Across the world, demonstrations have been happening almost daily in protest to the ongoing slaughter of tens of thousands in Gaza, with growing voices now declaring it a genocide being committed by Israel. Here in Maine, we have seen a number of rallies from Bangor to Bath to Portland, all demanding an immediate ceasefire, and on Friday, February 2nd, Portland saw another action in support of peace in Gaza, this time a little bit more disruptive in hopes of getting its organizers’ point across more directly.
At 1 PM, about two hundred protesters rallied at the intersection of Marginal and Franklin, a popular bottleneck for traffic using the on and off ramps of I-295. The rally was organized by the Maine Coalition for Palestine, an umbrella group that includes organizations like the Maine Democratic Socialists of America, Maine Voices for Palestinian Rights, the Maine Party for Socialism & Liberation, and more. At least four speakers, including family members of holocaust survivors, addressed the ongoing atrocities taking place in Gaza, calling for an immediate ceasefire and loudly denouncing the role the U.S. government has played with its carte blanche military support for Israel.
Protesters proceeded to block the street for nearly two hours, preventing cars from exiting or getting onto the highway. They held banners and signs declaring, “Palestine will be free” and waved Palestinian flags. Attendees kept up spirits with chants like, “We are all Palestinian! In the thousands, in the millions!” “Biden, Biden, you can’t hide! We charge you with Genocide!” and, “Viva, Viva, Palestina!”
In short order, the police arrived and warned protesters that anyone blocking the street would be arrested. However, a number of protesters clearly knew that this would be a possibility ahead of time and committed themselves to having their demands be taken seriously, even if it meant being taken into custody. As one protester noted, “it can’t be any worse than being in Gaza right now.” Within twenty to thirty minutes after their warning, the police moved in and arrested eleven people for blocking the roadway. Among those arrested was Lisa Savage, who ran for U.S. Senate as an Independent in 2020.
As local news announced the protest and arrests online, comment sections were quick to fill up with a mixed bag of people either supporting or denigrating the demonstration. While a number of social media comments cheered on the protest with posts like, “Proud of them. Thrilled to see Mainers standing against genocide”, other comments called for violence against the protesters like, “Run them over”, “Time to get the plow truck out”, and “Open fire!!!!” Some of this vitriol could potentially be explained by the rising political polarization in the U.S., and especially the rise in violent rhetoric on the right. But, it’s also true that protesters fighting for peace have long faced threats of violence in America. From women’s suffrage, to the Civil Rights Movement, to the anti-war movement of Vietnam, people have created peaceful acts of disruption and partaken in civil disobedience, all in order to call attention to larger injustices. And, without fail, those acts of peaceful disruption have and will continue to draw hateful, violent vitriol (or worse) from those who favor the status quo of war, injustice, and inequality.
But for all those who are upset at the protesters on February 2nd because you were late for work, or an appointment, or picking up groceries from Whole Foods, we will leave you again with what the protester quoted above said, “it can’t be any worse than being in Gaza right now.”