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Protesters disrupt Wisconsin Democrats’ convention

Call for defunding Gaza war

Protesters gather at the Wisconsin State Capitol on Saturday, June 8, 2024 for Code Pink’s “We Are The Red Line” silent vigil in support of Palestinians. (Ilana Bar-av)

Protests calling for a cease-fire in Gaza erupted in multiple demonstrations Saturday as the Wisconsin Democratic Party held the first of its two-day convention in Milwaukee.

About 10 audience members inside the convention hall interrupted U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s address, calling for the defunding of Israel’s military and accusing the senator of being complicit in genocide. 

Earlier that day, organizers gathered at the state Capitol building in Madison and in front of the Potawatomi Casino and Hotel in Milwaukee — where the Wisconsin Democrats held their convention.

Party officials are facing criticism for recommending that delegates reject two proposed resolutions that call for a cease-fire as part of the Democrats’ updated platform.

Three resolutions were brought forward for consideration by the party at its convention.

FILE – Smoke rises following an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, Gaza Strip, on May 30, 2024. An AP analysis of Gaza Health Ministry data finds the proportion of Palestinian women and children being killed in the Israel-Hamas war appears to have declined sharply. Israel faces heavy international criticism over unprecedented levels of civilian casualties in Gaza. (Abdel Kareem Hana – stringer, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

One called for “an immediate cease-fire in Gaza,” a second resolution called for “an immediate and permanent cease-fire in the Israeli/Hamas conflict, the funding and facilitation of desperately needed humanitarian aid to Gaza and a concerted effort to reach a two-state solution to the broader conflict,” and a third proposal called to “change leadership in Israel.” 

The resolutions were included in the convention packet prepared for delegates over the weekend — the first two with a recommendation note that read “do not adopt.” The third was recommended for debate. 

The rejection of the two resolutions, in conjunction with the state Democratic Party’s commitment to President Joe Biden — whom critics have slammed for “bankrolling” Israel’s ongoing military offensive in Gaza — sparked the protests in Madison and Milwaukee Saturday.

In Madison, as tourists and community members wandered the Dane County Farmers’ Market, a group of around 60 demonstrators held a silent vigil in the Capitol rotunda, gathered around a banner which read “Silent Vigil 4 Rafah, Biden This is Our Red Line.”

The event was one of the first major demonstrations from CODEPINK Madison, organizers said, and it came as marchers in Washington, D.C., held a similar event with plans to surround the White House.

Pro-Palestinian protesters carry a red banner representing a “red line” in front of the White House in Washington, Saturday, June 8, 2024. (Manuel Balce Ceneta – staff, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Protesters in Madison told the Cap Times the vigil was held to urge change in U.S. policy as Israel continues an offensive in the city of Rafah, despite opposition from many international groups, and to hold Biden accountable in a key swing state. 

A few hours later in Milwaukee, a group of more than 70 protesters stood across the street from the Potawatomi Casino, holding Palestinian flags and signs criticizing the United States’ funding for Israel’s military.

A single police car idled nearby as state Rep. Ryan Clancy, D-Milwaukee, addressed protesters while wearing a traditional Palestinian keffiyeh scarf. 

“There’s a lot of fake conversations and butt kissing happening up there,” Clancy said, pointing at the building where many of his Democratic colleagues gathered to hear the convention’s keynote speeches. “The one thing that nobody out there is talking about is the genocide happening in Palestine.”

Clancy was one of a handful of Wisconsin lawmakers, including Madison Democratic Rep. Francesca Hong, who authored an unsuccessful resolution in the state Legislature calling for a cease-fire. 

Heba Mohammad, an organizer with the group Listen to Wisconsin that garnered 48,000 “uninstructed” votes against President Joe Biden in Wisconsin’s April Democratic primary, told the Cap Times Saturday that she helped draft one of the resolutions sent to the state party, adding that authors were told the resolutions should have mentioned the Oct. 7, 2023 attack on Israelis by the Hamas militant group, which killed about 1,200 Israeli civilians. 

Since then, the Palestinian Health Ministry has estimated that Israel’s military response has left around 35,000 Palestinian people dead, mostly civilians. 

“The communication we received directly from the chair of the party and resolutions committee was that they felt there was a bias against the Jewish community. I reject that outright,” Mohammad said. “I think if they’re going to say that, they’re reading between the lines of things that we did not write and they’re putting words in our mouths.”

“As a Palestinian who has worked in the (Democratic) Party, who has been a member of the party for a very long time, it is dehumanizing to me that every time I want to talk about what is happening to my people, I am required to also mention what’s happening to Israelis,” Mohammad said. “I don’t want my humanity to always have to be within the context of my oppressor.”

Mohammad attended the state convention Saturday as a delegate from Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District and said she hopes to see a change in stance from the state party as it crafts its platform over the weekend. 

The drafting of resolutions is a standard part of each state party convention. Resolutions are initially proposed at the county level before undergoing review from congressional district chapters, which then recommend them for consideration from the state party. 

Wisconsin Democratic Party members will vote Sunday morning on more than three dozen resolutions ranging from topics such as immigration to prison reform. Mohammad said she hopes that the resolution she helped draft — calling for an “immediate, unconditional” cease-fire — will get consideration even though it is recommended for rejection. 

But, even if the resolution were to pass and the Biden administration were to significantly change course in its financial backing of the war in Gaza, Mohammad said the president’s continual support of Israel has lost him any redemption of her support of the ballot. 

“There is nothing he could do now to earn my vote back,” Mohammad said. “The trust is not there. They have dehumanized us by allowing this to continue so long and clearly stated that they don’t value our lives the same way they value other lives.”

Wisconsin Democratic Party Chair Ben Wikler told the Cap Times he expects the resolutions to be discussed.

“I am sure there will be a robust debate, and I hope a respectful debate, tomorrow morning about the different resolutions,” he said. “There are protests; there’s a great American protest tradition. But what we heard over and over throughout the night is a clear, focused, united Democratic Party.”

Wikler did not indicate that the protests Saturday night would change the security levels for Sunday’s convention proceedings.

Erin McGroarty joined the Cap Times in May 2023 and covers politics and state government while also investigating disinformation. Originally from Alaska, Erin brings nearly four years of experience covering state politics from the farthest north capitol in the country.

You can follow her on Twitter @elmcgroarty

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