East Lansing, Mich.—On Nov. 29, several protests took place outside of Michigan State University’s Kellogg Center as U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg held a speaking event inside the venue. The event was one of many along the secretary’s recent speaking tour that has been met with protests.
Three distinct groups protested the event: the Sunrise Movement, Michigan State’s Hurriya Coalition, and Climate Defiance. The Sunrise Movement, which is a national grassroots movement advocating for climate justice, hung banners out of the Kellogg Center’s main parking garage, where most event attendees were entering. The three banners read in all capital letters: You have blood on your hands; Biden: Fund climate action not genocide; and Biden: Declare a climate emergency
The protesters were instructed by police to remove the banners, which they did within several minutes. However, the protesters did not leave the premises and instead joined with Hurriya Coalition protesters near the entrance of the parking garage, who were advocating for a ceasefire in Palestine’s Gaza Strip.
“[Buttigieg] is someone who works directly under Biden, and Biden’s government has refused to call for a ceasefire. So, we’re trying to get our message across, and I’m sure he’s listening,” said Amaan Abdulmohi, a second-year student at MSU. “I feel like this is a great opportunity right now, with Buttigieg coming over, to get our message across to Biden’s government that this is what the people want, and that we’re not going to stop, so they need to call for a ceasefire.”
There were approximately 75 protesters outside the event, shouting chants that included, “No peace on stolen land,” and “Free, free Palestine.” The protests were peaceful, with a group of designated protest marshals directing attendees to comply with police instructions. However, those peaceful intentions nearly ended at one point in the night when the protest marshals had to intervene when heated words were exchanged between a few protestors and event attendees.
Buttigieg, though, did not condemn the protesters. Instead, he affirmed their right to protest even following a physical disruption inside the event by a Climate Defiance protestor. The disruption resulted in the arrest of one protester, as they refused to leave the event while they chanted “Petrol Pete has got to go” and attempted to display banners.
“A basic regard for one another, and an understanding of the importance of the freedom to have those ferocious disagreements and on respectful terms. By the way, respectful can also be noisy, and that’s okay,” Buttigieg said after the protesters had been removed from inside the venue.
Saba Saed, a protester with the Hurriya Coalition and vice-president of the Arab Cultural Society at MSU reaffirmed this sentiment, asserting that they were utilizing their fundamental American rights to petition the government.
“We’re demanding a ceasefire. We’re demanding Pete Buttigieg to call for a ceasefire, and hopefully, it’ll get to Biden. Regardless of what your political opinion on this is, or anything like that, what we are doing is we are upholding our American values as a democracy and telling them to listen to the people that elected you,” Saed said. “America is, overwhelmingly, calling for a ceasefire, because we, as Americans, love this country and value its true democracy, so our duty is to call for a ceasefire. It is, then, the President’s duty to uphold those democratic values, and he clearly is not. So he needs to be held accountable for that.”
While the different protests at the Kellogg Center were distinct, all three groups have affirmed support for one another’s causes. Climate Defiance has posted on Instagram in support of a ceasefire in Palestine, and the Hurriya Coalition and the Sunrise Movement at MSU co-sponsored each other’s events, including MSU’s chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, MSU’s Muslim Student Association, and many other student and local organizations.
“MSU hasn’t done much in response to our calls, to be honest, but we’re trying as hard as we can. We’ve worked with ASMSU to pass a bill to protect Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim students who are facing discrimination on campus. Overall, we’re getting things done, but it’s one step at a time, but as long as we’re all working together, we can be successful,” Abdulmohi said as he gestured to the diverse group of protesters, who varied in ages, ethnicities and political beliefs. “We are the people, you know?”