Pennsylvania peace protesters tell Biden: Ceasefire now
Protesters in Pennsylvania sound the call: Ceasefire now. | Ben Sears / People's World

PHILADELPHIA—Demonstrators had a message for President Joe Biden when he arrived in Philly on Dec. 11: Push for a ceasefire in Gaza now. The protest, several hundred strong, targeted the hotel where Biden was meeting with big Democratic donors to collect campaign cash and giving what was billed as a preview of his 2024 re-election strategy.

The local press covered both Biden’s visit and the protest. As several reports pointed out, the day showcased both the president’s campaign preparations as well as the challenges his struggle for a second term could face. Anger over his support for right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the brutal war launched against Gaza after the Hamas attacks of Oct. 7 has several polling firms predicting trouble for Biden.

His visit was preceded a day earlier by another big march, this time in Harrisburg, the state capital. There, demonstrators braved the threat of rain and high winds to demand freedom for Palestine, with a ceasefire in Gaza as the immediate first step.

They came from all corners of Pennsylvania—by car, by bus, and by train. They filled the steps of the capitol building and then poured into the streets of Harrisburg. They included Palestinian activists, along with many supporters and allies, and adherents of a diversity of religious faiths.

A woman rabbi from Philadelphia told the crowd, “My background as a descendant of Holocaust survivors compelled me to be present.”

The rally was sponsored by a wide coalition of groups, including the Philly Palestine Coalition, Penn State Students for Justice in Palestine, Philadelphia Jewish Voice for Peace, and others. Speakers called for an immediate ceasefire, an end to the occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel, and a two-state solution as part of a long-term peaceful solution.

As the marchers took to the streets, chants of “Ceasefire Now!” and “Free, free Palestine!” echoed off the walls of nearby buildings. Demonstrators proceeded to the governor’s mansion to deliver their message to Gov. Josh Shapiro, although he was away.

Back in Philadelphia, after his fundraiser with donors, Biden also paid a visit to a local fire station where he met with members of the Firefighters union and announced a federal grant to upgrade the city’s firefighting capability and hire additional firefighters.

In 2022, the neighborhood Biden visited had suffered a disastrous and deadly housefire which some felt wouldn’t have been as bad if the city had avoided recent cutbacks. Following that fire, the president of Firefighters Local 22 called Biden directly to urge more federal assistance.

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Ben Sears
Ben Sears

Ben Sears is a retired teacher and AFT member in Philadelphia. He is the author, as John Bennett Sears, of the book "The Electrical Unions and the Cold War" (International Publishers 2019).