Demonstrators protest situation in Egypt

By Michelle Williams

Despite the poor weather, over 100 people marched through Amherst on Saturday, peacefully protesting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and demanding major reforms to the Middle Eastern Republic’s government.

Michelle Williams/Collegian

Demonstrators gathered at the Haigis Mall on the University of Massachusetts campus, where march organizers rallied the spirits of event-goers, shivering while holding up signs supporting the Egyptian protesters.

The diverse group varied in age, gender and race, but was unified in their support of the Egyptian people. “People about ready to support the democratic movement in Egypt?” said Michael Fiorentino, an organizer of the event and a student at Holyoke Community College, as he addressed the crowd.

“We’re not going to let New England weather stop us, right?” The march left the UMass campus a little after 1 p.m., led by a banner that stated, “Egypt will be free,” in both English and Arabic. As they marched towards Amherst Center, demonstrators shouted in unison chants such as, “No justice, no peace. U.S. out of the Middle East.” The demonstrators marched in a column down Massachusetts Avenue, and turning onto North Pleasant Street, blocked one lane of traffic. As they marched and sang protest chants, cars driving past honked their horns in approval.

At each intersection, the peaceful group of protesters was met by a police officer. Multiple departments contributed officers, including the University of Massachusetts Police Department, the Amherst Police Department, and the Amherst College Police Department.

Michelle Williams/Collegian

On the steps of the Amherst College library, speakers took turns using the megaphone to rally the crowd into action. The area was dubbed “Tahrir Liberation Square” by a demonstrator who stuck a sign into a tall snow bank.

Speakers drew connections between the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, the protests in Cairo and the Civil Rights Movement, and the genocide in Darfur and the issues facing the Palestinian people.

The coordinator for the Amherst branch of Amnesty International, Dr. Mohamed Elgadi, spoke of the United States’ history of civil disobedience, specifically the Women’s Liberation Movement and the Civil Rights Movement, and the achievements that resulted from both.

“This is why I believe a strong movement like this- civil disobedience – like what’s happening in the streets Cairo and Sudan, and Yemen and Tunisia – is going to be victorious,” said Elgadi, who said he was “half Sudanese, half Egyptian and 100 percent international activist.”

Saturday’s rally was one of many across the globe. Feb. 5 was declared the international day of solidarity with the Egyptian and Tunisian people by many groups in support of the protesters.

The event was organized by 13 Western Massachusetts groups, including the Western Mass. Coalition for Palestine and the American Friends Service Committee.

Representing the Democratic Socialists of America, Emahunn Raheem Ali Campbell, a doctorate student in African-American studies at UMass, said this was an exciting time in the world.

“The kind of global warming that’s happening right now is the kind that no scientist can measure,” he said. “It is the global warming of revolution.”

Campbell also related the protests in Egypt to the Civil Rights Movement half a century ago.

“It is very interesting that this is taking place and we’re having this march during Black History Month,” he said, “because I think of Dr. [Martin Luther] King and his last speech ‘I’ve been to the mountaintop.’ He said that no matter where it is, whether it is in Johannesburg, South Africa, New York City, Atlanta, Georgia, Jacksonville, Mississippi, Memphis, Tennessee, Western Massachusetts, Cairo, Egypt, is doesn’t matter, the cry is always the same, ‘We want to be free. We want to be free no matter where we are.’”

Alex Cachinero-Gorman, a former student at Hampshire College, thanked all that participated.

“What I’m really excited for today, is to see all of you people, from different backgrounds, from different political affiliations and interests, starting to come together so that we can think about how we can be in solidarity with the Egyptian people, the people of Tunisia and Jordan, here in Massachusetts,” he said.

Cachinero-Gorman also encouraged the crowd to stay politically active after the rally ended.

“I see a lot of old faces and a lot of new faces, and I’d like us to get together more often,” he said. “I want us to start brainstorming creatively, and consider what we can bring to the table here in Massachusetts to help those across the Middle East.”

Cachinero-Gorman, as well as other organizers, stressed that Saturday’s march was a part of a larger movement to think critically about the United States’ actions around the world, and to support people fighting for freedom across the globe.

Michelle Williams can be reached at [email protected]