I am standing on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive, watching as over five thousand people gather in support of Palestinian lives. The mass of bodies crowding down Wacker is tightly knit and looks formidable, and I get to be one of them.
I’ve been to many political actions for many causes before, but this is one of the most diverse I’ve seen, in age, race, and diasporic status. Greying grandfathers hold the hands of young children, who lead the chants of “End the siege on Gaza Now!” and “I believe that we will win!” with courage exceeding any seasoned activists’. Mothers, aunts, siblings, and cousins stand in keffiyehs and hijabs, pushing strollers and handing relatives snacks from their purses. Young men run across the street to greet one another in Arabic, laughing and clapping each other’s backs, so pleased to be united. Black and brown college students stand next to middle-aged Asian men in business suits while white retirees wave black, green, red, and white flags. Soon I will get used to these sights, but I won’t stop being gently awed.
Before the group can really get moving, a man on the loudspeaker says, the coffins need to be brought to the very front. Everyone else should get far back behind the banners, he says, please. At first I don’t know what he’s talking about, but then I see them held toward the sky: dozens of tiny white coffins made of cardboard, draped with the Palestinian flag and printed photos of the dead.
The reverie of the moment is intercut with solemnity; it’s impossible not to think of the drained, ashen bodies we’ve all been watching on our screens, not to feel the incredible grief of each family that has lost numerous members, of every generational line that has been entirely wiped out. These protestors carry reminders that half a world away there are remnants of lives, of a rich culture, just left out rotting.
At the protests to come, I will also see heavy-looking bundles wrapped in white, representing the loosely shrouded bodies of people whom Israel has killed and who may never find a more lavish burial. Everywhere, people will be holding these effigies of death…