SACRAMENTO — Hundreds of protesters calling for a cease-fire in Gaza interrupted the first day of California’s legislative session on Wednesday, forcing the state Assembly to adjourn just moments after convening.
Lawmakers had just listened to the opening prayer and said the Pledge of Allegiance when protesters wearing matching black t-shirts stood from their seats and started singing “cease-fire now” and “let Gaza live.”
Protest in the Assembly
A few people unfurled banners from the chamber’s gallery that read: “Jews say never again for anyone.”
At first, Jim Wood, a Democratic assemblymember from Healdsburg who was presiding over the session, tried to continue the session despite the singing. Eventually, he called for a recess and adjourned a few minutes later.
Nearly all of the lawmakers left the floor. Protesters cheered when officials turned the lights off in the chamber, holding up the flashlights on their phones as they continued to sing.
Organizers of the Protest
Wednesday’s protest was organized by groups including Jewish Voice for Peace, IfNotNow, and the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network. In addition to singing, protesters engaged in a lengthy call-and-response chant from the gallery.
“We are Jews and Californians, assemblymembers, we call on you to join us in demanding a cease-fire now,” they said.
Democratic Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas’ office declined to comment. Assemblymember James Gallagher, the Republican leader, said the protesters obstructed their work.
“Look, we’re trying to open up our session. Granted, we probably didn’t have a whole lot of, you know, big business to do today. But if the objective is to shut down the government functions, I don’t think that’s a good way to go about getting your message across,” he said. “We can’t let them shut us down. We have to go about our business. We have big pressing issues this year.”
It’s not the first time that protesters calling for a cease-fire have disrupted events in California’s capital city. In November, the presence of protesters prompted California Democratic Party officials to cancel some events during their nominating convention. And last month, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom canceled an in-person Christmas tree lighting ceremony after protesters planned an action at the event.
Protesters did not disrupt the state Senate, which held its session as scheduled and included lawmakers giving speeches in memory of former U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who died in September.
Disruptions Across the Country
Across the country, it was a day of multiple disruptions at state capitols. A bomb threat emailed to officials in several states prompted evacuations of statehouse offices or buildings in Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Montana.
Upcoming Legislative Session
The election-year legislative session in California will likely be dominated by decisions on artificial intelligence and the state’s struggling budget.
The budget is a big issue every year in California, which is the nation’s most populous state and has an economy larger than that of all but four countries. But this year, lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom will have to figure out how to cover an estimated $68 billion deficit — a shortfall that is larger than the entire operating budgets of many states.
And with many California companies at the forefront of the artificial intelligence boom, a number of state lawmakers are eyeing ways to govern the use of the technology before it dominates daily life — much like social media.
State Sen. Steve Padilla proposed a measure Wednesday to require California to establish safety, privacy, and nondiscrimination standards around generative AI tools and services. Those standards would eventually be used as qualifications in future state contracts. He also introduced a plan to create a state-run research center to further study the technology.
Assemblymember Akilah Weber said she’ll try to tackle “deepfakes” through a bill that would require labeling on AI-generated content.
Continued Focus on Israel-Hamas War
But, as Wednesday’s protest showed, focus on the Israel-Hamas war is likely to continue throughout California’s legislative session. On Wednesday, the Legislative Jewish Caucus sent a letter to state lawmakers calling for the creation of a committee to explore policy changes to protect the Jewish community.
“We cannot recall another time in recent history when Jews in California felt as targeted, threatened, and unsafe as they do now,” the letter, signed by 18 lawmakers, said.