Thousands of protesters in Sacramento Saturday carried a simple but forceful message: “Cease-fire now.”
They screamed it at the steps of the Memorial Auditorium, while they clutched Palestinian flags. They yelled it as they shut down nearby streets, carrying signs with the same words. And they chanted it inside a downtown convention center, the site of a California Democratic Party gathering.
There, they disrupted speeches and other programming on multiple occasions during the afternoon. By the evening, Democratic officials had canceled hours of events planned for that night, including parties and group meetings.
Earlier in the day, Jenny Lynn, a communications director for the California Progressive Alliance, said a goal of the day’s protests was to make sure Democratic leaders heard from residents who were in support of ending the Israel-Hamas war.
“We will not be ignored,” Lynn said.
Beyond that, Saturday’s demonstrations were the latest sign of the growing fervor over the war and the divisions it has caused between members of the state’s Democratic Party. At its peak, Sacramento police estimated roughly 2,500 people attended the rolling protests.
“We are not going to forget come 2024,” said Lynn, alluding to elections next year.
Cease-fire protesters make 1st breach of California Democrats’ convention
The California Progressive Alliance, and other groups, helped put on the day’s main demonstration which began at the Memorial Auditorium, a few hundred feet from the SAFE Credit Union Convention Center. Event organizers billed the rally as coming at a pivotal moment with the “epicenter of a powerful gathering” so close by.
Yet even before it began at 3 p.m., protesters had disrupted the convention. About 100 people staged a sit-in outside of a meeting where hundreds of party delegates heard from U.S. Senate candidates.
Demonstrators chanted “Free Palestine” and “In November we’ll remember,” referring to the November 2024 election, outside the hall where U.S. Reps. Katie Porter, Adam Schiff, and Barbara Lee spoke. A small group of protesters from the sit-in disrupted remarks from Porter and Schiff during a candidate forum.
Schiff and Porter have not called for a cease-fire, but Lee has. Longshot fellow candidate Lexi Reese also called for one as protesters entered the meeting hall while she spoke.
It was just the latest demonstration calling for an end to the war, which began last month. In another recent example, protesters also advocating for a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip disrupted traffic for hours Thursday on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
An Oct. 7 attack on Israel by the militant group Hamas, which governs Gaza, sparked the fighting that the protests are looking to end.
As a result, the Israeli military says 1,300 people have been killed and hundreds more abducted. Israel’s government responded to the attack with force, launching a counter offensive into Gaza with a goal of killing Hamas fighters. More than 11,400 Palestinians have been killed and roughly 2,700 are believed to be missing, the Associated Press reported citing Palestinian health authorities and the United Nations humanitarian affairs office.
The people killed in the conflict, particularly Palestinian children, were on the minds of many who protested Saturday.
For Safwan Farooq, of Sacramento, calling for an end to the war wasn’t about supporting one group of people, or religion, over another.
“We’re only concerned with the humanity.”
Evening protest shuts down Democratic delegate voting, events
After the first disruption of the convention, many of those protesters joined others at the Memorial Auditorium.
The crowd there swelled. Demonstrators led chants and lined J Street, which runs in front of the auditorium. Police eventually blocked off the road.
Protesters heard speeches in support of the cease-fire from representatives of local and political groups, along with Sacramento City Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela.
While state Democratic Party leaders were a focus of the rally, demonstrators also directed frustration at the United States government, particularly President Joe Biden, for its military and political support of Israel.
Some of their signs read: “Stop U.S. Aid for Genocide” and “DEFUND ISRAEL DEFEND PALESTINE!”
Before 5 p.m., the rally moved from the front of the auditorium to nearby 16th Street. Protesters filled the road and then turned up I Street, before turning again towards the convention center.
Ammar Farooq, who lives in the Sacramento area, watched from the back along with his five young children.
“They should do the cease-fire,” Farooq said of the U.S. government. “They should stop the funding of Israel.”
Shortly after, a group of demonstrators marched into the convention center, waving flags, beating drums, and chanting as they went up an escalator to protest outside voting rooms, which were empty at the time. One of the goals of the three-day Democratic Party gathering was for delegates to endorse candidates for upcoming elections.
“Resistance is justified when people are occupied,” protesters chanted. Another group tried to get into the center from the west lobby. They were briefly held off by security guards before making their way inside.
As of Saturday evening, Sacramento police said there were no arrests or reports of vandalism from the day’s rallies.
The California Legislative Jewish Caucus, in an emailed statement, condemned protesters storming past security into the center and said a number of Jewish delegates believe it is unsafe to continue participating in the convention.
“We must never allow the Democratic Party to be unsafe for anyone,” the group said.
By 6 p.m., protesters continued to occupy different areas of the center while many others remained outside banging drums, clutching to signs and yelling “Shut it down.”
Adeeb Alzanoon, chair of the Sacramento Regional Coalition for Palestinian Rights, watched the scene from outside the building.
Alzanoon, who is Palestinian, said seven of his extended family members have been killed in Gaza, along with dozens of others that are more distantly related. Along with a cease-fire, he called on U.S. leaders to “end apartheid in Palestine.”
He also had a message for Democratic Party delegates attending the convention: “Do more.”
The demonstration prevented some from casting endorsement votes, leaving them frustrated. As the protest continued, Democratic officials canceled evening events at the center.
Shery Yang, communications director for the California Democratic Party, said in an emailed statement that it was “Due to circumstances beyond our control, and for the safety and security of our delegates and convention participants.”
The calls to “shut it down” had been heard. Protesters were still waiting on the cease-fire.