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Protesters shut down city council meeting, call for ceasefire in Palestine

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NOVEMBER 15, 2023

More than 30 demonstrators shut down the regular Berkeley City Council meeting Tuesday night, calling for council members to support a ceasefire in Palestine.

As council members began discussing the consent calendar at about 8:24 p.m., demonstrators started clapping and chanting “ceasefire now.” After briefly calling for order, Mayor Jesse Arreguín left the dais.

All other in-person councilmembers — Councilmember Susan Wengraf attended on Zoom — filed out of the school board room shortly after while attendees yelled “cowards,” “do your job” and “you work for us,” among other phrases.

“Welcome to democracy. Draft a resolution or expect continued disruption,” said Carmelo Castro-Netsky, a new Berkeley resident, reading from a letter he placed on the mayor’s desk.

Demonstrators continued to speak to the empty dais until 8:45 p.m. when Arreguín returned with the rest of the council and issued a motion to adjourn and continue the meeting next Tuesday.

Councilmembers left the room through a back door at 8:49 p.m., ending the meeting for the evening.

All items on consent and action calendars for Tuesday’s meeting will be pushed to next week, including major upzoning proposals for the Southside neighborhood and a report on affordable housing development in the city.

In addition to demonstrators supporting Palestine, about a dozen city legislative assistants represented by the Service Employees International Union 1021 attended the meeting to protest layoffs and low pay, according to flyers distributed by attendees.

“I know we all feel so helpless, but here, locally, we can at least do this,” a Palestinian demonstrator said. “I hope all the council members know this isn’t the end. This is just the beginning.”

Nearly every public commenter who had spoken earlier in the night urged the council to support a ceasefire in Palestine. Several attendees called on Berkeley to follow in the footsteps of Richmond, one of the first cities in the country to pass a resolution in support of a ceasefire last month.

Christina Harb, a Bay Area educator, called on council members to “resist political pressure and propaganda trips to Israel,” in reference to Arreguín’s trip to Israel and the West Bank last year. Her comments were met with applause and cheers from other attendees.

“Your voters are very diverse and the tides are changing — support for Palestine is growing,” Harb said during public comment. “Are we going to wait until genocide is over before we say something?”

Contact Chesney Evert and Riley Cooke at [email protected].

NOVEMBER 15, 2023