Protesters gather to demonstrate against Missouri History Museum
Around 75 protesters from around the St. Louis community congregated outside the Missouri History Museum on Thursday night to protest the museum’s cancellation of an event that planned to discuss the similarities between recent events in Ferguson, Ayotzinapa and Palestine.
Student Life reported on Wednesday that the panel featuring speakers from Washington University student group AltaVoz, Latinos en Axion STL, the Organization for Black Struggle and the Saint Louis Palestinian Solidarity Committee had been scheduled since February. The museum backed out on Tuesday, though, citing that the panel had been “significantly change[d]” since its initial proposal, which hadn’t included Palestine as a topic of discussion, and that the new format would not best address the complexities of the issue.
Event organizers argued that the museum had posted flyers and showed recognition of the addition before Tuesday, and they decided to call off the panel rather than remove the Palestinian activists from the set of speakers, as the museum had demanded.
Instead of the panel discussion on Thursday, planners organized a rally outside the museum. Under the #SelectiveHistory banner, which protesters of the museum’s decision used on social media on Wednesday, a wide variety of attendees showed up to the changed event, which still included speakers from the four groups.
Supporters included Washington University students and faculty, members of the groups attempting to host the event and multiple people holding signs stating Jewish support for the rally. However, there were also three students holding an Israeli flag who said they supported the museum’s decision and were protesting the comparison of the events in Palestine with those in Ferguson.
Representatives from each of the organizations spoke to the crowd, scolding the museum for its decision to cancel and urging protesters to continue pushing for social justice. Many demonstrators held large, painted signs and booed the name of the Missouri History Museum early in the event. They also started several chants throughout the event, including “make it right,” “the people united will never be defeated” and “Ferguson to Palestine, occupation is a crime.”
In a published statement, the four groups wrote, “We, the undersigned, condemn this silencing of part of our community and this brazen attempt to divide communities of color. Instead of talking about solidarity, we find ourselves actualizing solidarity by rejecting the Missouri History Museum’s demands. We stand by our Palestinian partners and are postponing the original panel until an alternative location can be confirmed.”
Bret Gustafson, one of the original planned speakers and an associate professor of anthropology at the University, spoke about the decision’s impact on private influence over public institutions.
“[The Missouri History Museum] gave us more evidence that we are right and we are in the right,” Gustafson said. “By censoring this event, the museum, its donors, boards and masters have shown how government has become corrupted by private interest.”
Junior Annie Pudvah was already planning to attend the original panel but felt it became more important to come when the museum decided not to host the event.
“When I heard that they were canceling the panel, I thought it was even more important to come out to voice the fact that we know this is wrong and we can still be united even if we don’t attend a panel,” Pudvah said.
She also said she believed that comparing the various situations would be helpful in making progress toward social justice and unifying people of different races and backgrounds.
“I think obviously there are differences on each one, but it only makes us weaker to divide them, and I think we’re stronger if we find the similarities instead of focus[ing] on the differences between the events,” Pudvah added.