On Saturday, Nov. 4, more than 100,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., in the largest pro-Palestinian protest in U.S. history. Attendees called for a ceasefire, the lifting of the 16-year-old siege on Gaza and the halting of U.S. aid to Israel. But, the protest — which started in D.C.’s Freedom Plaza and then snaked around several city blocks before finally docking in front of the White House — represented far more than its stated demands.
The massive demonstration was an affirmation that we saw it all. The mangled babies. The apartment buildings reduced to cinder blocks. The white phosphorus clouds hanging in Gazan skies like unsettling jellyfish.
November 4th was our expression of fury. Because our tax dollars have funded the slaughter of upwards of 10,000 Palestinians with no end in sight and the military occupation of millions more. Because only about 20 out of 435 members of the House of Representatives endorse a ceasefire — while 66% of Americans support one. Because those publicly opposing Israel’s genocide have been blacklisted, doxxed and fired from their jobs.
But, November 4th, was above all, the embodiment of sumud (صمود) — a Palestinian cultural value that means steadfastness.
In spite of the collective horror and frustration at Israel’s war crimes in Gaza, we marched defiantly in the belly of the beast, “united,” as activist Noura Erakat said from the podium, “in love and rage.”
“You can’t just stand by and let it happen,” protestor Lydia Juline told The Indypendent. “Even if you don’t know if it’s going to have any impact, you have to at least try,” she added.
This sentiment of perseverance was echoed by writer Mohammed el-Kurd, whose speech advocated sumud in the face of global imperialism. “Empire does not reward silence. It will crush us anyway. It will swallow us anyway. We cannot sit in the corner quietly as they kill our people. We need to be audacious; we need to speak out — even at the risk of mischaracterization. This is a time for courage. Are we afraid?” el-Kurd asked his spellbound spectators. The sumud swelled once again when they responded with the most hopeful answer possible: “No.”
Crimson smoke powder billowed from atop municipal traffic lights. Demonstrators waved their keffiyehs triumphantly before the White House’s manicured lawns. Revolutionary stickers professing “every time media lies a neighborhood in Gaza dies ” and “from the U.S. to Palestine, abolish the settler state” were plastered on Starbucks windows and cop cars.
Yet, the most powerful vision from the protest was the transnational solidarity — the form of sumud that crosses borders and entangles struggles like the snarled roots of an olive tree. Champions of Black liberation, indigenous rights and Filipino anti-imperialism efforts stepped up to the rostrum. Palestinian, Irish, Bosnian and South African flags thrashed and mingled in the D.C. wind. Whether one was wearing a kippah or hijab, an embroidered thobe or blue jeans — November 4th was a recognition of our shared humanity, confirmation of Hala Alyan’s contention that “Palestine is increasingly becoming the litmus test for true liberatory practice.”
Before Saturday’s demonstration, Juline expressed her reservations about the efficacy of protest: “Unfortunately, I’m a bit cynical, so, I feel like it’s going to be a big moment in terms of how many people are there, but I honestly don’t have a lot of faith that anyone will listen or care about the numbers,” she said.
However, by the end of the day, Juline reported feeling “less cynical.” She was particularly invigorated by the promise of institutionalized moves for accountability. “One of the speakers mentioned how they will bring legal action against Congress people and U.S. representatives who are supporting crimes of genocide. The fact that someone will take the time and effort to file those suits feels empowering,” she remarked.
Speakers also offered attendees accessible avenues of resistance. For director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Nihad Awad, the people can exercise sumud through the democratic system. He warned Biden that, without a ceasefire, there would be no votes. “In November, we remember,” he alerted the president.
The concept of sumud is most often symbolized by the olive tree — which is planted firmly in the soil, survives for hundreds of years and famously endures climatic upheavals. On November 4th, Erakat told us, the people who congregated in the capital of the global empire, that “we are like olive trees.”
“We are unmoved, we are undeniable. Stand with us in this promise,” she implored. So, we continue to resist. Because resistance is an act of love. Because, sumud is refusing to choose between dying by bullet or poison. It insists that there is a way to live.