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Protests disrupt Buttigieg's speech at annual public service forum, one arrested

November 30, 2023
<p>Protesters interrupt U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg's speech at the Kellogg Center on Nov. 29, 2023.</p>

Protesters interrupt U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg's speech at the Kellogg Center on Nov. 29, 2023.

Photo by Donté Smith | The State News

Protests broke out during Department of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg’s speech at the former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard’s annual public service forum Wednesday night, resulting in one arrest at the Kellogg Center, according to Michigan State Police and Public Safety Spokesperson Dana Whyte. 

The man was arrested in violation of MSU Ordinance 15.03, Disorderly Assemblages or Conduct, according to Whyte

The demonstration broke out during Sec. Buttigieg’s speech about the Biden administration’s goals for combating climate change

Climate activists from the non-violent direct action organization Climate Defiance disrupted Buttigieg's speech, chanting “Stop Petro Pete!” until they were removed from the venue by police

Climate Defiance member Jo Pico said that as the Secretary of the Department of Transportation, Buttigieg is directly involved with the decisions the government makes to handle the current climate crisis, which is what led to their decision to protest during his speech

Pico said that Climate Defiance was at the event to protest the Department of Transportation’s approval for the construction of a sea port oil terminal located in Texas

“That's going to emit 7 billion metric tons of emissions, on top of just worsening the air quality along the Texas coast,” she said

Pico said that the organization was also protesting to voice concern over the Texas Gulflink Project, another oil terminal which has “yet to be approved but would have similar numbers in regard to the impact that it will have on the planet.” 

According to the organization's Twitter, the group has been following Buttigieg to protest at another recent events in Baltimore

After the activists were escorted out of the venue by police, Buttigieg addressed the demonstrators saying that the Biden administration has “delivered the most sweeping and vicious climate change in human history,” referring to the Inflation Reduction Act, which provides federal tax credits for clean energy projects. 

“They care deeply about climate change and we care deeply about climate change, which is why our admin has delivered the most sweeping and vicious climate change legislation passed in human history,” Sec. Buttigieg said

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U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg and previous Governor of Michigan Jim Blanchard speaking during the Public Service Forum at the Kellogg Center on Nov. 29, 2023.

He also stated that the United States is in a period of transition with responding to the climate crisis

“I also think that we have to acknowledge that all of us, including the demonstrators who were just here, that all of us who have ever decided to take a flight, or a bus or any other means of convenience that involves fossil fuels, then we are all acknowledging that, in our actions and not our words, that we are living through a transition,” he said. 

Pico said that the Climate Defiance member who was arrested posted bail and would not be spending the night in jail.

Another separate protest around the forum occurred before in the parking structure connected to the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center

“Buttigieg you can’t hide, you’re supporting Genocide.”

This chant and several others echoed through the parking structure as several MSU student organizations such as Students United for Palestinian Rights, Greater Lansing Democratic Socialists of America, MSU Arab Cultural Society, the Sunrise Movement at MSU, the Jewish Voice for Peace chapter at MSU and community members held a picket protest to call for a permanent ceasefire with the current Israel-Hamas war.  

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Protesters demonstrating ahead of Pete Buttigieg's arrival at the Kellogg Center on Nov. 29, 2023.

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On Oct. 7, Palestinian militant group Hamas attacked Israeli towns, kidnapping and killing citizens. Since then, the Israeli Defense Force has attacked the Gaza Strip, displacing and killing citizens.

The groups lined up in a semi-circle shouting chants and holding posters up that stated “You have blood on your hands” and “Biden: Fund climate Action Not Genocide."

“I’m sure [Buttigieg] is listening to this,” Students United for Palestinian Rights outreach coordinator Amaan Abdul Mohi said. “I’m sure he’s aware about what’s going on here. He’s probably going to talk to Biden about it. Hopefully we can just keep adding pressure to the United States government. Hopefully, we get a ceasefire, so innocent people stop being killed.”

Mechanical engineering senior Yusuf Abbas, who identifies as Palestinian, attended the protest for his family members in Gaza, who said he was “seriously concerned” for other Palestinians.

“I’m concerned that the rhetoric that the Israeli government has perpetuated has grown hateful and on the cusp of more revenge and potentially genocidal,” Abbas said. “The humanitarian crisis that is currently happening will definitely be getting worse. I came forward because I think the ceasefire would allow for proper humanitarian aid to be pushed to these people. That’s why they need it.”

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Protesters demonstrating ahead of Pete Buttigieg's arrival at the Kellogg Center on Nov. 29, 2023.

“Pete Buttigieg came to speak, a member of Biden’s cabinet, someone with presidential aspirations,” Sunrise Movement member Jesse Estrada-Whitesaid. “We’re not going to let someone in Biden’s cabinet, someone who could be our President, actually come here and have to not hear our voices.”

He said that Buttigieg addressing the Israel-Palestine conflict without calling for a ceasefire is “the exact strategy that the Democrats are playing that’s going to lose them the election in a year.”

“To know what’s happening in the Middle East and to not hurt with every fiber of your being, and not act with every possible power you have to actually end this," Estrada-White said. "I think its inhumane, I think it’s immoral, I think it’s wrong." 

While protestors were chanting outside and shining flashlights through the window of the Kellogg Center during the speech, Gov. Blanchard asked Buttigieg to “comment on the Middle East.”

Buttigieg said there has been a lot of pain in the families of those who were taken hostage, those "murdered by Hamas terrorists" and the pain of civilians in Gaza.

“That pain is what is not just a contest between Israeli and an Arab or between Muslims and Jews, it really is a contest between hope and hate,” Buttigieg said

The two protests on the event continued throughout Buttigieg's speech throughout the forum.

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