Calling for peace

Area residents hold aid fundraiser for Gaza

Michele Knife Sterner and Oak Kelsey performed songs including “I Will Survive” during part of an open mic event raising relief funds and awareness about conflict in Gaza.

MARSHALL — They shared music, poetry, and spoken word performances. But the cause – raising awareness of violence against Palestinians in Gaza – was the real reason people had gathered at the Marshall Area YMCA.

“So many of us are just aghast at what has been going on in Gaza and in Palestine for so long,” said Darwin Dyce, a member of Marshall Area Peace Seekers.

More than 30 people attended an aid fundraiser and awareness-raising event for Palestine held at the Marshall Area YMCA. In addition to an open mic event, people could donate to international aid groups helping people in Gaza, and call members of Congress to advocate for a ceasefire.

Since Oct. 7, thousands of Palestinians in Gaza have been killed or injured, including women and children, informational materials at the event said. Children and families are facing starvation and a lack of water.

Wednesday’s aid fundraiser was organized by area residents, including groups like the Marshall Area Peace Seekers (MAPS) and students from the Southwest Minnesota State University Social Justice Club.

Dyce and other speakers on Wednesday went on to say that they were not against Israel, and were not supporting the actions of Hamas. But they were calling for an end to violence in Gaza. “No one in this room wants to see violence as a way to settle violence,” Dyce said.

“We’re not doing this to start an argument,” Social Justice Club president Sheridyn Runs After said of the groups speaking out. “There are people that are dying, at the end of the day.”

“I encourage everyone to offer compassion in a place where there is suffering,” one speaker at the open mic said.

Runs After said students in the Social Justice Club got involved with spreading the word about the aid fundraiser, partly because it fit with the group’s mission. However, club members were also moved by the suffering in Gaza.

“It hit home, for a lot of us,” Runs After said. Indigenous students saw parallels between what was happening to Palestinians now, and the treatment of Native Americans, she said.

Runs After said it was interesting to see how different musicians and speakers at Wednesday’s event chose songs and stories that related to peace. “Being able to hear everybody’s perspective, in their own words, is really powerful.”

Wednesday’s event included options to donate toward humanitarian aid organizations like Doctors Without Borders, Unicef, and World Central Kitchen. Area residents scanned QR codes on their phones, which provided shortcuts to donate online. They could also go into a “phone booth” and use sample scripts to help them contact the offices of Minnesota members of Congress.

“It’s critical we also let our elected officials know how we’re feeling,” Dyce told the crowd.

“I am so glad that there was a phone booth,” Runs After said. Having a script to call representatives can help get people past the first steps toward taking action, she said.

People attending the event took breaks from listening to the music and speakers to call their Congressional representatives and senators. It was important to speak out, said Shawna Ehlenbach.

“I think we need to be aware of the genocide and atrocities that are happening,” Ehlenbach said. While the conflict in Gaza was a complex issue, she said, “I hope we can find peace.”

Going forward, Social Justice Club members also hope to continue raising awareness for Gaza, possibly by working together with other student organizations and engaging with the Marshall community, Runs After said.


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