As her young son waved a Palestinian flag beside her, Sarah English of Portland told a cheering crowd of demonstrators at Deering Oaks Park that standing with the Palestinian people and speaking out against genocide is not a radical stance.

“I’m a Jewish nurse and I can’t stay quiet when I hear antisemitism weaponized over and over again to justify a genocide. I can’t stay quiet when my tax dollars that I work very hard for as a hospital nurse pay for the weapons that murder my health care worker colleagues and their patients in Gaza,” said English, a registered nurse at Maine Medical Center and member of Health Care Workers for Palestine and Jewish Voices for Peace.

The current war in Gaza began Oct. 7, when Hamas militants crossed the border into Israel, killed about 1,200 people and took roughly 250 hostages in a surprise attack. Israel launched a counter-offensive that has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the Health Ministry there.

More than 200 people gathered in Deering Oaks on Saturday afternoon for a May Day rally to highlight the interconnected struggles between workers and students worldwide and the Palestinian people. Demonstrators then marched to the University of Southern Maine campus, where they gathered on the lawn in front of the McGoldrick Center to continue their call for an end to the assault on displaced Palestinians in Rafah, a permanent cease-fire in the region and divestment from Israeli interests.

The rally, organized by Maine Labor for Palestine and Maine Students for Palestine, comes as protests against Israel’s offensive have intensified on college campuses around the nation in recent weeks.

Students on Maine campuses have taken stands against the war, holding protests and calling on their schools to divest from defense funds. Those protests have not mirrored the tense and chaotic scenes that have played out on college campuses in other parts of the country, including at the University of California Los Angeles recently, where officers in riot gear surged against a crowd of demonstrators.


Police have arrested more than 2,000 people during pro-Palestinian protests on college campuses in recent weeks, according to a tally by the Associated Press.

Emma, an organizer with Maine Students for Palestine who would not disclose her last name, came to the Portland rally straight from her graduation from the University of Southern Maine. Wearing a graduation gown, she described the horror of watching students “experience police brutality for building a community dedicated to ending a genocide.”

“I graduate today and I think about Gaza. I think about how there are absolutely no universities left in Gaza. How over 14,000 children will never reach graduation because of oil, land grabs and deep-seated racism,” she said.

Jill Stein, the Green Party’s nominee for president, also spoke at the rally. She was arrested last weekend during a protest at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, and charged with assaulting a police officer. She said she was assaulted with a bicycle, thrown to the ground and zip-cuffed while she was being arrested.

Protesters begin their march through Deering Oaks park at a May Day Rally hosted by the Maine Coalition for Palestine on Saturday. The group marched from the park to USM’s Portland campus where protesters gathered in front of the new student center and then marched back to the park. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“This is what democracy looks like. And the encampments for Gaza are also what democracy looks like,” she said. “The effort to shut them down is an effort to shut us all down, to deny our right of free speech, our right to protest, and the right to stand up for what the American people are demanding right now, which is an immediate cease-fire and a diplomatic solution.”

Stein went on to highlight the labor unions that have called for a cease-fire in Gaza and “the movement that began at Columbia university that has spread like wildfire across this country.”


“How can it be that it is deemed antisemitic, that it is deemed hate speech, to say what the (International) Court of Justice said, that this is a plausible genocide being carried out by the state of Israel,” she said. “That is not antisemitism and that is not hate speech.”

Sunniva Brady, 21, came to Portland from Montville to join a larger gathering in support of Palestine. She said she has participated in small rallies in Belfast, but was heartened to be around more people speaking out about what is happening in Gaza. She held a painting of a woman embracing a child and the message “Let Gaza live!”

“I feel that it’s the least I can do. I feel like if this happened anywhere else in the world, I would feel like it is wrong,” Brady said. “The Palestinians are equal to all of us. Just like I would fight for my family if they were killed, I will fight for the Palestinians.”

Deborah Paley of Portland, whose father was Jewish, said she is horrified by what’s going on in Gaza and offended that people equate antisemitism with criticism of Israel.

Paley said she was a student at Columbia University during the protests against the Vietnam War and is upset to see people trying to discredit students who are speaking out. A two-week standoff between pro-Palestinian protestors and college administrators came to a head this week when New York City police carrying riot shields stormed a building that had been taken over by protestors.

“Tens of thousands of children have been killed in our name,” she said. “We need to stand up and say no.”

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: