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Jacksonville protesters take over Senator Nelson’s office, demand ‘Hands off Syria’

By staff

Protesters fill the hall near at Nelson’s office demanding no war with Syria.

Jacksonville, FL – Over 60 protesters stormed U.S. Senator Bill Nelson’s Jacksonville office on Sept. 12, demanding that the senator renounce his support for President Barack Obama’s proposed military strike on Syria. Nelson says he will vote yes for a U.S. war on Syria.

The protest, called by Jacksonville Against the War on Syria (JAWS), was lively with many Syrian and Arab-Americans taking part. Dave Schneider, an organizer with JAWS, explained, “Bill Nelson built a career for himself criticizing Bush for starting the war in Iraq and he’s happy to take money from progressives and the anti-war movement. But now that Obama is in office, he supports war and occupation. Senator Nelson is now a warmonger. It’s hypocritical, it’s disgusting, it’s flat-out wrong, and we’re demanding he vote no on U.S. war.”

The protesters assembled outside of Nelson’s office on the 20th floor of Riverside Tower. Carrying signs that read, “Say no to U.S. military intervention” and “Hands off Syria,” the group stood in front of the building and caught the attention of drivers in rush hour traffic. They chanted, “USA, stay away!” and “U.S., NATO, hands off Syria,” before marching inside the complex.

The protest included members from JAWS, the Friends of the Syrian American Forum, the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition, the New Jim Crow Movement, Occupy Jacksonville, several churches in the area, and students from the University of North Florida. Many of the protesters were Syrian American, for whom the threat of war is especially terrifying and personal.

“I am a Syrian,” said Sandra Ahmad, a Syrian American resident in Jacksonville, who lost a cousin to the U.S. and Saudi-backed rebels. “I can’t see America going to bomb my country and family and friends and my whole memories, and stay quiet. That’s hard. We can’t fight there but we are going to do anything we can here to help. It’s not easy to see your families killed.”

Once inside the building, the protesters ignored the requests of security guards to put away their megaphones, with one person saying, “We’re just here to speak with our senator.” As the crowd rode the escalators to the tower lobby, they continued chanting, “Senator Nelson, hands off Syria,” and “Obama, it’s not your business.”

The crowd filled into five elevators and reached Nelson’s office, continuing to loudly chant and make noise. Nelson’s staff left moments before the protesters arrived, leaving the crowd with no way to directly voice their demands.

With no one from Nelson’s office to talk with, protesters began posting up their rally signs and small cards that read, “I don’t support Obama’s strike on Syria, and neither should you, Bill Nelson,” which every person signed. Within minutes, rally signs and cards covered the entirety of Senator Nelson’s office door.

The crowd reassembled downstairs in front of the tower. Many of the Syrian Americans sang the Syrian national anthem and led several Arabic chants against U.S. intervention.

Organizers announced several call-in days to Senator Nelson’s office. After marching to a nearby park, participants drew up plans for a meeting and forum on future actions.

After the rally, Schneider commented on their protest, “Just two days after we marched on Congressman Crenshaw’s office, he came out vocally against any U.S. military strike on Syria.”

Jacksonville Congressman Ander Crenshaw said he would vote no on authorizing war on Syria. Protesters targeted Crenshaw earlier this month by plastering his front office door with rally signs, news articles, letters and petitions. Crenshaw specifically cited the actions of his constituents as a reason for his change from “undecided” to a “no” on U.S. war with Syria.

Anti war signs on door of Senator Nelson’s office.

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