On Saturday, hundreds of people stood arm in arm on the unforgiving concrete of I-5 to demand an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. A link in the chain of Seattle’s rich history of activism, this interfaith and intergenerational group of brave protesters shut down traffic in the northbound direction for over four hours. For some, the highway shutdown evoked deep pride in our city’s moral center, but for others it triggered frustration. To unpack and respond to some of this pushback, it’s important to understand how we got here.

Since the October 7 attacks, the Israeli government has targeted civilians in Gaza with its merciless bombing campaign, killing more than 23,000 Palestinians, over 1% of Gaza’s population. Many more Palestinians are lost under rubble from Israeli air strikes and have not been recovered. The UN Humanitarian Chief has declared Gaza “uninhabitable,” with the vast majority of its populace now homeless, warning “famine [is] around the corner.” As people of conscience who are painfully aware that hundreds of billions of American tax dollars have gone to fund the Israeli occupation of Palestine for the past 75 years, we know that we are obligated to act, to interrupt, and to put ourselves on the line. 

For three months (and for many months and years prior), organizers and liberation-seekers have poured heart, soul, and skill into the cause of Palestinian freedom. Do they have a word for the feeling after you’ve left a message on your Senator’s voicemail for the 89th time, knowing full well she won’t call you back? Or for the feeling when you show up at your Senator’s office week after week—the death toll doubling, tripling, quadrupling—as she sends her staff to work from home because you are nothing but a nuisance, a pebble in her shoe? Do they have a word for it in your mame-loshn, in your mother tongue? We don’t have one in mine.

In these conditions, escalation is not only our prerogative but our imperative. There have been months of organized boycotts, candlelight vigils, phone calls, and demonstrations—from the Statue of Liberty to our own Space Needle. But still, our so-called representatives refuse to call for a ceasefire, revealing the grotesque chasm between their constituents’ demands and their own ambitions. They have shown us time and again that they’re not listening. The goal of the protest blocking I-5 was to tell electeds that there will be no business as usual until there is a ceasefire in Gaza, and an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

As with any action that interfaces with the public so directly, there are bound to be a few gripes. On Twitter, some Seattleites (in a tone of eerie glee) called for police to bring out fire hoses to brutalize the protesters. I’m not interested in winning over the people who think the cops of 1963 Alabama were the “good guys,” but I do hope I can clarify some points for the folks who are wrestling in good faith with the tactics of the Palestine solidarity movement.

Many (less murderous) locals argued that disrupting the general public will cause us to lose the war of public opinion, which currently leans in favor of permanent ceasefire. However, winning public opinion is not sufficient if our elected representatives do not feel obligated to actually represent those opinions. Both things are true: the public should not be made to feel alienated from the cause of Palestinian liberation, and disrupting business-as-usual is an established tactic of social movements, designed to increase pressure on elected officials when they have otherwise proved themselves unreachable. 

Seattle was home to America’s first anti-war freeway protest in 1970, in which thousands of college students shut down I-5 the day after National Guardsmen killed four students at Kent State in Ohio. Thirty-three years later, eight activists shut down the 520 bridge to protest the Iraq War. It’s nearly impossible to draw a line from any individual protest to an individual shift in policy, but it is clear that such actions, in concert with larger movements, form greater tides that pressure our nation’s leaders and impact the course of history.

Organizers do not employ these tactics lightly. In fact, they regularly engage with concerns about the impact direct actions will have on the wider community. Concerns about safety are not only valid, they’re shared by protesters. On Saturday, teams on the ground worked to ensure ambulances carrying patients were able to continue en route. Fliers were distributed to stuck drivers, and the tone of this gesture was one of genuine apology. “We would not have taken this action,” the flier read, “if it weren’t an emergency of life or death for thousands, if not millions, of people.”

And not all the drivers felt inconvenienced or appeared to reject the action. Some drivers headed in the southbound direction put on their hazard lights and slowed their vehicles to wave Palestinian flags out of the moon roof, and other motorists honked and cheered as they passed. Most notably, there was one driver who–following the turnaround that cleared cars from the northbound side–went to park their car in the surrounding neighborhood and returned to join in the protest. One commenter on Instagram noted that, although they had to take a detour home from work due to the protest, they “prayed the entire way home…for the people of Gaza.”

Often, the critiques of public direct action treat protesters as if they are feckless, taking action without seriously anticipating consequences and contingencies. In reality, these are individuals who have proven they care deeply. Do we actually believe that people would lay their bodies down on I-5—where protesters have been critically injured and killed during such demonstrations in the past—without holding inside themselves deep steadfastness and purpose? Or are we so completely housebroken that we outright reject even nonviolent resistance movements that risk our personal convenience?

What heartens me most is that, despite the pushback of all varieties, I also notice an outpouring of solidarity, both from residents of Seattle and from the wider world. In the discourse happening on social media, I notice naysayers, but I also see statements of pride in our city and its legacy of activism, and I see love for our coalition of deeply committed activists. I would invite anyone who’s wrestling with the tactics of last Saturday’s action to lean in closer. What would it look like for you to join this work of stopping business as usual, of refusing to accept genocide as a social norm? This wrestling you’re doing is holy work, and I want us to do it as we move towards justice, together.

Sarah Day is a Jewish artist and educator. She runs her own Judaica brand, and lives in Seattle with her husband and tiny dog. Jesse Roth also contributed to the writing. She is a writer, theater artist, and Capitol Hill resident. She writes Art Gardening, a newsletter on artistic ecosystems.