The U.S. Capitol is seen behind a Palestinian flag at a rally at the National Mall during a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Washington, Oct. 20, 2023. AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

by Jessica Corbett

Employees at over two dozen U.S. departments and federal agencies as well as congressional staffers participated in a “Day of Mourning” on January 16, declining to work in the wake of the 100th day of Israel’s war on the Gaza Strip.

U.S. President Joe Biden and other leaders in his administration have faced mounting outrage from government employees, the American public, and the international community for supporting the Israeli bombardment and siege that has killed over 24,000 Palestinians in Gaza.

It’s now been 102 days since the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel sparked a retaliatory war that a growing number of experts and groups are calling “genocidal.” In addition to the rising death toll, tens of thousands of Palestinians have been wounded, about 90 percent of Gaza’s 2.3 million residents are displaced, and children are dying of starvation.


Feds United for Peace, which organized the January 16 initiative, explained in an email to Common Dreams that “this Day of Mourning was not just for government employees in Washington but for federal employees across the country.”

“Despite the closure of federal offices in Washington because of the weather, many employees eligible for telework still participated,” the group said. “We do not have a final figure to share, but the number of agencies represented speaks for itself.”

There were participants across the departments of Commerce, Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Labor, State, and Veterans Affairs, as well as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Environmental Protection Agency, Executive Office of the President, Federal Aviation Administration, Food and Drug Administration, and Internal Revenue Service, according to organizers.

Others joined from the National Labor Relations Board, National Park Service, National Security Agency, National Science Foundation, Naval Research Laboratory, Patent and Trademark Office, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Office of Personnel Management, Social Security Administration, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, United States Agency for International Development, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The Day of Mourning—exclusively previewed by Al-Monitor—went ahead despite a threat from far-right U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.), who said January 14 that “any government worker who walks off the job to protest U.S. support for our ally Israel is ignoring their responsibility and abusing the trust of taxpayers. They deserve to be fired.”

Rep. Johnson pledged that he and House Oversight Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) “will be working together to ensure that each federal agency initiates appropriate disciplinary proceedings against any person who walks out on their job.”

Feds United for Peace told Common Dreams, “We want to emphasize that the Day of Mourning was not a strike or a walkout.”

“The purpose of this Day of Mourning was to convey to our leadership that the current policy on Israel and Gaza is counter to our national interests both at home and abroad,” the group said. “It is counter to our values, and it does not represent the broad will of the American people.”

“We are not activists, we are government employees who love our country and love what America stands for,” the group added. “It is precisely because of this deep sense of patriotism that we feel a responsibility and a moral obligation to speak up when our country’s leaders are choosing to pursue policies that are hurting America.”

According to an organizer with Congressional Staff for a Cease-Fire Now—which held a November vigil at the U.S. Capitol—some staffers of federal lawmakers also took leave on January 16 “for recognition of the solemn day,” even though some members of Congress, including progressives calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, “aren’t necessarily supportive of staff lending their own voice to the movement.”

“It is inspiring to see that this many different staffers across our government are willing to speak up and raise their voices and say that enough is enough,” the organizer told Common Dreams in an interview, noting actions from White House interns, congressional staffers, and others opposed to ongoing U.S. support for Israel’s assault on Gaza.

At least two Biden administration officials have resigned in protest since October—Tariq Habash, a former policy adviser in the Education Department’s Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development, and Josh Paul, ex-director of congressional and public affairs for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

“We have seen organizers and advocates in the administration and in Congress who are Israeli and Palestinian, who are Jewish and Muslim, who are every identity under the sun demanding a cease-fire now,” said the Congressional Staff for a Cease-Fire Now organizer. “President Biden and our congressional leaders are out of touch with where the American people are. And frankly, they’re not the ones that engage them on a daily basis.”

“We are the ones that hear from them,” the staffer said of constituents calling for a cease-fire. “We … pick up their calls, answer their emails, see their posts, and we can see what they are demanding, what they are insisting, what they want to see happen. And if these members of Congress are not willing to get in line with what the American people want, then they don’t deserve to represent them in the halls of Congress.”

“So, we need to continue speaking up. And I think the more time that goes on, the more and more people we see speaking out and feeling comfortable and confident in doing so, when we are threatened by the speaker of the House, it doesn’t make us silent,” the organizer added. “It makes us bolder, it makes us louder because we aren’t going to be silenced. We’re on the right side of history. We’re not going to let them stamp out this fire in our movement because we can’t afford to let that fire be put out.”