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Movement Lessons from Climbers With Palestine’s Yosemite Banner Hang

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A large banner reading "stop the genocide" hanging from a sheer rock wall. Above and below it are people and climbing gear; the people above it have a Palestinian flag.

“Oh, you don’t know how to organize a sit-in at an Israeli consulate? No problem. What do you know how to do? Do that thing, but for Palestine.”

Earlier last week, a group of seasoned rock climbers calling themselves “Climbers With Palestine” scaled the 3,000-foot wall of the iconic El Capitan granite monolith in Yosemite National Park (on the ancestral lands of the Mewuk people) to unfurl a massive banner reading “Stop the Genocide.”

The June 17 action, coordinated by Palestinian and Jewish climbers, among others, demanded an end to the US-backed genocide in Gaza and to Israel’s ongoing occupation of Palestine. The action quickly went viral on social media and received significant coverage in both climbing and mainstream press.

The route up “El Cap” (as it is affectionately known in the climbing community) is daunting and arduous. World-class climbers travel from around the world and some spend years training to test their skills on this climb. Climbing “big walls” like El Cap involves hauling hundreds of pounds of rope, equipment, food, and water up a sheer rock face, and sleeping for multiple nights on the wall itself on ledges or portaledges (portable cots that attach to otherwise sheer vertical faces).

Spending several days on the ground in Yosemite supporting this action, I was reminded of an important principle of movement building. For our social movements to win, we need both escalating direct actions that create real economic, political, and social consequences for those committing, financing, and sanctioning genocide (which, due to the secrecy and stakes of those actions, often entail a limited number of people) and we need hundreds of thousands of people organizing the communities that they already belong to and leveraging the skills that they already have.

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Start where you are

Increasingly bold and disruptive actions for a permanent ceasefire and a free Palestine in which we’ve taken over or shut down highways and bridges, state capitals and federal buildings, Israeli consulates and weapons manufacturers, may make it feel like the only way to get involved is through high-stakes, technical actions or mass mobilizations in the streets. Both are absolutely critical, but the high-stakes actions are often not publicly announced and marching and chanting while holding a sign simply isn’t for everyone. As a result, many people horrified by the genocide want to take action but don’t know where, when, or how to do so.

What then is to be done? As one friend recently joked, “Oh, you don’t know how to organize a sit-in at an Israeli consulate? No problem. What do you know how to do? Do that thing, but for Palestine.”

Climbers With Palestine’s epic banner hang in Yosemite is just one example of that idea, but it offers us three important lessons about growing our movement ranks:

  1. Organize in the communities you’re part of, where you live, and around the multiple diverse identities that matter to you and make you a whole person (e.g.  parent, teacher, student, health care worker, midwife, elder, artist, union member, soccer coach, etc.);
  2. Leverage the skills that you have (e.g. climbing, construction, art-making, cooking, growing food, conflict resolution, writing, speaking, event planning, etc.) to take strategic action to advance the movement to end the genocide; and
  3. Build relationships with others who can support you with the technical expertise you’ll need to make your action or efforts successful (e.g. legal advice, media lists, sound equipment, documentation, help with safety and de-escalation, etc.).

For Climbers With Palestine, it all started with two climbers who noticed each other posting about Palestine. The group held events in key climbing strongholds like Bishop, Joshua Tree, and Yosemite National Park to educate climbers and build support. At those gatherings, they screened the film “Resistance Climbing,” held Zoom Q & A’s with climbers in the West Bank, and raised funds for organizations like the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund and Doctors Without Borders. 

Having first done that education and built that support in prior months, Climbers With Palestine then felt ready to take bolder action on El Cap. Their escalation paid off in two important ways. 

First, with the action going viral, the entire climbing world is talking about Palestine. Climbing communities are now abuzz with climbers asking how to learn more about what is happening in Gaza, how to educate more climbers where they are already (e.g. gyms, national parks, online forums, etc.), how to continue to build with climbers in Palestine, and how to leverage our climbing, rigging, and anchor-building skills to support direct actions. 

Secondly, because the banner was also visible from the Yosemite Valley floor, it was seen by thousands of tourists from around the world who pass through the park daily, many of whom viewed the banner through binoculars pointed up at the rock provided by the park’s “Ask a Climber” station. 

