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John Fetterman: Gaza Protesters Spend “Fridays at Fetterman’s” Office

In World
June 14, 2024

Fridays for Fetterman

This story was written by one of Teen Vogue’s 2024 Student Correspondents, a team of college students covering the election cycle from key battleground states.

Chants of “let Gaza live” and “Ceasefire now” have become the midday marker on Fridays outside of Senator John Fetterman’s Philadelphia office. At 12:15 every Friday since December 8, protesters gather to “demand that Senator Fetterman publicly support an immediate, permanent ceasefire by Israel in Gaza,” according to the website of Fridays at Fetterman’s. The gatherings are coordinated by Terry Rumsey and Robin Lasersohn, president and vice-president of the nonprofit grant writing organization Green Seeds, and have the endorsement of several organizations, including If Not Now and Prayers for Peace Alliance.

Protesters of all ages, including Philly-area Gen Zers, have joined in on the weekly peace protests to show their disapproval of Fetterman’s firm stance on Israel. In 2022, Fetterman ran a campaign backed by the support of progressive voters and young people, and he actively courted their favor. Since being elected to represent Pennsylvania in the US Senate, Fetterman has since distanced himself from the progressive label, angering many of his constituents. In May, a video of Fetterman’s mocking response to a constituent expressing concerns about pipelines in her community regarding climate change went viral and garnered praise from conservatives. The Inquirer reported in April that all of his top communications aides have left the office since October 7, the day of the Hamas attack that killed over 1,200 in Israel. His shift towards conservative policies has read as an affront to the constituencies that got him elected.

Kinnan Abdalhamid, a Palestinian-American student at Haverford College on Philadelphia’s mainline, was a victim of what’s being investigated as a hate crime. He and two friends were shot in December while walking near a friend’s family home, wearing traditional Palestinian keffiyehs and speaking Arabic. Abdalhamid, who has been a featured speaker at Fridays at Fetterman’s protests in the past, told Teen Vogue, “It seems like [Fetterman] really does not want to open his mind at all,” Abdalhamid said. “I could see that as guilt possibly from him getting AIPAC funding.”

The atmosphere at the protests is one of peace and solidarity, and the protesters have faced minimal heckling in the months of protesting. “It’s not loud and rowdy and powerful, but I think there’s something very grounding about it, that it’s every week,” said protester Willow Swidler. Swidler, a 23-year-old graduate of Bryn Mawr College, cited her frustration with Fetterman as the driving force for getting involved with the weekly protests. “One of the main things that he was invested in trying to change was gun violence [as mayor of Braddock],” Swidler said. “It’s shockingly hypocritical and horrifying that he can then turn around and decide, ‘I’m anti-gun violence, but I’m pro-war.’”

Many voters across the country have expressed their anger with the war in Gaza, with campaigns encouraging voters to vote “uncommitted” in the Democratic primary in swing states like Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Mitch, 22, got involved with Fridays at Fetterman’s because they felt betrayed by the Senator’s staunch support of Israel and his rejection of the progressive label.

“I was very bewildered and aggravated [by his stance],” Mitch, who asked to withhold their last name to protect their privacy, said. “He ran this whole stance on being progressive. Now it’s just really shocking to see how he’s completely turned on a dime to betray all of the people who voted for him. I definitely feel like he has betrayed the trust of his constituents.”

As the protesters chant, sing, pray, and come together for peace, they have one goal: to encourage the Senator to call for a ceasefire and back down from his unwavering support of Israel’s offensive in Gaza, which has led to high Palestinian civilian deaths. The World Health Organization reported that more than 37,000 people have died in Gaza as of June 13.

Fetterman has been reluctant to engage with the protesters, instead ignoring them or offering the same explanations he’s made publicly for his support of Israel. Fetterman has also appeare to taunt protesters by waving Israeli flags or draping the Israeli flag around his back.

US Senator John Fetterman, Democrat of Pennsylvania, exits the Senate Chamber ahead of a vote on a foreign aid package at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on April 23, 2024.

US Senator John Fetterman, Democrat of Pennsylvania, exits the Senate Chamber ahead of a vote on a foreign aid package at the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on April 23, 2024.

MANDEL NGAN/Getty Images

When they were able to engage him, Rumsey noted that, “We found his position to be incredibly simplistic and defensive, and that he wasn’t truly willing or able to engage in authentic dialogue with us. He kept repeating short talking points rather than explaining how he could support a war [with] so many children and civilians being killed.”

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Fetterman told Teen Vogue via email, “Protests are representative democracy in action. Senator Fetterman and his team are always ready to hear from Pennsylvanians.” The spokesperson added that the stances Fetterman has championed in elected office, from a $15 minimum wage to marijuana legalization, were once seen as progressive but have since become mainstream Democratic positions.

While both Rumsey and Lasersohn have been organizing for decades, they are energized by the presence of young people at their protests as well as watching young people protest the war across the country.

“The student uprising is the cutting edge of the movement right now,” Rumsey said. “And we are shocked that the power of government officials is being used to try to suppress free expression and free speech of young people here in Pennsylvania and across the United States.”

Recently, the Gaza solidarity encampment at the University of Pennsylvania was broken up by Philadelphia police and more than 30 protesters were arrested; other universities in the Philly area, including Swarthmore College and Drexel University, have faced similar resistance from their administrations.

Kinnan Abdalhamid criticized the president of his own institution, Haverford College, for a lack of action regarding the war in Gaza, as he did in a February 2024 op-ed for Teen Vogue.

“It’s within the Haverford culture for the President to also be an activist and reinforce Quaker values,” he said. “It takes so little effort to make such a big change, whereas all these Arab students who are suffering because of what’s happening are putting all their blood, sweat, tears and energy into this. It’s just a shame to see someone with so much do so little.”

Rather than calling for justice and ceasefire, Abdalhamid said politicians and university leaders “retreat back to their privilege bubbles whenever it’s time to have some responsibility.”

With the general election coming closer, the organizers are focused on peace in the Middle East. As they continue to engage with Fridays at Fetterman’s, these young voters are thoroughly disillusioned with Fetterman and will not be voting for him once he is up for reelection in four years.

“I honestly hope he loses the next time he’s up for reelection,” Mitch said. “I’ll do whatever I can to help whoever his Democratic opponent is.”

Swidler agreed, saying, “I will not be voting for Fetterman again. He built himself as one thing and he is not following through on that.”

As for this year’s presidential election, Swidler quoted something Lasersohn said at one of the weekly vigils, saying, “Biden has to earn our vote” and called on him to be receptive to the demands of an immediate and permanent ceasefire from protesters across the country.

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Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue

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