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Buttigieg's MSU visit disrupted by protests

Protestors hold up a black and red sign that reads "You Have Blood On Your Hands"
Arjun Thakkar
Protestors hold up a black and red sign that reads "You Have Blood On Your Hands" ahead of the public service forum.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg visited Michigan State University last night, drawing students who protested his visit, urging him to call for a permanent ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war and to fund climate action.

Buttigieg made a stop at the Kellogg Center for the Jim Blanchard Public Service Forum, a yearly event where the former governor invites prominent speakers to address MSU community members.

The secretary’s visit drew close to 100 protestors who called on the Biden administration to end violence in the Middle East. The group gathered outside the entrance to the forum, holding up banners and chanting in sync.

At one point during the forum, the protestors moved to a different side of the building, where their voices could be heard from inside the hall throughout much of the program.

Buttigieg said the U.S. has to "hold true" to its values and alliances, though he stated the region should not return to the status quo from before Hamas launched an attack on Israel killing 1,200.

A sign reads "Biden: Fund Climate Action, Not Genocide"
Arjun Thakkar
Protestors stood at the entrance outside of the the Kellogg Center Wednesday.

The secretary also acknowledged concerns about antisemitism and Islamophobia on college campuses and called for debates to remain civil.

"By the way, respectful can also be noisy," Buttigieg said, referring to the audible chants of protestors outside the venue.

"But with regard for one another's humanity, especially when those disagreements are coming from a place of pain.”

Among the demonstrations, multiple climate action protestors in the hall interrupted Buttigieg to call for a shift away from fossil fuels. The protestors were physically removed by police officers.

Several student organizations were part of the coalition picketing outside Wednesday.

David Hogan, founder of the Jewish Voice for Peace student chapter at MSU, said the group attempted to get Buttigieg's attention ahead of the protest.

"We're just trying to make our voices heard," Hogan said. "We're just trying to make sure that people know that he's heard us as well, and that he's ignoring us and the rest of our group's calls for a ceasefire."

Samir Levitt is the president of Students United for Palestinian Rights. He said Buttigieg needs to push the Biden administration to cease military aid to Israel.

Pete Buttigieg sits next to former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard at the Kellogg Center.
Arjun Thakkar
Pete Buttigieg sits next to former Michigan Gov. Jim Blanchard at the Kellogg Center.

“There's no debate between liberation and ethnic cleansing," Levitt said. "It’s very clear what side he’s on, and it’s not the side of history.”

Israel has been participating in a temporary ceasefire in Gaza since last Friday amid hostage negotiations. Palestinian health officials estimate more than 13,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war broke out last month.

Buttigieg also spoke about the impact of federal infrastructure projects being implemented across the U.S.

The secretary said he sought to push back against the narrative that authoritarian countries are more efficient at building infrastructure than America. He argued strengthening the country's infrastructure was critical to reinforcing democratic values and building trust with the public.

The secretary touted a bipartisan law signed in 2021 that is paying for tens of thousands of investments in roads, bridges, electric vehicle chargers and other infrastructure needs.

He said the investments generate confidence that democracy in the U.S. is working.

“These projects have an opportunity not just to restore physical infrastructure, but I think to restore trust through getting results in ways that can help build up the legitimacy of democracy itself," Buttigieg said.

The federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill has allocated over $11 billion towards Michigan through 2026.

Arjun Thakkar is WKAR's politics and civics reporter.
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