One key reason that their action was so wildly successful is because Climbers With Palestine did what they knew so well and then called on others who had expertise in areas they did not. For instance, they asked friends with more experience in direct action to make the banner, provide legal advice, write press releases, make pitch calls, do social media, and document the action.

Create your opportunity

Just to be clear: you don’t need to be able to scale a 3,000-foot granite wall! Rather, Climbers With Palestine is just one example among hundreds of efforts in which people who don’t necessarily consider themselves “activists” are nonetheless organizing their “sector of society” to stop a genocide. 

Parents have organized Palestine story hours and chalk-ins. Teachers have developed ceasefire curricula. Artists, musicians, DJs, comics, and other cultural workers are making the movement irresistible, and calling on art institutions to back the call for a free Palestine. Medical workers are speaking out against the bombing of hospitals. Healers and counselors are offering their skills to activists traumatized by police violence. Kayakers are blocking oil tankers with ties to Palestine. Chefs, farmers, and other workers in the food, beverage, and hospitality industries are providing food to the movement, lifting up Palestinian cuisine against cooptation and erasure, and boycotting Israeli goods.

In other words, don’t wait for an invite to the kind of genocide-fighting action that speaks to you. Create it, then invite your people. 

Who are you? What communities do you belong to? What skills do you have to leverage in service of stopping the genocide? What do you genuinely love doing together with other people you have trusting relationships with? Could you do that same thing in a way that would lift up the call for a free Palestine or move resources to communities doing that work?

Climbers With Palestine is just one example of this principle in action (and actually, only one of many formations of climbers supporting Palestine, such as Climb the Wall), but here are some of their members in their own words explaining how they organized within their communities while doing the thing they love:

Miranda Oakley

A portrait photograph of Miranda Oakley carrying a backpack of climbing gear in a forest. She wears a mint green tank top and looks at the camera with a determined expression.
Miranda Oakley, Palestinian American professional climber, guide, and co-founder of Climbers With Palestine, carries her climbing haul bag, rope, and helmet back from the base of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park after the banner hang. Oakley is the first woman to rope solo El Cap in a single day. She has traveled to Palestine to climb with Palestinian climbers there.
Brooke Anderson

“I hope that other climbers feel emboldened or inspired to speak out for the causes they believe in, especially about Palestine because I know it can be an intimidating subject to talk about. I also hope that our friends in Palestine feel the love and solidarity that we’re trying to send them. We’ve been doing some interviews on Zoom with Palestinian climbers, which was really cool to share with our climbing communities in the US. This genocide in Gaza has been hard on them, and there have been a lot arrests in the West Bank for speaking out. I’m speaking out here today because I can, and I know there are a lot of people who can’t. We went up El Cap because that’s something we can do. Even though there are risks in climbing, I honestly felt safer flying a banner up there than I would have down here on the ground. Since we’re all skilled in climbing, it’s something we could do to share our message. Now we’re asking folks to do what they can do. Obviously, not everyone can climb a wall. If you can, great. If you can’t, you can call your representative, boycott Israeli products, and talk to friends and family about it.”

Alix Morris

Alix sits in a meadow sorting climbing gear. She wears sunglasses on top of her head and a long-sleeved shirt with raglan sleeves. A large rock face rises in the background.
Alix Morris, co-founder of Climbers With Palestine and a former Yosemite Search and Rescue team member, sorts climbing gear in El Cap Meadow at the base of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park as the sun goes down on the eve of their ascent of El Capitan.
Brooke Anderson

“I’m doing this because I care about our shared humanity, about people suffering, and about the unnecessary bloodshed in retaliation for the October 7 attack. It is really heartbreaking. It didn’t need to happen. I’m honestly surprised that more climbers haven’t used El Cap as a way to protest atrocities in the world. Why aren’t more climbers politically active? For me, based on my experience with El Cap—I’ve climbed it 27 times now—it is so natural to say ‘I have this skill set. I love this wall. I love Yosemite. I care so much about human rights. It’s a great way to blend the two.’ I wish other climbers could use their skills for the things that they believe in. I hope that climbers that see [the banner] on social media think more about [the genocide], have more conversations about it. We’ve all lost people close to us, especially climbers and those of us who’ve worked Search and Rescue, but the decimation of families in Gaza by the Israeli government, with US backing, is creating unfathomable suffering and is entirely preventable. It has to stop.”

