Walking down Higuera Street, a child held his sister’s hand, with the Palestinian flag in the other. A couple of his friends, all no older than 11, trailed close behind him. On his right, his mother had a sign raised over her head, “Save Palestine” in red and green ink.
“Free, free Palestine! Long live Palestine,” the crowd yelled over the sound of live bands playing at the Thursday night downtown Farmer’s Market.
The public demonstration on Nov. 9 came after one month of violence as the Israel-Hamas war goes on, during which calls for the U.S. to stop financially and diplomatically supporting Israel have rippled across the country.
“There are protests all over the world telling them to stop and they’re not stopping,” San Luis Obispo resident Deena Hantuli, who was in attendance at Thursday’s march, said. “They’re literally bombing them.”
Starting in Mission Plaza, the mass of people hoisted up signs and chanted for Palestinian liberation and a ceasefire along the Gaza Strip.
Many in attendance wore the keffiyeh, a traditional Palestinian scarf that holds cultural and historical significance, but most recently, has become synonymous with solidarity with the Palestinian cause and its message for freedom.
“I think it’s noble of all of us to come out here today and be a voice for those that have none,” one speaker said, addressing the crowd before they began marching through the Farmer’s Market. “So please continue to raise your voice and sound the alarm, because it’s our tax dollars that are funding this genocide.”
The Abolitionist Action Central Coast/SLO (AACCS) and Cal Poly Students for Quality Education (Cal Poly SQE) spread the word about the march, as they did with an earlier Oct. 21 march in San Luis Obispo.
“It’s been inspiring to see marches happening all over the United States and world in support,” Cal Poly faculty Sandra said. “I wanted to be part of that, especially here locally where I feel many people don’t have the full story of what’s happening.”
Sandra noticed that people who stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people in educational spaces face unwarranted reactions. Sandra added people’s lack of understanding of the current situation can lead to tensions and misconceptions at a local level, even about why people are protesting for a ceasefire.
“The common misconception is that if we speak in support of the Palestinian cause, we’re anti-Semitic and that is absolutely not the truth,” Sandra said. “There are many, many Jewish organizations also calling for a ceasefire and an end to the occupation.”
Mustang News spoke with five students who attended the march and wanted to remain anonymous. The students expressed feeling unsafe about speaking out and standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people publicly.
“I think that it’s important that we not only humanize Palestinians, but we also make sure that we’re protecting our Palestinian students as well as all our Muslim students,” one of the speakers said to Mustang News.
As more people arrived in the Mission Plaza square for the March for Palestine, they were met with counter-protesters for Israel. One person stood opposite the demonstration, wrapped in an Israel flag while another held up a sign reading “release the hostages.”
“This is going on for years and years, not just recently,” community member Mamju Krishan said. “It’s our job here as people who support the Palestinian people, allow the people of the SLO community to hear our voice and those who are misinformed to be informed about the issue that’s going on.”
The crowd marched through Downtown SLO, from Chorro Street to Santa Rosa Street. Besides the earlier counter-protesters, some at the farmer’s market tried to drown out the march. One man blew into his saxophone, playing the American national anthem at those marching.
“There’s ignorance and so with that ignorance comes people who are like defensive, like just right now during the protest, there are people yelling at the pro-Palestinian marchers,” Krishan said.
While some in attendance identified themselves as Palestinian and had family and friends in Gaza, others were there to support them.
“I feel like our voices are definitely the minority,” Sandra said. “It’s growing a little bit more as, as people are unlearning some of the truths they’ve been told and doing their own research.
With counter-protesters, Sandra added that a lot of the people watched with “blank stares.” With the lack of awareness, Sandra attended to find others who felt the lack of support and awareness in San Luis Obispo.
“I was there in solidarity to find community, to find support, and to get the message out about what’s the massacres that have been happening for the past 30 days that are unprecedented, and yet the world is watching, like, it’s a Netflix movie,” Sandra said.
Students attending the march also said they felt Cal Poly administrators have failed to foster a safe and welcoming environment to encourage conversation. One Cal Poly student described President Armstrong’s response as “the most disheartening email,” as it failed to mention Palestine in regard to the Oct. 7 attacks.
“He [Armstrong] needs to recognize his privilege and see that his role as somebody in the educational field in California and America is so important,” one student attendee said. “The way that he talks about these issues impacts how students see them.”
After marching down Higuera Street for 40 minutes, the crowd congregated on the steps of the Mission Plaza. Speakers made closing remarks to the crowd.
“Please email your representatives to call for a ceasefire, but realize that the ceasefire won’t be the end of this until there’s an end to apartheid,” the speaker said. “Resistance is justified when people are occupied. Resistance is justified.”
As families, students and community members dispersed, children quickly ran to meet their friends. A group of five kids ran around the Mission Plaza fountain throwing a frisbee as their parents talked.
“We are here with love in our hearts. We are here with hope for a better world,” another student speaker said to the marchers. “We are here to honor the courage of the Palestinian resistance and the resilience of the people of Gaza. They should never have had to be so brave, but they are. They are showing the whole world away towards a better decolonial future.”