City Hall

Protestors filled the Columbus City Council chambers at their October 16 meeting to denounce their silence on the genocide of Palestinian people and support for the government of Israel. There were so many protestors most were turned away at the door since the building was “at capacity,” although that turned out not to be true.

As resident after resident after resident took the floor to stand up for the human rights of Palestinians, City Council members have been mostly silent. Council President Hardin posted on X denouncing the violence and standing for the people of Israel, calling the attack “unprovoked” prior to the meeting, being the only member to say anything as far as the author can tell. The Council members had little to offer at the meeting itself, too, with only Hardin, Bankston, Barroso de Padilla, and Favor speaking to the protestors in what became a protracted back-and-forth. Dorans, Brown, and Remy apparently had nothing to say, as they did not engage with the protestors at all, either unserious enough about their convictions to stand up for them or aware of their own impotence enough to not try.

Prior to allowing the protestors to say their piece, President Hardin called the Council Chambers “the People’s Living Room” where residents come together to speak about usually “local topics.” Monday marked a special occasion, however, as they gathered to speak about “truly global issues,” seemingly implying that residents coming to speak on the violence was somewhat weird.

The genocide happening in the eastern Mediterranean is not an issue irrelevant to Columbus. Besides the city having residents directly connected to the violence, made evident by the residents’ comments at the meeting, Columbus, like many U.S. cities, directly benefits from the military tactics learned by the Israeli police in their ongoing ethnic cleansing. In February of 2020, Columbus police were being trained by the Israeli police, urging them to “think outside the box.”

Further, there are efforts in this city to help supply the Israeli Defense Force, the very force evicting people from their homes and murdering children in the Middle East. While not specific to Columbus, the American government sends billions to Israel, mostly for military technology. City Council could do more to ensure Columbus residents are not funding genocide, but they have refused to do so. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has made it clear how widespread our funding of the Israeli military is and how easy it is to stop it. Council members know this, even if they want to pretend they “can’t directly impact” anything. 

After residents spoke at the beginning of the Council meeting, the Council members not too complacent to speak attempted to continue their empty rhetoric – Hardin again noting the space as “the People’s Living Room” – but protestors were not having it. Like most people having conversations in their living room, discussions were direct, informal, and rowdy. Council members, again showing how unserious they were, went to recess instead of actually engaging in “living room conversation.”

After recessing for an hour, an hour in which all other city employees who normally attend Council meetings left the building, City Council returned to allow more speakers. Again, more people came to defend the humanity of Palestinians and denounce the barbarism inflicted upon them. It was after these speakers that Councilmembers finally spoke, with Barroso de Padilla focusing on “empathy” more than anything else, and Favor, to her credit, being the most direct in her denunciations, most noticeably being the only Councilmember to denounce the statement made by an Ohio Democrat consultant Joe Rettof endorsing the ethnic cleanings (the linked thread also shows how many money Rettof has made as a consultant for the city as well).

Generally, however, every Council member who spoke wanted to “both sides” the genocide, provide only sympathy for the deaths, and every single one failed to denounce our own government's role, and their own as City Council members, in the violence. The protestors were allowed a rebuttal, which was a work of art, and everyone who cares about human rights, the cause of peace in the world, and real, honest-to-god political rhetoric should watch. After this exchange, City Council returned to their normal business.

What is just as shameful as this episode Monday is local journalism’s response to it. The Columbus Dispatch, notorious for failing to be good journalists, decided to frame the protest as a “disruption” that got in the way of “a landmark deal with four area hospital systems to eliminate the medical debts of more than 340,000 moderate-income city residents.” The article, posted that evening and updated the next morning, uses quotes from Council members to imply these human rights defenders took their global issues to get in the way of local efforts to help residents. This framing is an easy one for them, as City Council rarely provides direct relief to its residents so doing so is actually very newsworthy, but the framing of these protestors as “halting” the proceeding is shameful. These residents came to City Council to stand up for the rights of the oppressed, and they should be applauded, not framed as disruptors. The Dispatch should be ashamed of the article.

While the events of Monday are over, the fight for the rights of Palestinians is not. More actions are likely to follow, and all Columbus residents should be involved.

From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.