On September 20, organizers converged on the Port of Tampa at 4 AM, holding ground for Block the Boat Tampa in the rain and darkness. Activists drove from other cities, even several hours from Miami, to stop the ZIM Alabama from unloading. After more activists arrived at 5:30 am, 50 protesters quickly established a moving picket line on Maritime Boulevard. Soon, they marched together into the port.
Six police cars quickly surrounded the activists. Unprepared for the boldness of the action, police scrambled to put up cones which they said activists were not allowed to pass. In an attempt to isolate the picketers from longshoremen, the police pushed back the row of cones multiple times.
Bettejo Indelicato, a member of International Women’s Peace Service for Palestine, recounted for Liberation a particularly powerful moment.
“They started pushing the cones back, taking more of our area. A lone Palestinian woman, at her very first rally, refused to move back. She compared their taking our little peice of free speech zone to Israel’s taking Palestinian land. She said she was not moving. Two organizers stood next to her, prepared to be arrested with her, and the police backed down. It was so moving, a woman who had never been to a demonstration before, standing out in the rain, in the dark, standing up and saying: ‘All my life I’ve been hearing about this and this is it, I’m making my stand.’ I’m sure she’s in our struggle now.”
Many organizations came together for the action. Among them were Students for Justice in Palestine at USF, International Women’s Peace Service in Palestine, International Solidarity Movement in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace in South Florida, Students for a Democratic Society at USF, Tampa Food Not Bombs, and Tampa Light Brigade.
Dezeray Lyn, one of the main organizers of the event and a member of Food Not Bombs Tampa, spoke to Liberation about what the struggle means to her.
“My most important thing is solidarity on the ground. I don’t want to decide on what happens in Palestine. The Palestinians have to do that. I want to provide support and raise awareness. They’ve been massacred and been going through a 60-year holocaust, and the world needs to listen to them.”
Dezeray became an ally of the Palestinian struggle during Israel’s 2009 assault on Gaza. Block the Boat on the West Coast inspired her and others to take action in Tampa. “When Block the Boat happened and the results we saw came out of Oakland—I have always been a supporter of BDS—we were on fire to start something here. It’s no easy thing, none of us are experts on maritime law, ship tracking, etc. We threw our hearts over the fence and the rest will follow.”
“When there’s a chance like this,” said Dezeray, “where you can actually cause a pretty significant financial loss for a company that’s directly funding massacres and occupation, it’s huge. When we saw those results in Oakland, we were completely inspired to produce them here. The ship’s manifest is of little consequence, the cargo is coming from international companies, but Israel is profiting from it. It’s Israel’s largest international cargo shipping line, and the tenth largest worldwide. BDS is trying to isolate Israel in multiple ways, and this is an economic strike. Every hour the ships are delayed costs thousands of dollars of fuel, so holding them off is a significant hit. And ZIM is actually having financial difficulties to begin with.”
Block the Boat Tampa rejects the ruthless political ideology of Zionism and stands with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The BDS movement urges various forms of boycott against Israel until it meets its obligations under international law, including: ending the occupation and colonization of all Arab lands occupied in June 1967 and dismantling the Wall; recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and respecting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN Resolution 194.
Block the Boat Tampa is growing, building support in the community and strengthening its ties with workers in the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA).
“We have a momentum that we do not want to lose,” said Bettejo Indelicato. “We didn’t even take a break today after having been up for the last 72 hours preparing for this action. We updated the website, did interviews and met with new people to enlarge the coalition. There’s so much more work to do, so many more people to reach. The response from labor organizers up the East Coast has just been amazing. People who are organizing up the East Coast are watching Tampa, and they feel that if we can have a win in Tampa, it’s going to fire up the East Coast movement.”