Students hold signs as they protest in Amitie Plaza.
By Aleksandra Sidorova
The Muslim Student Association and the Desi Club held a protest in Amitie plaza, outside of the Angell College Center calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip at noon Wednesday, Nov. 8. They also called for Elise Stefanik, the congresswoman representing New York’s 21st district, which includes Plattsburgh, to remove her signature supporting a foreign aid package of $14.3 billion to go to Israel.
In the crisp, windy 37-degree weather, the peaceful protest saw a turnout of about 50 people, including demonstrators, onlookers and University Police officers. Demonstrators chanted slogans and took turns speaking through a megaphone. The floor later opened to anyone who wanted to speak. Some audience members took advantage of the craft materials the student organizers provided, made signs and joined the protest. Several clubs showed their support through participation or social media: African Unity, the Criminal Justice Club and the National Association of Black Accountants.
Organizers offered craft supplies for interested students to make signs and join them in protest for the support of a ceasefire in Palestine.
The demonstrators’ signs carried messages condemning Israel’s mass killings of civilians, especially children, which make up half of Gaza’s population. Ten thousand Gaza residents, including more than 4,000 children, have died since Oct. 7, when the terrorist group Hamas attacked Israel, killing 1,400 people and taking more than 200 hostage.
Student organizers overcame several obstacles in order to plan the event.
“We had to go through so many departments and let everyone know we’re doing this, because we wanted to do this respectfully, to get security, to get departments to know that we’re doing this peacefully and we’re going to use our voice,” said Saran Kaba, one of the students who helped organize the protest. “It’s the least we could do.”
Kaba and another student organizer, Ayla Chavez, noted that the event was not sponsored by the Office for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, or in any other way by the college.
Chavez said, “The opposition we faced from internal school programs was really discouraging, and some of the language they used in their emails and the ways that we were spoken to regarding this protest was very much ‘We do not want this to happen.’”
The organizers had to plan not just the assembly itself, but to “figure out” their message, appoint speakers and how to present themselves.
“Obviously, some students were concerned about showing their names and their faces, so we talked about who’s going to put their names on it,” Chavez said.
The students also worried about pushback.
“I’ve been called an antisemite. I’m probably the furthest thing from. I don’t think that anyone should be discriminated against, on any factor of their personality or themselves. Discrimination has no place here. To be labeled as that standing up for a cause for other people, it almost caught me aback. It’s a little nerve-wracking sometimes. Even today, when we did the protest, we were nervous that we’d have some opposition or that something might go wrong. Luckily, we had UP supporting us,” Chavez said. “It takes a lot of thought power and warm clothes to be out here.”
Kaba mentioned feeling threatened by posts on the anonymous social network YikYak and news coverage showing the killing of Muslims.
“It’s not easy being pro-Palestinian on campus right now, or anywhere in the world,” Kaba said. “Since this conflict started, since this genocide started, I’ve been having to, meaning to look around me to know I’m safe and aware of what’s going on around me. Anything can happen at any moment, and the fact that I have to live with that is not fair. I’m somebody who walks around every day with a hijab, and I can’t just take it off because that’s my religion. Yeah, it’s hard right now.”
Kaba recently traveled to Albany to attend a pro-Palestinian protest calling for a ceasefire, an experience she called “rejuvenating.”
“At the time, our school wasn’t pretty supportive. When I looked at the President’s [first] email, I’m like, ‘Wow, so we’re just going to exclude the Palestinians in the email? The deaths that happened over there, we’re not going to mourn them?’” Kaba said. “It was really, really sad, and I just wanted to be around a group of people who have the same belief as me and show me I’m not going crazy — those people also deserve mourning and freedom and equality and rights, because they’re innocent in all this.”
The Muslim Student Association has dedicated several club meetings to allow students to speak out on the Israel-Hamas war. Chavez and Kaba expressed hope for another protest, but neither club has official plans for one at the moment.
This article was updated Nov. 10 to adjust some wording. Some quotes have been removed as the sources interviewed do not speak on MSA’s behalf.