Biden Addresses Student Concerns Over Gaza Protests at Morehouse College

“I support peaceful, non-violent protest. Your voices should be heard, and I promise you I hear them,” Biden said, acknowledging the visible discontent among some students.

Listening to Student Voices

President Joe Biden spoke to students at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, a place rich in civil rights history as the alma mater of Martin Luther King Jr. During the graduation ceremony, a handful of students turned their backs and displayed Palestinian flags in protest of the ongoing Gaza conflict. Biden, donning a maroon and black gown representing the historically Black college, assured students that their voices were heard. He emphasized his support for peaceful, non-violent protests and highlighted his commitment to working towards an immediate ceasefire and lasting peace in Gaza.

Biden addressing the Complexities of the Gaza Conflict

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This address marked Biden’s most direct engagement with student protesters since the Gaza conflict began sparking demonstrations across US campuses. The president admitted the complexity and difficulty of the situation, noting how it deeply affects many, including his own family. “This is one of the hardest, most complicated problems in the world. There’s nothing easy about it,” Biden said. “I know it angers and frustrates many of you, including my family, but most of all, I know it breaks your heart. It breaks mine as well.”

Although he did not delve into specifics, reports suggest First Lady Jill Biden had urged him in April to take immediate action as the civilian toll in Gaza rose following the October 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

Despite calls from some Morehouse students to cancel his speech, the event proceeded without major disruptions, though a few graduates wore Palestinian keffiyeh scarves over their gowns. Biden acknowledged the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and reiterated his efforts for a ceasefire to end the fighting and bring hostages home. He stressed his pursuit of a “lasting, durable peace” in the Middle East, advocating for an independent Palestinian state as the only viable solution.

Winning Over Voters Amid Political Challenges

Biden’s speech also aimed at reinforcing his connection with Black voters, a crucial demographic for his reelection bid. He praised Morehouse’s valedictorian, DeAngelo Jeremiah Fletcher, who echoed the call for a ceasefire in his own speech. “It is important to recognize both sides have suffered heavy casualties since October 7,” Fletcher stated.

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Morehouse College president David Thomas, who had earlier threatened to cancel the ceremony if it was disrupted, commended Biden for addressing the nation’s and the world’s pressing issues. “You’ve been listening,” Thomas said. “You spoke to the hard issues confronting our nation and the world at this moment.”

Biden’s address at Morehouse was part of a broader strategy to appeal to Black voters, amidst polling data showing declining support. He avoided direct mentions of his rival, Donald Trump, but invoked themes of democracy and racism, contrasting his vision with the extremist forces he believes are aligned against the values Morehouse represents.

“This is what we’re up against—extremist forces aligned against the meaning and message of Morehouse,” Biden remarked. His outreach to Black voters and Gaza protesters highlights the balancing act required to maintain the coalition that secured his 2020 victory. With an election rematch against Trump looming, retaining the support of these groups is crucial for Biden’s campaign. Recent polls, however, show Trump gaining ground, even among traditionally Democratic African American voters.

A New York Times/Siena poll revealed that Trump is garnering over 20 percent of the Black vote, potentially the highest support for a Republican presidential candidate since the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Biden’s challenge now is to reinvigorate his base and address the complex concerns of both domestic and international issues as he seeks a second term.

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