SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The California Democratic Party convention was abruptly derailed Saturday as pro-Palestinian protestors occupied the convention hall and forced the party to cancel events for the night.
The demonstrations, which had ebbed and flowed throughout the day’s proceedings, hit a crescendo in the evening when hundreds of people were able to get past the security screening. They streamed into the multi-story convention center, drumming and waving Palestinian flags while calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war. Outside one building entrance, protestors gathered around a pick-up truck outfitted with speakers, where activists were leading the crowd in chants.
“Shut it down!” was a common refrain, although most of the convention activities were finished for the day. The main floor was quiet at the time, but there were smaller caucus gatherings in meeting rooms upstairs. The voting for state party endorsements, the official purpose of the gathering, took place online. The rest of the events scheduled that evening were called off, a party spokesperson said, “due to circumstances beyond our control.”
At one point, people had surrounded the doors of two entrances to the center. Security cleared one exit and escorted attendees outside the building. At the other exit, the guards gave way after a large group of people rushed the doors and broke through.
The evening protest took on a more bellicose tone than earlier in the day, as the crowd chanted “from the river to the sea,” a term many interpret as calling for the elimination of Israel. Protesters also chanted “resistance is justified when people are occupied.”
While the atmosphere remained charged, there were no signs of violent scuffles. Police had shut down streets around the state Capitol – which is two blocks away from the convention site – for most of the afternoon. But as of mid-evening, law enforcement was mostly monitoring the protest from across the street.
An activist named Suzanne Ali said in an interview that she believed the demonstration had achieved its goal of signaling mass support for their cause.
“Whether or not anything materially gets done tonight, whether or not we move the politicians on a cease-fire,” Ali said standing near a group of demonstrators staging a sit-in in front of the main ballroom, “we continue to show them that the masses of people here and globally stand with Palestinians and demand a cease-fire.”
Protestors blocked access to the rooms where the Asian American Pacific Islander and LGTBQ caucuses were about to begin their meeting. Doors to those rooms were locked, as party staffers and volunteers stayed inside. The California Young Democrats said on social media that they were canceling their scheduled meeting “out of an abundance of caution.”
Demonstrators succeeded in derailing the event even though the party had anticipated disturbances and implemented additional security measures.
The commotion stood in stark contrast to the scene inside the Sheraton hotel lobby bar, the watering hole for candidates and party officials across the street from the convention building. As police lights flashed outside, the party insiders hobnobbed with little alarm, as a musician played instrumental soft rock hits.
Earlier in the day, activists disrupted a forum with four Democratic candidates for U.S. Senate. They shouted over the closing statements of Reps. Katie Porter and Adam Schiff, neither of whom back a cease-fire. There were no interruptions for Rep. Barbara Lee, who has been a vocal cease-fire advocate since the day after Hamas attacked Israel, but they led an extended demonstration and cut short the speaking time of Lexi Reese, a tech executive who also called for an end to Israeli military action.
Party chair Rusty Hicks, who repeatedly admonished the crowd for their outbursts, said in a statement after the event that “every convention participant has a right to be heard.”
“Unfortunately, a small number of non-Delegate protesters circumvented venue security and disrupted the program,” Hicks said. “They were heard and following a closing statement by the final candidate, the program was concluded and all attendees exited the venue. We look forward to the continuation of a successful Convention this afternoon with voting on endorsements, caucus meetings, and hospitality events.”
So far, Hicks has not put out a statement on the evening security breach.