The Growing Pro-Palestine Protests Are Becoming a Mass Movement

Yesterday pro-Palestine protesters staged a massive, historic march in Washington DC, the culmination of weeks of demonstrations in the US calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. We’re seeing perhaps the largest US antiwar movement since the invasion of Iraq.

Thousands of pro-Palestine protesters march toward the US Capitol on November 4, 2023. (Celal Gunes / Anadolu via Getty Images)

On October 20, thousands of protesters marched through the streets of New York City to call for an immediate cease-fire and an end to hostilities in Gaza. Jeremy Cohan, cochair of New York City Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and a Jewish organizer, told reporters that “we have to do what we have to do for justice and for peace.” Sumaya Awad, a prominent Palestinian member of DSA and author, said much the same that night: “We’re out here, it’s pouring rain, we’re wet, but they have blood on their hands.”

These are the sentiments of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have mobilized for a cease-fire in recent weeks, as Israel carries out its indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza following the brutal October 7 Hamas attacks. Just one month into the ongoing crisis, with well over nine thousand Palestinians in Gaza killed (the vast majority of them civilians, including some four thousand children), and with international pressure heightening, the United States is witnessing perhaps its largest and most coordinated antiwar movement since the demonstrations against America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003.

A week ago, Palestinians in New York marched across the Brooklyn Bridge in droves, while demonstrations in Los Angeles and San Francisco drew thousands the last two weeks of October. Hundreds rallied in Austin, Texas, last weekend. Students have walked out at universities in New York and California, defying the on-campus repression that organizations like the Anti-Defamation League are trying to stoke. Tens of thousands showed strength in the Palestinian stronghold of Chicago through a series of marches last month, demanding an immediate cease-fire and the end of Israel’s decades-long occupation. Thousands of young Jewish Americans staged dazzling actions over the last two weeks, including a sit-in on Capitol Hill and an occupation of Grand Central station in New York and the 30th St Station in Philadelphia.

All of this culminated in yesterday’s National March on Washington for a Free Palestine, which is being hailed as the largest demonstration for Palestine in US history and which organizers say boasted 300,000 protesters. Organized by a variety of groups — including the Palestinian Youth Movement, National Students for Justice in Palestine, the ANSWER Coalition, the People’s Forum, and many others — the historic march brought together labor organizers, black civil rights activists, Jewish anti-Zionists, antiwar veterans, and relative newcomers invigorated by events like the George Floyd protests of 2020. Prominent Palestinians such as Noura Erakat and Dr. Omar Suleiman condemned the failings of the international order to prevent the atrocities in Gaza and called on supporters of Palestine to use their voice to demand change. Elsewhere in the United States, tens of thousands conducted concurrent marches in cities like San Francisco, Chicago, and Provo, Utah.

The massive crowd at the National March on Washington for a Free Palestine. (New York City Democratic Socialists of America)

As the casualties mount and horrific images circulate of bombed refugee camps and ambulances, the outcry from all walks of life in the United States is rising. Already, polling indicated that the Biden administration’s unconditional support for Israel in their pursuit of a Gaza invasion was not as popular as anticipated. New polling from Quinnipiac University released last Thursday shows that trend is only sharpening, with 49 percent of Democrats disapproving of how Israel has approached the war and a majority, 52 percent, of 18­–34-year-olds across all identifications disapproving.

The age divide on the issue is as wide as it has ever been, building on both growing intra-Jewish tensions and the broader US youth’s shift left on Israel and Palestine. A majority of Americans across every demographic and partisan affiliation want the United States to provide humanitarian assistance to those suffering in Gaza. The political environment in the United States, while certainly plagued by neo-McCarthyism, is not nearly as pro-Israel as the sentiment inside the halls of Congress might indicate.

Despite the gap between Congress and the public, it is also increasingly clear that the demonstrations and pressure campaign for a cease-fire — including the DSA’s No Money For Massacres phone-banking campaign, which has made over 219,000 calls as of this writing — are moving members on the margins. Since Cori Bush and Rashida Tlaib introduced their “Ceasefire Now” resolution, prominent progressives such as Ayanna Pressley, Greg Casar, and Jamaal Bowman have signed on. Tlaib and Bush’s fellow DSA member in Congress, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has also added her name to the resolution, after calling for a cease-fire as early as October 9. In total, eighteen members of Congress have signed onto the Tlaib-Bush resolution. The presence of these figures in the federal legislature is a marked improvement from the ideological makeup of the Democratic caucus in Congress even just nine years ago, during the 2014 war in Gaza.

The movement for a cease-fire is proving intense enough that it has caused various sections of the Democratic caucus to move in distinct directions. Other figures in Congress have called for a cease-fire while refraining from signing on to the Tlaib-Bush resolution, including Minnesota representative Betty McCollum and Texas representative Veronica Escobar. By contrast, progressive congresspeople from Massachusetts’s Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey to New York’s Jerry Nadler have proposed a “humanitarian pause” in line with the White House’s rhetoric and orientation on the issue. Notably, despite deploring the loss of innocent life in Gaza and criticizing Israel’s “indiscriminate warfare,” Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has stuck with the demand of the latter group.

DSA members at the Washington, DC, march hold signs calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza. (New York City Democratic Socialists of America)

The growing movement for a cease-fire, and, more broadly, for Palestinian liberation, has drawn comparisons from some older organizers to the antiwar demonstrations against America’s invasion of Iraq. Many antiwar activists and democratic socialists see a new and more diverse mass movement developing before their very eyes, this time with lessons learned and new techniques and strategies deployed. There’s a burgeoning relationship between Jewish and Muslim organizations opposed to the Israeli occupation and apartheid regime, an essential development for winning democracy for all people between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. And even though the presidency and Senate are controlled by the center-left party, hundreds of thousands, some seasoned organizers of the US left and some relative novices, have mobilized on the streets to express solidarity with Palestine. As Saoirse Gowan, a member of Metro DC DSA, put it to me, “We have learned lessons, and we are not going to go away just because this is happening under a Democratic presidency.”

The movement for a cease-fire and for freedom for all those who live between the Jordan and the Mediterranean does not end with yesterday’s massive day of national action, but it showcases its growing strength among the public. Palestinian and Jewish partnership and the support of the working class worldwide will lead the way to liberation.

Two years ago, in the middle of the May 2021 crisis, democratic socialist and Palestinian-American congresswoman Rashida Tlaib took to the floor of the House of Representatives and declared with steadfast zeal, “The freedom of Palestinians is connected to the fight against oppression all over the world.” It was true in 2021, and it’s perhaps even more prescient now.