[Photo by Marcy Winograd/CODEPINK]
by Marcy Winograd
“We are gathered here today at Syuxtun, (see ux tun) on the unceded lands of the Chumash peoples,“ said the UCSB student emcee at Saturday’s December kick-off for the March for Palestine in Santa Barbara.
From the steps of the looming white-stucco red-roofed courthouse, a living reminder of Spanish colonization, youthful land acknowledgers addressed an intergenerational, interracial and intersectional crowd of an estimated 300 people gathered in the sunken gardens. “As settlers on stolen land, we acknowledge the ongoing sovereignty and custodianship of the Chumash peoples and pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.”
Thus began Santa Barbara’s rally calling for a ceasefire, one day after Israel resumed its genocidal bombardment of Gaza, where over 15,000 Palestinians have been killed, tens of thousands wounded and 1.8 million uprooted in an unfolding human catastrophe UN Secretary General António Guterres describes as a “graveyard for children.”
[Photo By Marcy Winograd/CODEPINK]
The theme of decolonization was threaded throughout the Santa Barbara rally, with protesters dressed in white, red, green and black, the colors of the Palestinian flag, and holding signs that read, “Resistance until Liberation” – “From the River to the Sea” and “Land Back” in reference to the Land Back movement, which supports tribal sovereignty and indigenous governance of public lands.
One protester held up a “Free Palestine” sign in the shape of a giant watermelon, a symbol adopted after Israel long ago criminalized public displays of the Palestinian flag. The watermelon, green on the outside, with a white rind, black seeds and red fruit resembles the colors of the Palestinian flag.
[Photo by Helena Pasquarella]
At the pro-Palestinian protest–one of many in Santa Barbara– speakers referenced Turtle Island, the name the indigenous gave to North America before Europeans invaded, colonized and enslaved Native Americans.
“Today, we condemn over 75 years of settler colonialism in the land of Palestine. We condemn the death, displacement and dispossession carried out by the State of Israel,” said the land acknowledgers, standing a mile from the Santa Barbara Mission, where visitors might easily lose themselves in the landscape’s pink and red roses without giving a thought to the forced Chumash labor that built the edifice towering above the rose garden.
The urgency of decolonizing Palestine was not lost on the wedding party underway in the courthouse garden a hundred feet or so from the rally. Once the “I do’s” were exchanged, shouts of “Free Palestine” came wafting over the bushes from the gowned wedding attendees who buoyed the spirits of the pro-Palestinian crowd.
The rally and march, sponsored by the Central Coast Antiwar Coalition and Jewish Voice for Peace-Santa Barbara, featured diverse speakers: Halima Sophia Fadila, a Santa Barbara Palestinian who grew up near Jerusalem; Heidi Harmon, the three-term mayor of San Luis Obispo who went from maid to mother to mayor; Helena Pasquarella of Ojai, a congressional candidate challenging Salud Carbajal in 2024; Dr. Bilal Ware of the UCSB history department and this writer, a volunteer with CODEPINK, a feminist antiwar organization, and co-founder of the Central Coast Antiwar Coalition.
Delivering the keynote speech, Harmon said, “Standing up for the dignity and humanity of the Palestinian people is what we mean when we state, never again. Jews and all people everywhere must join the call for a cease-fire and declare unequivocally that these atrocities are not committed in our name.” Harmon continued, “In this struggle, we, American citizens in particular, are not bystanders; we are deeply implicated. This is a war that our tax dollars support.”
In fact, United States taxpayers subsidize the Israeli military to the tune of $3.8 billion a year, much of that spent on Israel’s purchase of missile systems designed and manufactured by US war profiteers. Raytheon (RTX), with an office in Goleta, co-manufacturers with an Israeli company the Iron Dome Missile Defense System for Israel, and teams up with Lockheed Martin, also in Goleta, to produce the engines for the fighter jets that drop 2,000 pound bombs on Gaza, obliterating neighborhoods to leave 40-foot deep craters strewn with rubble and corpses.
Pasquarella, a public school teacher and photographer, said she decided to run for Congress after House representative Carbajal told her he had no intention of reducing the military budget or cutting back on 800 overseas US military bases. While Carbajal, a former marine, has refused to support a ceasefire, Pasquerella stresses the urgency of stopping the killing in Gaza to reach a political solution that will ensure the safety and security of Palestinians and Israelis alike.
“If war could bring peace, wouldn’t we have achieved it by now?” asked Pasquerella, who has filed to run for office as a Democrat.
“I have decided to take my activism to Washington DC and run for candidate for the 24th District. Together we will tell our leaders that regime change, war, and genocide are no longer acceptable as a foreign policy … We want leaders who make decisions for humanity, not for themselves and corporate profits.”
The Palestinian speaker, Fadila, wore a long green dress, with a Palestinian flag apron and black and white keffiyeh, a traditional Palestinian farmer’s scarf, now a global symbol of Palestinian resistance and solidarity. She spoke of the Israeli assault on Gaza as a continuation of the 1948 Nakba or ethnic cleansing catastrophe that saw terrorist militias burn Palestinian villages and expel 750,000 Palestinians from their homes to make way for the State of Israel.
The final speaker was Dr. Ware, historian of Africa and Islam who has published works on the histories of Qur’an schooling, Muslim Mysticism, Slavery and Abolition, and Islamic Devotional poetry. “Do not desist,” he told the crowd, repeating, “We must not desist!” emphasizing “the people have the power” to turn the tide of history if only they do not stop their protests, their acts of resistance.
Following the rally, hundreds of antiwar activists marched and chanted throughout downtown Santa Barbara, with cheers erupting as casual State Street observers jumped from the sidewalk into the street to join the march bookended with banners “Let Gaza Live” and “Ceasefire!”
As marchers arrived back at the courthouse, chanting and drumming, the rally resumed with a Palestinian flag banner drop “Liberate Palestine” from the courthouse’s clock tower and a fervent appeal to Santa Barbara County Supervisors, who earlier passed a pro-Israel resolution without input from the Muslim community, to pass a resolution in support of a ceasefire.
[Photo by Helena Pasquarella]
From the courthouse, a contingent of activists walked long blocks to the Ortega Bridge, where they hoisted Palestinian flags and peace banners to catch the eye of freeway drivers below who honked in support as they whizzed past. In closing the protest, the faithful gathered round to listen as participants read the somber words of Gazans knowingly facing their final moments before Israel resumed its genocide.
“A message to friends, thank you and the supporters around the world. You’ve been compassiona/te and very strong. We ask that you not lose hope, even if the world seems completely unfair and your efforts have not yet resulted in a ceasefire.”