Emily Meg Weinstein

Emily Meg Weinstein seated cross-legged on a stump in a forest. She wears a black tank top and shorts.
Emily Meg Weinstein, a Jewish American climber and co-founder of Climbers With Palestine, on the ground at the base of El Cap in Yosemite National Park. Weinstein is a longtime climber who led the El Cap banner ground support and press team. Her debut memoir, Turn to Stone, is forthcoming from Simon Element in 2025.
Brooke Anderson

“Climbers are known for being apolitical, but I don’t think that’s true. Climbers have a deep ethical and moral sensibility, as well as a spiritual connection to nature and all living things. Climbing as a sport—and our community as a whole—is all about protecting and even saving each other’s lives. 

I’ve always loved how climbing instills and develops a warrior mindset, but a nonviolent one. The way those values are built into the climbing ethos and community creates an almost innate moral imperative to act to help others and protect life. That’s already in our blood as climbers. It warms my heart to see this community that we all rely on for so much love and connection reaching out across the world to do what climbers do, which is take bold action to protect each other. It also means a lot to me to speak up as a Jew, because at the bedrock of my Jewish identity is a deep love and respect for all life. Our toast is “l’chaim”—to life. There is an ancient idea that we Jews are meant to live in diaspora, in communities all over the world, so we can be “a light unto the nations.” We have been wanderers for millennia, and we have always been a multiracial, multiethnic, multinational community that has thrived wherever we have lived in freedom and safety, just as our Palestinian siblings once did, and shall again. My direct ancestors escaped and survived the genocidal violence of the Holocaust, as well as centuries of genocidal pogroms before that, at the hands (and hatchets and swords) of white Christian nationalists in the borderlands of Russia, Ukraine, Poland, and Belarus. But many more of my ancestors were martyred in those catastrophes. I honor the ancestors who gifted me my own life by being a light unto my own nation, and I honor our own martyred dead by standing up and speaking out for the living and the beloved in Palestine, who are just as much my blood as any Jew or gentile, and whose lives matter just as much as mine. There is nothing about Israel and America’s genocide against the Palestinian people that serves my Jewish light, life, or freedom, and anyone who claims otherwise tells a murderous lie. It is my mission as a Jew, an American, a writer, and a climber to use every skill and breath I have to fight until Palestine is free, from the river to the sea.”

Arjunia & George Oakley

Arjunia and George Oakley seated in a forest. Arjunia, left, wears a white blouse and gold colored capris; George, right, wears a plaid flannel over a yellow shirt and jeans.
Miranda Oakley’s parents, Arjunia (left) and George (right) Oakley, sit in the El Cap Meadow in Yosemite National Park as they watch Miranda deploy the “Stop the Genocide” banner. 
Brooke Anderson

Arjunia: “My family is from Ramallah, Palestine and we trace our family back 500 years to Ramallah. My parents immigrated in the 1950s. My parents had actually been in Jaffa in 1948 during the Nakba [what Palestinians call the great catastrophe, when they were forcibly displaced from their homes]. They had a life and a business there, but were forced out so they went back to Ramallah with hundreds of thousands of other people. They had a home there, but after ‘48 there was no opportunity, so we got refugee status and came to the U.S. by boat when I was just two years old. [The genocide] has been so horrible to watch, like a dark cloud. I worry about Miranda up there. I mean, I know she’s a good climber, but today she also has to haul that big banner. But mostly I’m just really proud of her, her passion for social justice and for Palestine.”

George: “When I was watching her climb, I knew she’d done the climb many times, including solo, it was unnerving to see how big [the rock] is and how small she is. But I’m really proud to see her take her passion and put it toward something that needs the message to get out.”

You can follow Climbers With Palestine on Instagram at @ClimbersWithPalestine.

Featured image: Climbers With Palestine dropped a “Stop the Genocide” banner and raised the Palestinian flag on the iconic El Capitan wall in Yosemite National Park. Photo by Brooke Anderson.

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