Creative Protests Challenge Gaza Genocide

Stop the Genocide Vigil at Harvard Commencement/ photo: Julia Kedge
Stop the Genocide Vigil at Harvard Commencement/ photo: Julia Kedge

MAPA helped to stage two unique protests of the Gaza slaughter last week, a protest at Harvard Commencement and a street art project at the JFK Federal Building.

At Harvard Commencement on May 23, MAPA and our allies organized 175 community members hailing from Watertown to Cape Cod.   We gathered in a solemn vigil along the wall of Harvard Yard, stretching down much of Massachusetts Avenue, to welcome the thousands of people from all over the world coming to attend Harvard’s Graduation ceremony. Our goal was two-fold: to remind everyone that Gaza has to be the main focus of all our attention and to show widespread community support for Harvard students who have been punished by Harvard for their encampment demanding an end to the genocide in Gaza and the divestment of Harvard from Israel and companies doing business with Israel.  Our message was simple: Let Gaza Live – Ceasefire Now – Opposing Genocide is Not Anti-Semitism – Demand that President Garber uphold his agreement to initiate reinstatement proceedings for all suspended and expelled students (made when students agreed to end their encampment).

Our leaflet urged all attendees at the commencement to take whatever action they deemed appropriate to support a ceasefire in Gaza and equal rights for Palestinians. During this early morning vigil numerous family members of graduates thanked those ringing Harvard Yard. And several members of the vigil experienced touching moments with family members, including at least one mother whose son was not being allowed to graduate because of his stand against the Gaza genocide.

Defying a faculty vote, the Harvard Corporation refused to allow 13 seniors to graduate because of their anti-genocide and pro-Palestinian activities.  Our solemn vigil was only one of four protests that day against Harvard and for the people of Gaza.  A group of Harvard faculty and students dressed up as ushers and distributed a brochure which appeared to be the program for the day, but actually contained hard hitting information and background about Israeli apartheid, Harvard’s refusal to divest from Israel, and the war against Gaza. (It was actually a wonderful resource for us to use in our future education work).  A group of students created a high quality parody of “The Harvard CrimEson” which included 8 full pages of very important information about Gaza, the encampment, and Harvard’s complicity in the Israeli occupation.

Hundreds of graduating seniors walked out of the graduation ceremony in support of Gaza and in support of the 13 fellow students who were not allowed to graduate with them. They held a march from Harvard Yard to the Harvard Epworth Church, blocking all traffic on Massachusetts Avenue, where they held an alternative People’s Commencement. Their amazing action garnered main story coverage on Boston’s local TV stations.

The four independent but mutually reinforcing components of the day of protest — our solemn vigil, the creative student-faculty literary productions, and the dramatic student walkout and People’s Commencement — came together to create a loud statement that will not soon be forgotten: against the Gaza genocide and in support of the Harvard students who put their educations on the line for the sake of Gaza.  Watch a short video made at the vigil– Paul Shannon

The next day, a people’s art project took shape directly under the the offices of Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren at the JFK Federal Building in downtown Boston.  Over the course of 5 hours under a brilliant sun, a steady stream of local residents using children’s sidewalk chalk outlined hundreds and hundreds of bodies to call attention to the ongoing and criminal slaughter of innocent Palestinians since October 7, 2023.  Using templates MAPA members brought, or improvising the drawings themselves, participants filled the plaza and sidewalk with the solemn memorial to keep the genocidal onslaught on Palestinians under the noses and on the doorstep of our two Senators.

Accompanying the drawings were rows of shoes, all sizes and types, gathered on a granite slab facing the broad sidewalk.  These were an address to passers-by offering a visceral index of the pointed brutality of the Israeli campaign.  Many people were drawn into the plaza to view the shoes and the message clarifying their meaning.  Each small pair, of sandals, of colorful crocks, of glittering sneakers represented hundreds of children killed.  The shoes were men’s and women’s, too, presented in a way that offered a reminder that entire families are being killed in an instant.

Many people stopped, some to join with us to draw, to talk, to embellish some of the already-drawn outlines with small hearts and messages of love.  Some weaved through us upset at our presence and our message.  Families visiting Boston from abroad engaged with us appreciatively to find out that the work to stop the bombing and call for an immediate and permanent ceasefire was happening not only on college campuses but outside in a prominent public space.

We distributed handouts explaining our reason for gathering, the meaning of our action, and what we asked of those who engaged with us:  an immediate, permanent ceasefire; an end to military aid to Israel; an end to the Occupation; the release of all hostages and of Palestinian prisoners; the immediate delivery of meaningful humanitarian aid.  Watch a short video made at the art project. – Dan McLaughlin