, the crowd formed a picket line and began chanting slogans like, “From Mexico to Palestine, killing children is a crime.”
According to the Telegraph, the death toll in Gaza has topped 1,000 since the conflict started earlier this month.
Though the issues at hand were urgent, the protestors spoke with determination and an air of hope. Arab Resource & Organizing Center member Reem Assil addressed the crowd with a soft but strong voice. “My message today is one of gratitude and solidarity,” she began. “I think in the midst of the grief and the trauma and all the feelings, all the floodgates of emotion, there’s also one of resilience and one of resistance that I feel very proud of. This is a very historical moment in our time.”
Rabbi Alyssa Weis, Bay Area resident and director of the Jewish Voice for Peace – a national organization with over 40 chapters across the US – explains the connection between the Israel/Palestine conflict and the US/Mexico border issue, pointing out how the same corporations that invest in building walls and fences in Israel are the same ones who had invested in building the wall along the US/Mexico border. “It’s actually a much smaller picture than you may assume at the beginning,” she states. “It’s literally the same people profiting from hurting children in Palestine and hurting children in Mexico.”
Israeli native Dalit Baum, the Middle East Program Director of the American Friends Service Committee, an international Quaker organization, echoes Weis’ comparison. “Profit today doesn’t just come from the exploitation of workers,” she states. “It also comes from holding people in cages, around this country and around the world. It also comes from developing all sorts of technologies out of the fear mongering, around labeling some people as threats, as security threats, just by their mere being. You see the same companies actually, both in Gaza, and on the US border with Mexico.”
Baum also works as part of a Jewish-Palestinian organization in Israel called the Coalition of Women for Peace, which conducts research in order to expose which corporations benefit from different aspects of the occupation. This information is published on their website.
The journey into activism was different for every attendee. Frankie Rivera, a Navajo activist living in San Francisco, felt personally connected to those in occupied territories abroad, as well as immigrants who struggle to find a better life. “As a native, I know what they’re suffering.” He explains. “We, as Native Americans, know what it is to be invaded, occupied.”
But while the focus of the event was mainly on finding peace for those in Gaza and Mexico, it became clear that many of the attendees were working on an even wider range of social issues. Judy Greenspan, a spokeswoman for the International Action Center and longtime Bay Area resident, explains that the organization is “as concerned about those people who want their neighborhoods to be safe, to be free from police brutality and police murders, as we are concerned for the safety of the children at the US/Mexico border and the safety of the children in Gaza.”
Greenspan, who has also worked as a coach at various schools in the Bay Area, went on to stress the importance of looking at the bigger picture when it comes to social justice. “I think for a very long time, people worked in their own little areas and I think more and more people are seeing that it’s the system that’s the problem. The same system that’s locking up the children at the US/Mexico border, it’s the same system that’s fighting wars, it’s the same system that’s building prisons, it’s the same system that’s killing young black and brown men like Oscar Grant and others.”
Greenspan was one of many who related these specific issues to national and international social justice as a whole. A woman named Maya (last name withheld) is also a member of a variety of organizations, including Stop Police Brutality and Stop Patriarchy. She explains the importance of awareness of these issues for citizens of the Bay Area.
“Not everyone knows,” she says. “I just had a gentleman here comment on the sign that we had about the US backing Israel, and he was like, ‘what about here in Oakland?’, and I’m like, what about here in Oakland? First of all, I’m also fighting for people here in Oakland. But this is about humanity.”
Throughout the event, about 10 OPD officers stood in the background carefully watching, but the demonstration remained peaceful for its entirety. There was no counter-protest in the immediate vicinity.
After the main event, a group of around 40 attendees lingered to discuss further action. Amidst all the emotion and the variety issues at hand, one thing was clear: there are people in Oakland who are determined to end violence and change the status quo, and they are not willing to stop anytime soon.