D.C. activists disrupt council hearings with demand for ceasefire resolution
Photo courtesy of Mostafa Bassim

WASHINGTON—It was anything but business as usual at the D.C. Council on Tuesday. Community members and activists with the D.C. for Ceasefire Now Coalition made sure of that.

The March 12th session of the D.C. Council Committee of the Whole was met with a major disruption by demonstrators demanding that local lawmakers put the District on record opposing the federal government’s support of Israel’s war on Gaza.

The meeting was chaired by Council Chairperson Phil Mendelson, who in a recent closed-door meeting with the coalition stated that passing a resolution would be “inconsequential” to what happens in Gaza and that he would never take up a ceasefire resolution in the Council.

Mendelson’s has the power to retain legislation once it is introduced and has repeatedly made clear he would be a roadblock standing in front of any ceasefire resolution.

Police remove ceasefire activists from the council chambers. | Photo courtesy of Mostafa Bassim

During the meeting, Jacqueline Luqman of Black Alliance for Peace stood up and spoke on about the Council “ignores its Black and working-class residents” and does not stand for a ceasefire.

Longtime D.C. Pastor of Faith Strategies, Rev. Graylan Hagler, directly confronted Mendelson about the words he used in the recent private meeting, but the chairperson remained steadfast in refusing to take up a resolution on ceasefire.

At that point, Mendelson asked for police and security to clear the chamber, and nearly the entire room erupted with chants of “D.C. for a ceasefire!” and “Ceasefire now!” Andy Shallal, founder and CEO of Busboys & Poets, walked up directly to Mendelson and asked him, “Who do you represent?” Mendelson responded, “Nobody!”

As the first wave of disrupters were escorted out, they gathered in the hallway for chants and discussions. Activists that were still in the council chamber continued to disrupt the hearing but were unable to shut it down completely.

The council had several sessions scheduled for the day, however, and activists entered another hearing later on and again interrupted the proceedings with their ceasefire message. Staggered disruption then occurred throughout the day, with people being escorted out by police.

Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, center, is the primary roadblock to having the council take up a ceasefire resolution. | Photo courtesy of Mostafa Bassim

After the second disrupted hearing, councilmember Anita Bonds (At-Large, D) said she was supportive of a ceasefire but was concerned that the council does not have unanimous support to pass a resolution. The D.C. Council can pass two types of resolutions—a ceremonial resolution (requiring unanimous support) or a “sense of the council” resolution (requiring majority support).

During the closed-door meeting, Ward 3 Councilmember Matthew Frumin stated that he would not support a resolution unless it determined what happens with Hamas after a ceasefire. It was during this same meeting that Mendelson said the council doesn’t take up international issues and that the situation in Gaza is “too controversial.”

The D.C. for Ceasefire Now Coalition is still fighting to get a resolution introduced and believes it has the majority of the council in support. The chief hurdle is pressuring Mendelson to not block a resolution once it is eventually introduced.

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Jamal Rich
Jamal Rich

Jamal Rich writes from Washington, D.C. where he is active with the Claudia Jones School for Political Education.