Michigan Congressman abandons town hall after ‘ceasefire now’ chants
Constituents at Congressman's town hall demand a ceasefire in Gaza. The representative ended up leaving the meeting. | Michigan Communist Party USA via X (formerly Twitter)

WYANDOTTE, Mich. — U.S. Rep. Shri Thanedar (D-Mich.) left his own Town Hall meeting early Saturday in what could only be described as a political disaster. His exit came after a room full of his constituents began chanting “Ceasefire now!” in response to the lawmaker’s refusal to call for an immediate end to the Israeli government’s genocidal military campaign in Palestine.

Even before the event at the Downriver Council for the Arts here began, Thanedar was grilled about his continued political support for the Biden Administration’s blank-check for Israel’s invasion.

It was clear the majority of attendees, passionate and determined, were there to press their representative for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. With picket signs, pro-Palestine, pro-peace and anti-war buttons in abundance, the residents of Michigan’s 13th Congressional District were prepared for non-violent, peaceful confrontation and strong political messaging.

Taj, wearing a UAW Detroit Axle jacket and a fourth generation Detroiter, told People’s World he showed up to speak on the issues most important to his neighborhood and petition for peace in Gaza. Tax dollars, he said, that are being used for weapons to Israel would be better used to fund poverty alleviation programs here in Detroit.

“Economic growth in the city is not benefiting the legacy, majority Black, population,” Taj added,  and instead is benefitting the largest corporations and billionaires.” He hopes Rep. Thanedar will pressure President Joe Biden to call for an immediate ceasefire.

“I’m here to push you to call for an immediate ceasefire,” Leslie, another resident in the 13th District, said. “We want our tax dollars spent on Detroit…for affordable housing, for schools…it is so sad they are being used for genocide.”

Money for schools, not for war

“Why are we not calling for a ceasefire and redirecting military funds to our schools?” Angela from Hamtramck, a public-school teacher and a member of the Teachers Union, asked. “I am working multiple jobs, I spend my ‘time-off’ caring for my students who live in poverty, who have nowhere to go after class, who have nothing to eat, and yet we always have money for war.”

People’s World spoke with another Teachers Union member, a middle school teacher, who drove out on a Saturday morning to the meeting to “be the political voice for her students,” the majority of whom are Muslim and Arab-American. Michigan’s 13th Congressional District is home to the largest Arab population in the United States, but the teacher reported that many of her students feel “voiceless in the face of the on-going catastrophe.”

“The school administration told us that we weren’t allowed to talk about the conflict in class,” continued the teacher who asked not to be named for this story, “But I let my kids talk about it anyway. It’s important for them to express their justified concerns about seeing their peers being killed by bombs, entire schools leveled, on television.”

War is never a solution

“War is never a solution,” Congressman Thanedar said many times during the Town Hall.

“I am not here to defend Israel,” he said. “How do you justify killing off 26,000 people? There is no justification for that. I don’t know how to justify that.”

However, by not calling for an immediate ceasefire and a political solution, Thanedar is supporting not only war, but the most heinous atrocities, war crimes, and genocide being committed by Israel in their war against the Palestinian people, many constituents said.

“You just said war is not the solution, but you continue to support the funding of Israel’s war,” an audience member said. “Israel is committing war crimes, and you are standing behind them. It seems like your words are empty.”

Noelle, a member of the Detroit News Guild and  also a resident of the 13th District, pointed to the recent decision by the International Court of Justice ordering Israel to take “all measures to prevent genocidal acts, prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to genocide, and take immediate and effective steps to ensure the provision of humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza.”

Thanedar responded he will only call for a ceasefire when the Israeli hostages are released. He made no mention of the Palestinian prisoners.

Only an immediate ceasefire and an end to the occupation will facilitate the conditions necessary to “release all hostages and the more than 10,000 Palestinian political prisoners currently being held in Israeli prisons. Why haven’t you called for that?” Noelle demanded to know.

No functioning hospitals remaining

Zaya Maqdessi, a social worker and another resident of the 13th District who works in the field of maternal and infant mental health, told People’s World that in Gaza there were 36 hospitals just a few months ago and now there are none.

Maqdessi was born in Baghdad and shared a story of how, during the U.S. war on Iraq, her father, even while in a hospital, would constantly fear an incoming U.S. missile headed straight towards them. “I implore you to call for an immediate ceasefire and to end the blockade of Gaza so that the people there may stop being massacred, so that they may begin the very long journey of healing and rebuilding,” Maqdessi told Thanedar.

Ceasefire now!

After Thanedar attempted to redirect the barrage of ceasefire and pro-peace questions towards lectures on “terrorism” and “self-defense, Hasan Newash, a Nakba survivor and prominent Palestinian-American activist in Detroit, told the congressman: “We don’t want to be taught. We don’t need to be taught. You keep trying to teach us.” He continued, “We want to teach you!” Why aren’t you listening to us? Why aren’t you calling for a ceasefire? Ceasefire now!”

A wave erupted among the constituents, following Newash’s remarks with clapping and shouting in unison, “Ceasefire now! Ceasefire now!” Newash joined in. This went on for several minutes as Thanedar awkwardly walked back and forth, up and down the aisles of chairs, waiting for the chanting to end.

Suddenly, another contingent of activists, coming from the Pro-Palestine rally outside, walked in and joined the chorus of peace constituents demanding that Thanedar call for an immediate ceasefire. He stood there momentarily and abruptly exited his own Town Hall.

Out of touch

Most attendees felt that Thanedar is out of touch with his district. “He literally turning his back on his constituents,” said one.

Major municipalities in the region have passed resolutions calling for a ceasefire, including Hamtramck, Detroit, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Wayne County, Ann Arbor, Canton, Ypsilanti and Washtenaw County. Additionally, the UAW International is officed in downtown Detroit. The union recently joined the ceasefire movement, publishing a statement calling for a “permanent and lasting ceasefire.”

Next door, in the 12th Congressional District, Rep. Rashida Tlaib is leading the effort with Rep. Cori Bush (Dem. Mo.) to pass a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives calling for an immediate ceasefire. Attendees at Saturday’s town hall lobbied Thanedar to sign on to that resolution, H.Res. 786, but after today’s events it appears he does not have the political will to do so.

Political troubles

Politically, this sample showing is not a good sign for Biden’s re-election chances in Michigan. With the exception of Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American in the U.S. Congress, and others such as U.S. Congresswoman Debbie Dingell (D-Mich. 6th District), many elected officials and politicians in Michigan have opted to remain silent on the situation in Gaza.

Senior representatives from the Biden campaign had sought to visit Dearborn, Michigan on Friday to speak with Arab and Muslim community leaders in an effort to garner support  for his re-election bid. Dearborn Mayor Abdullah Hammoud, along with several others, refused to meet with them.

“What do I tell my residents? My residents who have lost loved ones overseas,” Hammoud told reporters. “This is not the time to talk about elections. This is the time to ask and demand for an immediate cease fire.”

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Cameron Harrison
Cameron Harrison

Cameron Harrison is a Labor Education Coordinator for the People Before Profits Education Fund. Based in Detroit, he was a grocery worker and a proud member of UFCW Local 876, where he was a shop steward. He writes about the labor and people’s movements and is a die-hard Detroit Lions fan.

Daniel Hopkins
Daniel Hopkins

Daniel Hopkins is an independent multimedia journalist based in Detroit.