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Grand Rapids protesters show up in the hundreds to join global "Day of Action for Palestine" protest

Hundreds in Grand Rapids join global protests against Gaza war. Peaceful event "Hands off Rafah" calls for US aid cut to Israel.

/Jacob DeWeerd

Many of the protesters interviewed by The Rapidian requested anonymity. However, as per our policy regarding anonymity for individuals sharing their opinions, we made the decision not to include quotes from those who preferred to remain fully anonymous.

It's important to note that our policy specifies that sources expressing opinions without introducing new or previously unreported facts will not be granted full anonymity. Nonetheless, recognizing the heightened concerns about safety due to increased surveillance of protests, we made an exception for one protester who consented to partial anonymity, allowing their contribution to be included in this article.

/Jacob DeWeerd

/Jacob DeWeerd

Hundreds of people gathered in Grand Rapids Saturday to join the millions of people worldwide protesting the war in Gaza and Palestinian suffering for the global “Day of Action for Palestine.” 

As the crowd of over 250 people filled Monument Park in downtown Grand Rapids, chants of “Free, free Palestine!” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free!” echoed through the streets. Honks and cheers of support came from drivers passing by the group. 

The protest, named “Hands off Rafah,” took place one week before the Israeli ground forces are reportedly expected to invade Rafah, a city in Palestine currently home to more than a million refugees.

But the invasion of Rafah was not the sole focus of Saturday’s protest in Grand Rapids.

The event began with roughly an hour of programming that included performances of songs and poems, calls for the United States to end its aid to Israel and a reading of excerpts published by Aaron Bushnell, a 25-year-old serviceman of the U.S. Air Force who died by self-immolation on Feb. 25

Bushnell's act of protest, which he said was against “what people have been experiencing in Palestine at the hands of their colonizers” was performed in front of the Embassy of Israel in Washington, D.C. 

The protest and march Saturday were peaceful from beginning to end, with little to no conflict or counter-protestors, aside from a few drivers who yelled “Go Israel!” as they drove down Fulton Street.

The protestors carried homemade signs adorned with phrases like “Stop the genocide”, “More than 12,300 children killed”, “End Israeli apartheid” and “Stop arming Israel.”

Palestinian flags and kites filled the air, and chalk drawings in support of the Palestinian refugees were scattered across the square. Signs and refreshments were provided by the protest organizers, a local organization called Palestine Solidarity GR (PSGR).

“Today's rally puts a face to the 100k Michiganders who voted ‘uncommitted’ last week, including 17.2% of Grand Rapids voters,” PSGR organizers wrote on Facebook Saturday.

The Listen to Michigan campaign, “a multiracial and multifaith, anti-war campaign … in Michigan to tell President [Joe] Biden that we are uncommitted to his administration’s funding of war and genocide in Gaza,” according to their website, encouraged voters to select "uncommitted" on their Feb. 27 Democratic primary ballot. 

Initially aiming for 10,000 uncommitted votes, which was the margin by which former President Donald Trump won in Michigan in 2016, the campaign exceeded expectations by accumulating over 100,000 uncommitted votes on the Democratic ballot in the state.

Of the 15,022 ballots cast in the Democratic primary in the city of Grand Rapids, 2,591 of those were uncommitted votes.

The U.S.’s involvement in the Israel-Palestine conflict was a common point of anger among the protest’s attendees.

Saturday’s protest came just after the U.S. stated that Israel essentially endorsed a framework of a six-week ceasefire. International mediators have been working on the deal for weeks in an attempt to alleviate the suffering of millions of trapped Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu previously said the planned invasion in Rafah would only be “delayed somewhat” by a ceasefire.

After the programming was finished and people had paid their respects at Bushnell’s vigil, the group of protestors set off on a march through the streets of Grand Rapids. 

One protester, Diane, who requested partial anonymity, said she heard that local action was one of the best ways to show up for Palestinians.

“We’re here for Palestinian rights,” Diane told The Rapidian. “We don’t want to watch them be massacred on TV anymore, and we think it’s really important to show up in your local space. … The most important thing to do was show at your local action and be counted. So that’s what we do.”

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