Comets Protest in Capital for Ceasefire, Hostage Release

Camila Estrada | Courtesy

Comets joined thousands of students protesting in Austin, Washington D.C, and across the nation this November in support of immigrant workers’ rights, a ceasefire in Gaza and the release of Israeli hostages.

Political student organizations including UTD’s chapters of College Democrats, League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, Hillel, Chabad and Students for Justice in Palestine have all sent student activists across the country. UTD College Democrats works to encourage political participation through voter registration drives and meetings with local politicians; most recently, members attended the Nov. 18 to 10 National Here to Work Day of Action, or NHWDA, in Washington. Also present at NHWDA were 12 members from LULAC, which hosts cultural events and attends summits and protests that advocate for the rights of millions of marginalized immigrants. Hillel and Chabad work with students and administration to address matters affecting Jewish students; 3 of their students attended the Nov. 14 March for Israel. SJP works to educate students about the Palestinian plight while also organizing student demonstrations like Nov. 29’s Chalk the Block and the Nov. 12 Austin protest for Palestine.

Political science senior Daniel Gallegos Banda, who participates in several political causes on campus, said involvement in student organizations serves as a crucial part of the college experience that goes beyond academic learning.

“Once you start to get involved you meet people who can help amplify your voice and show you that you can now help others enter this world they might not have been exposed to yet,” Gallegos said.

Gallegos is a member of LULAC, UTD College Democrats, the John Marshall Pre-law Society and SJP. He participated in student organizing efforts like voter registration drives and Hispanic cultural celebrations with LULAC and UTD Dems. Gallegos attended SJP protests that call for an end to the conflict in Palestine, such as the one held on Oct. 25, and engaged in congressional activism in Washington during the NHWDA.

“The [NHWDA] summit helped us network with people across the nation facing the same issue of work permits,” Meadow Pena, president of UTD College Democrats, said.

The UTD LULAC chapter sent 12 students to the NHWDA to advocate for improved work permit and immigration laws. Pena said a driving factor of the protest was the immediate danger and fear immigrants face of being separated from their families. President of LULAC Nathalia Patricio, Pena and Gallegos all said that cooperating with organizations like the national and neighboring chapters of LULAC, The Resurrection Project and Dreamers of Today allowed them to participate by funding their travel.

“Political advocacy helps calm my nerves because, when successful, it lets me know that families like my own won’t be torn apart by all these bad laws people try to pass,” Patricio said.

Pena said that while in Washington, they met with congressional representatives that were in office during the weekend — and primarily with Democratic politicians — to speak about their cause and the approaches that could be taken to implement it. Patricio said her voice is often unheard on campus, but attending a national protest made her feel a sense of self-efficacy and strength.

“When you have the right resources and the right connection, there is more of a possibility for you to bring about change,” Patricio said.

Mechanical engineering graduate student Andrew Glick and two other UTD students traveled to the Nov. 14 March for Israel rally in Washington after receiving support from Hillel and Chabad to attend in support of Israel. Glick enjoyed meeting with others from varied backgrounds at the march, which gathered a crowd in the tens of thousands. Glick said he was happy to use his student voice in meetings with administration that had been conducted by Hillel and Chabad, and he planned on attending upcoming meetings as well.

“Sometimes when people want someone to acknowledge their pain, they feel as if the only way is to bring down another group,” Glick said. “It’s almost like it is expected that only one group can be in pain, and I don’t think that that is right. It is important to foster an environment where we can acknowledge others’ pain without bringing others down.”

Since October, SJP has organized multiple protests on campus in support of humanitarian relief and peace in Palestine. On Nov. 12, SJP members attended a protest supporting Palestine in Austin with over 15,000 people in attendance. SJP secretary and healthcare management senior Nour Saad was one of those in attendance, and she was particularly impressed by the compassion demonstrated at the event.

“Whenever people needed medical attention or help, the crowd would shift its chants and ask for help until even the person at the speaker would join and alert the medical tent,” Saad said. “And the medics made their way over by following the directions of the crowd. It really struck me that even in this huge crowd, we were taking care of each other as a community.”

The protest called for an immediate ceasefire to the ongoing conflict in Palestine and for an end to U.S. aid to Israel. The organizers believe this was one of the largest protests in support of Palestine in Texas history.

“One problem that I had when I was younger was that I didn’t think one person was enough to have any impact,” Gallegos said. “I didn’t even think of making it into college. I have met inspiring people who come from backgrounds similar to my own that taught me that my goals are achievable, and that progress, even if small, can be made. These events have been life changing, so why not give change a chance?”

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