Hundreds of pro-Palestinian demonstrators protested Vice President Kamala Harris in downtown Boston, one of several demonstrations held across the Boston area Thursday, including on college campuses. The crowd shut down Avery Street as it rallied in front of the Ritz-Carlton, where Harris was believed to appear for a fund-raising event.
The protest also drew a heavy police presence as dozens of officers streamed into the hotel and a line of officers stood on Boylston Street on the other side of metal barricades from the crowd. Two men were arrested at about 12:30 p.m. for trespassing and resisting arrest at the protest outside the Ritz, according to Boston police Sergeant Detective John Boyle. One of the men was also charged with disturbing the peace, Boyle said.
Maddie Dery, an organizer for the Boston chapter of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, said Thursday’s demonstration stands against the US government’s supply of military aid to Israel.
“We’re here to protest our tax funding being used in the genocide of Palestinians,” Dery said.
Organizers speaking on the megaphone accused Harris, who is the first woman, the first Black American, and the first South Asian American to be elected vice president, of not allying with people of color, including Palestinians, on important political issues.
Harris’s name was booed by the crowd and speakers called the vice president a liar and a supporter of genocide. Several protesters carried signs that featured a photo of Harris with the caption: “Wanted . . . for crimes against humanity.” Other signs read, “Free Palestine.” Another simply read, “Shame.”
For more than two hours, a light but cold drizzle fell on the protesters. At one point the crowd started rhythmically slamming the metal barricades in front of the hotel while chanting, “Ceasefire now!”
Separately on Thursday, hundreds of students at higher education institutions including Harvard University, Berklee College of Music, Northeastern University, Boston University, and Massachusetts College of Art and Design planned to hold walkouts, sit-ins, and die-ins in support of Palestinians. More than 100 students filled the lobby of MIT’s linguistics building on Thursday, participating in a sit-in demonstration from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Most sat with laptops and tablets open, chatting or working on homework next to propped-up signs with pro-Palestinian slogans.
The protest took place, despite a letter issued to students by MIT administrators warning that protesters or counterprotesters who occupied space on campus not approved for demonstrations after 12:15 p.m. Thursday could face disciplinary action, including suspension, according to a copy of the letter.
Some students left before the deadline, said Kimberly Allen, an MIT spokesperson.
“Many students did depart as requested, though some remained,” Allen said. “Appropriate follow-up action will be taken in days ahead.”
At around 6:30 p.m., the doors leading into the lobby were locked, but protesters could be seen through the doors continuing the demonstration inside. An MIT campus security guard said no one was being allowed in or out.
Eesha Banerjee, an MIT senior, said the organization’s leaders were meeting with senior administrators.
“We are asking them to retract the threat of suspension,” she said.
The college demonstrations come at a tumultuous time on college campuses, as administrators scramble to craft public statements, student groups clash with each other, and tensions rise at higher education institutions across the state. In Rhode Island, 18 students at Brown University were arrested Wednesday following a demonstration on campus calling for a ceasefire in Gaza and the university’s divestment from companies affiliated with Israel.
At the protest outside the Ritz-Carlton, one speaker — BSL organizer Joe Tache — implored Harris to stop “rubbing elbows with wealthy donors in the Ritz-Carlton.” He said she should be striving to be the first vice president “to oppose the occupation of Palestine.”
”We’re going to keep shutting things down until Kamala Harris and every single politician actually listens to the voice of the people and stops funding genocide,” he said.
Another speaker, Amrita Dani, blasted the United States for “aiding and abetting” Israel’s actions in Gaza, where a month of relentless bombardment since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack has killed more than 10,500 Palestinians — two-thirds of them women and minors, according to the Health Ministry in the Hamas-run territory. More than 2,300 are believed to have been buried in the rubble by strikes that in some cases have demolished entire city blocks.
Holding a sign that read, “Palestine will be free,” Kim Andrews chanted along with the crowd. She said Thursday’s protest was a chance to be heard.
“It’s the only power we can have, so it’s all we can do,” Andrews said. “We have to use our collective voice.”
“I hope this is a wake-up call for people,” said protester David Trujillo. “We are seeing politicians do the opposite of what people want. Hopefully that will change.”
The pro-Palestinian demonstration attracted a small group of counterprotesters who carried signs that read, “We stand with Israel.”
At one point, while the crowd was moving to the back end of the hotel on Boylston Street, a few demonstrators screamed expletives at the pro-Israel counterprotesters, a group that included a child, calling them murderers and killers.
At Northeastern, dozens of students sprawled and sat on Centennial Quad, demonstrating in a die-in for Palestinians. Over a megaphone, organizers read poems and speeches by Palestinian authors, calling on classmates nearby to join the protest.
“We’re expected to be the generation that just votes and expect everything to be fine when clearly that’s not the case,” said one Northeastern student, who did not want to be named. “People are pretty sick of it.”
Many of the protests were organized by groups of students not affiliated with their universities. The groups promoted their action through social media, developing a network of official and unofficial pro-Palestinian activist organizations.
Thursday’s die-in, organized by Huskies for a Free Palestine — an unaffiliated organization of Northeastern students — was an important chance for a new generation to have their voices heard, one organizer told the Globe.
“Our generation is realizing the world is in flames,” the person said. “Kids are waking up and realizing that we don’t have a lot of time left. If it’s not us, then who?”
Another organizer, who identified themselves as Jewish, said they were aligned with the Palestinian cause.
“It’s really disheartening to hear the suffering that my people have gone through throughout the centuries be used as a weapon to justify genocide,” the person said. “I really want to be part of the counternarrative. ... There are many Jews who are against the Zionist occupation and who are for Palestinian liberation.”
Over 70 percent of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million have left their homes, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.
Hundreds of thousands of people have evacuated both Israel and Gaza. About 50,000 people fled northern Gaza on Wednesday — 10 times the number that left Monday — according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Those fleeing include children, older people, and people with disabilities, and most walked with minimal belongings, the UN agency said.
More than 1,400 people have died in Israel since the start of the war, most of them civilians killed by Hamas militants during their incursion. Another 240 people have been taken hostage.
Tonya Alanez of the Globe staff contributed to this report.