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Protesters Demand Permanent Cease-Fire, Interrupting VP Harris' Stop in San José

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Vice President Kamala Harris is pictured sitting in a yellow seat on a stage.
Vice President Kamala Harris speaks during the 'Fight for Reproductive Freedoms' tour at Mexican Heritage Plaza in San José on Jan. 29, 2024. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

Vice President Kamala Harris’ push to rally voters in San José around support for reproductive rights ran headlong into protests Monday, demanding an immediate cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas War in Gaza.

At times, protest chants of “cease-fire now” broke out during the rally, interrupting Harris’ speech at least four times. Outside, dozens of protesters lined up along King Road and Alum Rock Avenue, waving signs outside Mexican Heritage Plaza.

“Let me say, in a real democracy, everyone has a right to have their voice heard,” Harris told the crowd after protests broke out inside, adding “We all want this conflict to end as soon as possible and the president and I are working on that every single day.”

The colliding forces at the Harris rally exposed a key election year challenge for Democrats: many of the younger, progressive voters who the party hopes to win over with a platform of protecting abortion rights are deeply dissatisfied with the Biden administration’s support of Israel.

Dozens of protesters with signs calling for a "cease-fire."
Seema Badar (center) and others chant ‘cease-fire now’ outside of Mexican Heritage Plaza in San José, where Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to speak on Jan. 29, 2024. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

Holding signs and banners bearing “Free Palestine” and “End U.S. Aid to Israel,” members from the Council on American-Islamic Relations joined a coalition of multi-faith, multiracial organizations with other supporters to demand a permanent cease-fire in Gaza.

Allie Felker said she was invited to the Harris event for her work advocating for prenatal care to prevent stillbirths.

But less than three minutes into Harris’ on-stage conversation with actress and activist Sophia Bush, Felker stood up and joined in calls for a cease-fire. Felker told KQED she was motivated by the risks to pregnant women caused by the Israeli invasion.

“I can’t come here and advocate for reproductive justice without also standing with Palestine, standing with the women and children of Gaza and saying that the reproductive justice we’re seeking in this country needs to also be equated with what’s happening in Gaza,” Felker told KQED.

Harris’ stop in San José was a part of her nationwide “Fight for Reproductive Freedoms” tour. Democrats are hoping to continue their run of electoral success on the issue of reproductive rights after the 2022 Supreme Court ruling that overturned a constitutional right to an abortion.

A protestor holds up a Palestinian flag in red, black, white and green colors inside an event where the Vice President was speaking in San Jose.
Protesters interrupted Vice President Kamala Harris during an event at Mexican Heritage Plaza in San José to demand a cease-fire in Gaza on Jan. 29, 2024. (Martin do Nascimento/KQED)

More than 500 people lined up around the plaza for a chance to hear from the vice president. Dozens more were turned away at the door after the theater was filled to capacity. Supporters of the vice president chanted “M-V-P” (Madam Vice President) and “Four more years!” to drown out the pro-cease-fire protests.

“She’s a woman, specifically, who can speak to this,” said Vanessa Grijalva, a board member with the Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley. “We’ve had so many men speak on women’s health and our bodies and things like that, so I think it’s just important for her to come out here … and it’s so important for us people of color to come out and to rock the vote this year and for her doing that in our community, it just highlights the importance of that.”

After the court overturned Roe v. Wade, ballot measures to protect abortion rights have passed in states from California to Kansas, and Democrats were able to use the issue to blunt Republican gains in the 2022 midterm elections.

The issue has also galvanized the young voters Biden and Harris will need to keep the White House. Polling by Gallup shows that the share of voters under age 30 who identify as “pro-choice” has risen to 64%, while the share of those young voters identifying as “pro-life” has fallen to 29%.

On Monday, Harris warned that state protections in liberal areas of the country might not withstand Republican victories at the ballot box.

“If these folks have their way and they’ve already articulated as part of their agenda, they’ll get a national ban,” she said. “So let’s understand, none of us can afford to sit back and say, ‘Thank God we’re in California.’”

However, the ongoing war in Gaza has proven costly to the Biden administration among young voters. A Gallup poll from December found that 50% of Americans under 35 believe the U.S. is giving “too much” support to Israel — compared to 21% who believe the country is lending “too little” support to Israel.

“So long as President Biden and Vice President Harris ignore that call [for a cease-fire], they are complicit in genocide, but they are also demonstrating their disconnect with the electorate,” said Zahra Billoo, executive director of CAIR’s San Francisco Bay Area office.

KQED’s Molly Solomon contributed to this report.

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