The Art of Protest in San Francisco: 5 Messages from the Gaza Rally

Demonstrations in the Bay Area featured DIY posters, spontaneous paint splatters and artists handing out silkscreens expressing anger, grief and calls for a ceasefire.

Saturday’s Stop the Genocide in Gaza rally on the Embarcadero was no exception, organized by 15 organizations including the Palestinian Youth Movement, the Arab Resource Center and Jewish Voice for Peace. Under clear skies and mild weather, organizers spoke to a packed crowd of 15,000 demonstrators, according to Wasim Hage, media coordinator for the Arab Resource Center.

“It is important to emphasize that this escalation in Gaza did not happen in a vacuum,” Hage said. “We know that the violence and all the killing we see in Palestine is the result of 75 years of settler colonial violence, 75 years of apartheid and 16 years of siege from Gaza.”

Demonstrators held hundreds of placards, flags and banners. The huge crowd then marched down Market Street and later flooded a quarter-mile stretch of San Francisco’s Central Expressway, blocking traffic for about 90 minutes.

Bay Area artist and president of the Center for Cultural Power Faviana Rodriguez said that during any political action, it’s important to look at the posters and art of the protesters.

“I think effective protest art is art that names your values ​​and expresses how you feel,” Rodriguez said. “And there are many ways people can express outrage.”

Andrea Pereira, 39, holds a sign at the Stop the Genocide in Gaza rally on Saturday, October 28 at the Embarcadero in San Francisco. (Olivia Cruz Mayeda/KQED)

“Gaza goes dark, we’re still watching”

Andrea Pereira, 39, held a homemade cardboard sign decorated with motifs from the Palestinian scarf known as the keffiyeh, with the words “Gaza is going dark, we’re still watching.” Pereira said she made the sign after a communication breakdown in Gaza. According to the UN, Israel attacked and destroyed major telecommunications lines in Gaza.

“It was really upsetting yesterday when they cut off all communication,” Pereira said. “We’ve all been able to see what’s going on out there on social media, but now we can’t, but we’re still holding people accountable.”

Two people stand and hold a sign that says
Rawan Zakout, 28, and Francisco Serna, 29, pose with their screen-printed sign at the Stop the Genocide in Gaza rally on Saturday, October 28 at the Embarcadero. (Olivia Cruz Mayeda/KQED)

Hand-Printed Screen Print: “Making by hand and sharing is like a prayer”

While some opted for clear signs like one protester who carried a white placard with the words “Shame on you Biden” written clearly in black marker, others like Rauan Zakut and Francisco Serna held elaborate silkscreen prints made on site by San Francisco artist David Solnit . Zakut wiped the ink off his fingertips as he marched down Market Street with thousands of other demonstrators.

“We have family in Gaza and even if we didn’t, we would be here because this is not humane,” Zakout said. “A lot of our tax dollars go to it, so I think it’s a good way for me to show which side I’m on.”

Solnit says he printed 150 of the posters with the help of his family amid a chanting crowd.

“Making by hand and sharing is like a prayer,” he said. “And people can see that it was made by our hands, not by a machine.”

A woman is holding a watermelon shaped cookie.
Marlee Belmonte, 35, hands out watermelon-shaped cookies. Soha Leach, 42, poses in front of a marching crowd at the Stop the Genocide in Gaza rally on the Embarcadero in San Francisco on Saturday, October 28. (Olivia Cruz Mayeda/KQED)

Watermelon shaped cookies

One protester’s art form has abandoned pen and paper entirely and instead uses her culinary skills as a chef. Marley Belmonte handed out cookies shaped like slices of watermelon, a symbol of Palestinian resistance dating back to 1967, when Israel captured Gaza and the West Bank and annexed East Jerusalem. After the Israeli government criminalized the Palestinian flag, the watermelon – with its familiar red, white and green composition – took on new meaning.

“Art as a form of social justice and protest is extremely important because it’s a different way to literally β€” in this case β€” brave the fact that we have to put our whole body in protest,” Belmonte said. “We have to give people a bite of sweetness while we’re at it, even though it’s incredibly painful.”

Handala: Motif of Resistance

Another motif of Palestinian resistance, known as the Handala, is painted on a billboard of demonstrators, a character created in 1969 by political cartoonist Naji al-Ali who came to serve as a representation of identity and defiance.

Man stands holding sign with SF building in background.
Soha Leach, 42, poses in front of a marching crowd at the Stop the Genocide in Gaza rally on the Embarcadero in San Francisco on Saturday, October 28. (Olivia Cruz Mayeda/KQED)

The art of expressing deep care

For Sokha Leach, art is a way of expressing deep concern in times of injustice. Leach found an open-source illustration online of what she understood to be a Palestinian child against the backdrop of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque with doves flying overhead, and brought it to the protest.

“I have family in Gaza that I haven’t heard from,” she said. “I too am devastated by all the atrocity, but I thought about the children who are born into captivity and destroyed before they even get a chance to learn or love.”

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