­What would Jesus do? 
Drawing parallels between the treatment of Palestinians and Native Americans 

­What would Jesus do? 
Kirbie Bennett - 03/07/2024

For months now, I’ve been watching the days get longer every Sunday afternoon at Buckley Park. Week by week, the sun gradually takes its time resting on the shoulders of Smelter Mountain. And for a few hours on that corner, the sidewalks turn black, white, red and green with flags, signs and chalk art as we hold another demonstration in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. 

Our demonstration goes from the park to the train station and back. Seven blocks to voice our rage and grief. Seven blocks to plead for peace. Seven blocks to shout demands, calling for an end to genocide, occupation and settler violence everywhere. Seven blocks to put hope, power and meaning into our words. 

During these demonstrations, it’s not uncommon to hear insults from bystanders. One time an old man yelled, “What would Jesus do?” Jab or not, it’s an amusing rhetorical question. We all know Jesus would be at these weekly demonstrations for Gaza. 

Other times, people have cynically yelled, “What’s the point?” and “Do you think you’re really making a difference?” And we’re not oblivious to those questions. There are moments when those thoughts haunt us, and we talk about it collectively. I sit with those questions, and let my heart cradle them. 

We know change can’t happen overnight. But in the case of Israel’s massacre of the Palestinian people, the U.S. government could bring it to an immediate halt. Imagine President Biden ending the slaughter with just a phone call. Ronald Reagan did so in 1982. After an Israeli bombing campaign on Beirut that lasted more than 11 hours, killing more than 100 people, Reagan picked up the phone and called the Israeli Prime Minister, Menachem Begin. Reagan bluntly said, “Menachem, this is a holocaust.” After more pressure, the Israeli government complied and ended the assault. (After Reagan got off the phone, he told staff, “I didn’t know I had that much power.”) 

So what’s the point of our constant demonstrations? The fact that the U.S. government wields so much power and chooses to be complicit in genocide, by vetoing numerous UN resolutions demanding a ceasefire and continually giving military aid to Israel, compels us to take to the streets. I come from a people who were once forcibly removed from our ancestral lands, Diné Bikéyah. We were held for years in a concentration camp. The defiant resilience of our ancestors to return home was eventually honored. 

I think of my Indigenous history when I witness the 75 years of occupation endured by Palestinians in Gaza. I don’t know if anyone in the 19th century was speaking out about the violence forced on my ancestors. But I’m here now, and it’s a blessing, and I can’t look away from Gaza. Our struggles for justice are entwined, and that’s what brings me back to the park on Sundays. 

When we assemble and walk through downtown, unhoused folks raise their fists, and I think about this backwards country spending endlessly on war and death but providing nothing for shelter and life. When we assemble and walk through downtown, we pass that racist Toh-Atin art gallery statue. It’s a frozen image that stereotypes and dehumanizes Indigenous people, and I see no difference between that and news headlines dehumanizing martyred Palestinian civilians, and since that terrible statue’s not coming down soon, wouldn’t he look better with a keffiyeh covering his face and neck and giant Palestinian flags in each hand? When we assemble and walk through downtown, people cheer, some I know and love, some strangers, all voicing solidarity, and some join spontaneously and at the red lights cars honk in support and it balances out the cynics and my emergency heart flutters with butterflies. 

When we assemble and walk through downtown, I think about how we show love for each other, and that is partly what brings us to any gathering against injustice. If people in power choose to make invisible and ungrievable the martyrs of Gaza, we are here on these streets to grieve publicly. We carry grief and rage and love and joy, and we know this demonstration is just one way of resisting, one way of using our bodies. Some set themselves on fire outside an embassy, like U.S. Air Force member Aaron Bushnell, bless his eternal soul. That’s something Jesus would have done. 

After a full trek through downtown, we meet back at Buckley Park. To debrief, decompress; to replenish ourselves with water. Collectively, we’re vulnerable and unassailable. As long as this genocide continues, we’ll keep showing up. And as people disperse, there’s this brief eternal moment when the setting sun brightly shimmers against Smelter. All these people with hearts that hold the world are golden. This time of day reminds me that we are fighting for life and beauty. While we’re living, we should always fight for life and beauty.

– Kirbie Bennett

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