‘Ceasefire or genocide’: D.C. activists give Mayor Bowser and Council a choice
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, right, is confronted by ceasefire activists along the route of her annual New Year's Day 5K race. | Photo courtesy of William Dickson

WASHINGTON—“Mayor, Council, pick a side: Ceasefire or genocide!” That was the call echoing through the streets of Washington on New Year’s Day as Mayor Muriel Bowser’s annual 5K race got underway.

Activists from the Claudia Jones School, DMV Dissenters, Shut Down DC, and other groups joined this year’s affair, demanding Bowser and the D.C. council support a local resolution demanding a ceasefire in Israel’s brutal war against Gaza.

As the race began, protesters chanted and unfurled a banner pushing the resolution. During the run, Bowser ignored constituents along the way who asked her to introduce and pass a ceasefire resolution while those accompanying her pushed protesters, with one demonstrator falling to the ground.

Later, as the race was winding up, protesters staged a die-in, covering themselves in red paint and Palestinian flags to provide a visual representation of the ongoing massacres in Gaza.

Although Bowser and the D.C. Council cannot of course directly enforce a ceasefire in Gaza, the passage of local ceasefire resolutions across the country are important political pressure points on the Biden administration and Congress, which continue to supply the Israeli military with the bombs and weapons for its assault.

Ceasefire activists stage a die-in near the endpoint of the Mayor’s 5K race. | Photo courtesy of Shedrick Pelt

As most congressional representatives continue to ignore the fact that the majority of people in the U.S. support an immediate ceasefire, activists have attempted to agitate officials from below, with local resolutions being a key point in this strategy.

The point is to continue to build pressure on Congress and the president to side with peace and justice and call for an end to the brutal Israeli attacks.

D.C. may not have congressional representation, but the District has a vantage point with a different kind of importance. Being home to the federal government and the workplaces of its officials, activists have emphasized that D.C. may have a unique role to play in the ceasefire movement.

By turning the capital city into a stronghold of ceasefire sentiment, federal officials are placed in consistent proximity to opposition and exposed to rising pressure from their neighbors to end their complacency and complicity. Building the peace sentiment of the city in which they are required to work provides an opportunity to create an increasingly inhospitable environment to pro-occupation and pro-apartheid positions. Activists argue that a ceasefire resolution is an important part of this strategy.

Opposition to the mayor and Council’s ties with Israel has also reached a boiling point as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) continues their attacks. Bowser has been a rather consistent supporter of the apartheid state, signing a condemnation of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement along with 50 state governors.

In 2019, she traveled to Israel, despite pushback from activists, “in partnership with the D.C. Chamber of Commerce” on a mission “to attract technology firms, establish educational partnerships, and promote Washington, D.C. as a destination for investment and tourism.”

On this trip, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the D.C. Chamber of Commerce and the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce to promote a strengthening of ties between the District and Israel.

Bowser consistently refused to answer questions from progressive taxpayers about who paid for the delegation, which cost “$4,400 per person for coach tickets, $7,500 for economy plus, or $10,705 for business class, and includes roundtrip airfare from Dulles Airport to Tel Aviv, accommodations at a 5-star hotel, visa processing, tours, receptions, meeting arrangements, and more.”

While on the delegation, Bowser also participated in Cyber Week, a cybersecurity conference in Israel. Her participation drew attention to the fact that D.C. Metropolitan Police Department leaders regularly participate in the Anti-Defamation League’s National Counter-Terrorism Seminar, in which they travel to Israel to learn IDF tactics to supposedly combat terrorism, but which often only results in even more militarized responses to peaceful protesters back home.

Mayor Muriel Bowser speaking at the AIPAC conference in 2017. | Jose Luis Magana / AP

The D.C. Council’s support of Israel, even during the current round of extreme violence, also troubles progressives. In addition to expressing their support for Israel’s war by lighting up the Wilson Building in the colors of the Israeli flag, council members set up a briefing with the Israeli ambassador Michael Herzog. This was particularly troubling, considering that it took thousands of signatures from D.C. residents for the council to consider a briefing with Palestinian and anti-Zionist Jewish constituents.

The ceasefire resolution proposed by activists is not just about whether or not D.C. officials can immediately affect a ceasefire, but rather about changing the balance of forces behind demands on the Biden administration and Congress. It also seeks to change the relationship between Washington, D.C., and Israel in general. Activists want to use this resolution to begin a process of divestment from Israel, a goal of the anti-apartheid movement that predates the current war.

The draft resolution which activists have been pushing the D.C. Council to adopt directly condemns Israel’s apartheid and illegal occupation, which they hope can provide a foundation for continuing to build a divestment movement in the District, which has sent around $155 million of exports to Israel and has received around $1 million in grants from U.S.-Israel foundations to promote a stronger relationship with the occupation. D.C. residents also pay about $15,596,311 in taxes to military aid for Israel annually.

With the denial of representation in congress, progressives in D.C. are finding other avenues to use the proximity of their city to federal officials to push for an end to the war on the people of Gaza.

Simultaneously, D.C. progressives wanting to end their elected officials’ support for apartheid and occupation see a ceasefire resolution as a strategic way to build pressure on their local government to divest. Consistent pressure on the mayor and Council is an essential tool in building this change.

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Bennett Shoop
Bennett Shoop

Bennett Shoop is Washington, D.C.-based activist for the LGBTQ+ community and the Claudia Jones School for Political Education.