Western MA Peace Advocates Occupy Rep. McGovern’s Office Demanding an End to U.S. military aid to Israel

Western MA peace advocates occupying McGovern's office in Northampton, MA

There are so many creative actions taking place to “shut it down” and allow “no business as usual” for Palestine. The folks who occupied one of their Congressional representative’s district offices in western Massachusetts last week urge fellow activists to carry out similar occupations of the district offices of their members of Congress, showing there is no need to travel to Washington to stand with the people of Gaza!

Our target was liberal Congressman Jim McGovern (MA-CD2). He has three district offices; since members of our group — Demilitarize Western Mass — live in the Connecticut River Valley area, we took up residence in McGovern’s Northampton office.


Our demands: At the beginning of our sit-in or occupation of McGovern’s office, we told him we would not leave until he met a single, simple demand:

To call publicly for an immediate and permanent cessation of all U.S. arms exports to Israel, unconditionally.

On the second day of our sit-in, we added the following demand:

To call publicly on the Biden Administration to introduce a UN ceasefire resolution, or at the least, to cease vetoing them.


Background: The U.S. is breaking at least three laws in its support for genocide in Gaza. The Leahy Law (former VT Senator Patrick Leahy) prohibits the United States from providing weapons to military units that are violating human rights. Two other laws prohibit arms shipments when the U.S. is prevented from providing humanitarian assistance in a conflict zone. U.S. abrogation of these laws has been laid out by Josh Paul, the State Dept. official who resigned in protest of U.S. support for Israeli genocide last fall.

Our focus with McGovern is on the Leahy law. This is because while McGovern has publicly called for a pause in US weapons shipments to Israel on the grounds that it is thwarting the delivery of U.S. humanitarian aid, we feel it is deeply wrong to resume delivery of military aid just because humanitarian aid is getting through — bomb them when their stomachs are full?

In December, several folks in the Northampton area created an impromptu group called the Leahy Fast for Palestine Committee. The members publicly undertook to fast from sunrise to sundown every day until a permanent ceasefire is in place. On December 19, members of the group met with Congressman McGovern to ask that he call for an end to US military aid to Israel on the basis of the Leahy law. McGovern failed to take action despite the December meeting and subsequent communication from the group urging him to do so.


As a result of McGovern’s failure to comply with the demand, two members of the Leahy Fast for Palestine Committee rang the bell at McGovern’s district office in Northampton around noon on Tuesday, March 12. A staff person opened the door to them. The activists spoke with the staffer, and seated themselves in the main office. They put the word out to other members of Demilitarize Western Mass to join them. Four folks were able to respond quickly, and within a few hours, the six had committed to an indefinite occupation/sit-in in the office until McGovern met the demand regarding U.S. military assistance to Israel.

Congressman McGovern and senior staff decided that they did not want to have the occupiers forcibly removed by police, and that they would engage in dialogue with them. On the first and second days of the sit-in, McGovern called from  Washington DC and had lengthy phone conversations with the occupiers. On the second day, McGovern spoke briefly on the House floor, urging Biden to cease weapons shipments until humanitarian aid is flowing and asserting that U.S. laws are being broken vis-a-vis humanitarian and military aid. On the phone later that day, McGovern contended that his floor speech should satisfy our demand. Our response: No. Our clear demand is an end to all US military aid to Israel unconditionally – we don’t support resumption of arms shipments just because besieged Gazans receive flour and band-aids.

McGovern’s staff allowed us to meet with the visiting press, but asked us not to permit anyone else into the locked office. A front-page,  above-the-fold article in the local Hampshire Gazette on Tuesday led to a lot of media interest over the days of our sit-in.

After three nights of sleeping in the office, and four days of press visits and visits from the activist community, we ended our occupation on Friday morning, 3/15 with a press conference and rally. We concluded that we should shift to new tactics, having failed to move McGovern on our primary demand. As to our second demand, he agreed to urge the US ambassador to the UN to not veto future UN ceasefire resolutions. Whether he will publicly urge Biden on that score remains to be seen. 

McGovern was in the district on Friday, and asked to meet with the six of us that afternoon. Our efforts to persuade the Congressman to call for immediate cessation of U.S. military shipments to Israel did not succeed during this meeting either. We have now sent him a letter demanding he return current election cycle campaign contributions from  organizations and individuals profiting from Israel’s assaults on Gaza and the West Bank, and J Street, a pro-Israel lobby group. We’re awaiting a response, but since it is now overdue, we’ll be holding a press conference about the letter on Friday, March 22.

The six of us feel that it’s crucial not to become disempowered by “inside the beltway” complexities of Capitol Hill’s byzantine machinations. Our job, as voters, taxpayers, peace advocates, and constituents, is to demand an end to genocide, full stop. Our job is not to hope and trust, but to press for what we know is desperately needed by the people of Gaza and the West Bank. Our job, too, is not to lose sight of the fact that large numbers of Jews in McGovern’s district vocally and passionately support the Palestinian people, and have succeeded in passing, with numerous allies, a number of municipal resolutions calling for ceasefire.


We also want Congressman McGovern to call for resumption of U.S. aid to UNRWA, and for  U.S. sanctions on Israel.


— Jennifer Scarlott, Northampton resident