Update 11:22pm: Footage from the rally and fundraiser has been embedded at the end of this article.
At 6:00pm, this evening, several protesters have disrupted a fundraising event for Vermont U.S. Representative Becca Balint in Burlington. The action, organized by Jewish Voice for Peace of Vermont and New Hampshire, is part of an international day of action calling for a ceasefire to end the bombing, siege, and invasion of Gaza by Israeli forces.
The Balint fundraiser was held at J Skis on Main Street. Protesters inside were joined outside by more than a hundred people who walked up Main Street to the venue from a rally for Gaza being held at the same time in front of City Hall. The City Hall rally was convened by JVP and co-sponsored by twelve other organizations.
Leah, one of the JVP organizers who spoke inside the fundraiser, said she considers Balint “part of my community as another queer, American Jew who intimately knows the long-lasting effects of intergenerational trauma caused by state-sanctioned violence,” and said that, “We can hold our grief and our fear without weaponizing them against the Palestinian people.”
The protesters inside and outside called on Balint to co-sponsor a U.S. House resolution in support of a ceasefire, stop U.S. military aid to the Israeli government, and provide humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.
For the past month, Balint and the rest of the Vermont Congressional delegation (Senators Sanders and Welch) have opposed any ceasefire, a significant departure from public opinion. Polling late last month showed two thirds of likely voters supporting a ceasefire, including a majority of Republicans and 80% of Democrats.
In an interview, JVP organizer Kathy Shapiro said, “I’m extremely disappointed in their response, especially Senator Sanders, who I thought would stand up more strongly. But I’m disappointed in all three of them.”
Shapiro said JVP has been trying to meet with Balint for weeks now, either in-person or via Zoom, but so far the best they could manage were two meetings with a staffer. When asked what she would ask Balint during a meeting, she said, “I would push her on the idea that we have to kill tens of thousands of civilians to get as many Hamas members as possible. That is against international law and against all sense of humanitarian decency. And I would ask her how she can square that with her conscience.”
The fundraiser, featuring tickets ranging from $100 to $1,000, saw an estimated fifty attendees, including Burlington City Council members Hannah King, Joan Shannon, and former council member Chip Mason. Among attendees were JVP activists who had purchased tickets to ensure they could get inside.
Protesters also sang “Lo Yisa Goy,” a traditional Hebrew song about ending war, derived from a passage in the Book of Isaiah, chapter 2. They attempted to read the names of people killed in Gaza by Israel’s military, but were interrupted by Rep. Balint.
In response to their demands, Balint pleaded pragmatism. “When you made a statement, it seals you off from having other conversations because it’s not realistic,” she said. “You’re left out of conversations that you need to be having with people in government who are actually on the ground trying to change them.” She said that “there’s a reason” why the Vermont delegation was not calling for a ceasefire, but a humanitarian pause instead, because that “actually has a chance of happening.” Balint’s comments, despite a microphone, struggled to compete with the clear chants coming from her constituents protesting outside.
Shapiro, like many activists, dismissed calls for a “humanitarian pause,” which Vermont’s Congressional delegation has signed onto. “A ceasefire is something agreed to by both sides, that they will stop military action,” she said. “’Humanitarian pause’ is being defined differently by different people. Netanyahu said publicly yesterday, ‘Well, a humanitarian pause could be an hour here, an hour there.’ That is absurd.”
Rebecca, one of the JVP members inside the fundraiser, echoed similar sentiments. “A humanitarian pause is not a ceasefire. Jewish tradition teaches us that to destroy a life is to destroy an entire universe,” she said. “Since October 7, the Israeli government has destroyed 10,000 universes. We are calling on Becca Balint as a fellow Jew to be courageous and stand on the right side of history.”
For those who want to get more involved, Shapiro suggests joining an organization fighting on the issue. “There are many of them, including JVP in Vermont, Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, or as an individual you can start making calls, writing letters, making noise and coming to demonstrations.” She also emphasized the importance of organizations like congregations and unions publicly taking a stand.
According to JVP organizers, Rep. Balint agreed to meet with them next week, on Wednesday.
Neither Balint nor staff provided immediate comment after the event, which ended early. At roughly 7:00, as ralliers outside J Skis started to disperse, Burlington Police Department vehicles arrived.
Patrick is a writer and organizer based in northern Vermont. He is on the editorial collective for The Rake Vermont.