Chicago Organizers Promise Ongoing Shutdowns For Palestine

Chicago Organizers Promise Ongoing Shutdowns For Palestine
Protesters shut down a three-way intersection in Chicago. (Photo: @jeegheel)

Protesters acting in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza converged on a major three-way intersection in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood on Saturday, disrupting traffic in the area for over two hours. The surprise blockade formed suddenly as 145 activists unfurled banners and held hands in the crosswalks of Damen Avenue, North Avenue, and Milwaukee Avenue. The protest was a colorful and energetic display of rage, grief, and solidarity. The event was organized by independent groups of Palestinian activists and allies who promised more disruptions in the near future. The organizers said in a statement that Saturday’s shutdown was the beginning of an ongoing, decentralized campaign that would disrupt “business as usual" with "ongoing street blockades across the city."

This move toward spontaneous, decentralized blockades in Chicago reflects the grief and frustration of community members who say that President Biden has ignored the will of the people. According to Data for Progress, about two-thirds of US voters believe that Biden should call for a permanent ceasefire and a de-escalation of violence in Gaza. White House staff have reportedly taken extraordinary steps to shield the president from Palestine-related protests and disruptions, including holding small campaign events, vetting attendees, and avoiding university settings.

A protester wearing a keffiyeh speaks through a bullhorn in the street.
A protester leads chants as demonstrators blockade a three-way intersection. (Photo: @jeegheel)

The organizers of Saturday’s protest say their communities are fed up. “We’re tired of asking the people with the power to stop this genocide and to value human lives,” said Amal*, an activist who participated in the blockade. “There have been protests, sit-ins, calls and emails to representatives, children’s marches, benefit concerts, everything. None of these have caused Biden or Congress to call for a ceasefire,” Amal said. “This live-streamed genocide has shown that they don’t care about life. It seems like the only thing the people in power care about is money, so we are here today to disrupt a commercial hub of our city. Hopefully, then, they will pay attention.”

Other activists also took Biden to task. “In his State of the Union address, President Biden spoke about Gaza as if it was a natural disaster that the US was responding to, rather than a US-sponsored genocide being committed by our closest ally, Israel,” said activist Umm-Hana*. “This genocide is funded by US tax dollars and politically protected by the US veto power in the United Nations Security Council,” they said. “These blockades will continue until the US stops arming Israel’s genocide and stops shielding it from accountability.”

Palestine solidarity protesters hang banners from the Damen el stop in Chicago.
Protesters hang banners from an elevated train stop near the protest. (Photo: @jeegheel)

In their statement, organizers expressed hope that this blockade and their call for decentralized actions would "empower everyday citizens to stand up against the face of oppression everywhere."

Some people who were inconvenienced by the blockade or averse to its message harangued and attacked protesters. In one incident, a man attempted to drive his car through a crowd of people who were blocking an intersection, knocking at least one person to the ground. The demonstrators held their ground, and the car was ultimately redirected. Sometime later, another man walked into the street and attempted to shove his way through the blockade. In spite of these acts of aggression, some motorists and pedestrians showed support for the demonstration. Several passersby joined the blockade lines, and one woman parked her car sideways in the street to protect a row of blockaders from vehicular attacks. Some people commended or thanked the activists as they moved through the area and some offered hugs.

Activist Abu Atef had no sympathy for those who expressed anger over the inconvenience the blockade posed. “America is past due for a reckoning,” Atef said. “You are angry because we made it minorly inconvenient for you to continue participating in consumerist distractions,” he said of the protest’s hecklers. “We are angry because while our friends and family die needlessly in the streets, here at home, the money that can easily be used to remedy that is instead used to brutally murder and occupy our friends and family in Palestine. Enough is enough.”

Israeli forces have killed more than 30,000 Palestinians in Gaza since October 7. Organizers in Chicago say they will continue to cause disruptions until the genocide ends. “This blockade is part of a long legacy of protest in Chicago and aims to inspire more disruptions across Chicago’s commercial districts,” the organizers said. “Business as usual is not an option.”

A protester drums as another dances in the street during a blockade action.
Protesters drum and dance during the blockade action. (Photo: @jeegheel)

*These interviewees are using assumed names due to concerns about doxxing and other threats.