Demonstrations drew thousands of people from around the country to the White House and the streets of downtown Washington on Saturday afternoon in peaceful protests.
In one, participants called for an end to the continued violence between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. At the same time, advocates converged in the District to urge President Obama to take administrative action on issues involving undocumented immigrants. Both groups ended up at the White House in the afternoon, seeking a stage to voice their concerns.
The larger group, supporting the Palestinians, arrived by bus from big cities and many others drove hundreds of miles to participate, organizers said.
“Free, free Palestine, killing children is a crime,” the crowd chanted. Several people held Palestinian flags, cardboard boxes representing coffins or posters with graphic images of the wounded.
Mounia Bounkenafet, 38, of Falls Church, marched with her four children, ages 3, 5, 7 and 12.
“Sometimes when they watch the news on Gaza, they start crying in front of the TV,” Bounkenafet said. “I don’t even want them to watch, but they’re curious, and when they ask I tell them the truth: ‘This is a big crime.’ ”
Bounkenafet said she thinks the United States should stop funding Israel, as one of her daughters pumped a fist in the air and shouted with protesters.
Israel has said it is protecting its citizens by responding to rockets fired into its territory from Gaza and is trying to destroy tunnels through which militants have conducted raids into Israel. In addition, Israel says it has issued warnings before attacks and has accused militants of hiding arms in civilian facilities.
The language used during the protest ranged from calling the violence “genocide” to focusing on peace for both sides. Many Jewish Americans were among the crowd, said Shelley Cohen Fudge, 57, of Silver Spring. She is the D.C. metropolitan chapter coordinator for Jewish Voice for Peace.
“We have Arab Americans, Jewish Americans, people from Pakistan, people from all walks of life here,” she said. “There are many Jewish Americans who are very upset by the very disproportionate situation — it’s not a war, it’s an assault and an invasion.”
As the protest quieted down, red graffiti that read “Free Gaza” was discovered on a side wall of the Washington Post building. A cardboard box meant to represent a coffin was also placed outside the building.
At the same time, hundreds gathered — first at the Mall, and then at Freedom Plaza and at the White House — to push for immigration-policy reform.
Protesters chanted in English and Spanish, “Stop deportation,” “Sin papeles, sin miedo” (no papers, no fear) and a familiar chant of Obama’s campaign slogan “Si se puede” (yes we can).
B. Loewe, 32, of Chicago, a spokesman for the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) said the goal was to encourage Obama to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals administrative act to all undocumented immigrants. He said other goals are to end the Secure Community partnerships, which require law enforcement to share information with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, as well as ending deportation of undocumented immigrants.
“The conversation has moved from, can [Obama] act, to will he and what should he do?” Loewe said. Marisa Franco, 36, of Phoenix, lead organizer with the NDLON, said Obama could put an end to the immigrants’ suffering by simply picking up a pen.
“We hope he’s going to deliver on the promise he made to be a champion in chief, not a deporter in chief,” Franco said.
The Obama administration is planning to act on immigration before the mid-term elections. Pressure has risen for the president to act with the spike of border-crossers, including unaccompanied children — many of whom are fleeing violence, gangs and drugs in their home countries, organizers of the protest said. Obama said he must act soon because the lack of legislation has depleted federal resources.
Hairo Cortes, 21, an undocumented immigrant from Santa Ana, Calif., said families flee to the United States from poverty and hunger, as did his family.
Cortes said he and his brother have deferred action because they are students at Santa Ana College, but his mother, who brought them to the United States 14 years ago, is not protected. “People are just trying to survive,” Cortes said. “That process of trying to do it by the book is too long.”