The Howard University chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) staged a “Chalk the Block” boycott of Starbucks and McDonald’s last week for what they said was company support of Israel in the midst of the Israel-Gaza war.
About 30 students gathered in front of Starbucks on Georgia Avenue throughout the day and wrote words of encouragement and support for Palestinians with chalk. The boycott was staged as part of an act of defiance against international companies associated with Israel’s occupation in Gaza.
Messages such as “Free Palestine” and “Boycott Starbucks” were written on the sidewalk, along with some messages encouraging students to learn more about the boycott and the ongoing violence occurring in Gaza.
Bria Miller, a fifth-year architecture student from Virginia Beach, Virginia, was one of the SJP members leading the boycott.
“We are boycotting Starbucks and McDonald’s. Starbucks specifically has loudly announced their support for Israel basically,” she said, referencing the statement made by Starbucks chief partner officer, Sara Kelly.
The at-large boycott came shortly after Kelly sent a cease and desist letter to the members of Starbucks Workers United. The union posted the message “Solidarity with Palestine” on X, formerly known as Twitter, last month.
According to USA Today, the post included an image of a bulldozer tearing down a fence on the border of Israel and was deleted within 40 minutes of its posting.
The Buffalo, New York-based union represents 340 Starbucks locations and over 9,000 Starbucks employees, according to the Workers United website.
In Kelly’s letter, she said that “some people are mistakenly tying these remarks to us, because Workers United, its affiliates and members continue to use our name, logo and intellectual property.”
She added that “Workers United, its local affiliates, union organizers and those who identify as members of ‘Starbucks Workers United’ do not speak for Starbucks Coffee Company and do not represent the company’s views, positions or beliefs.”
As a result, Starbucks filed a complaint against Workers United on Oct. 18 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Iowa in Davenport, Iowa.
On Oct. 11, Starbucks also expressed sympathy for those impacted, saying, “As a leadership team, we want to again express our deepest sympathy for those who have been killed, wounded, displaced and impacted following the heinous acts of terror, escalating violence and hate against the innocent in Israel and Gaza this week. Starbucks unequivocally condemns acts of hate, terrorism and violence.”
For McDonald’s, locations in Israel announced they were giving away free food to Israeli soldiers after Hamas militants launched their attack on Israel on Oct. 7. They are also facing calls for their franchise to be boycotted.
McDonald’s Kuwait said in a statement that the actions of chains in Israel did not reflect the overall views of the company, writing, “What the McDonald’s operator did in Israel was an example of such individual action; it was not a global decision, nor was it approved by any of the other local operators, especially those in our region.”
According to the New York Times, Israeli strikes have killed more than 11,000 people in Gaza since Oct. 7. According to Israel’s Foreign Ministry, 1,200 people have been killed in Israel since the attack.
Despite Starbucks’ comments, Miller said, “We are not supporting companies that support Israel who are waging a genocide against Palestinians for the past 75 years.”
A part-time Howard student working at the location said that the Georgia Avenue Starbucks saw a decline in customers after the boycott. “Today is the busiest day we’ve had in a while,” the employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of company retaliation, said on Nov. 13.
The student noted the environment inside of Starbucks the day of the boycott was “awkward,” especially for those who knew some of the students protesting outside. “I feel like a neutral party in something I’m not really involved in, you know what I mean,” the student said. “You see posters online and you hear about it all the time, you read the articles but like on my end, I feel like there’s really nothing I can do.”
Other Starbucks workers in the Georgia Avenue shop declined to comment about the demonstration or the boycott that was occurring outside their doors.
According to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), a call for service was made to 2225 Georgia Avenue at about 1:54 p.m., around the same time the boycott was being staged. MPD officers arrived at the location and were posted outside the Starbucks. MPD was not able to provide further information on who made the call, and the officers declined to comment on why they were there.
As other students continued to purchase from Starbucks during the boycott, Miller continued to tell those around her about the controversy involving Starbucks and redirect them to Black-owned Jaliyaa Coffee, which promised to dedicate 25 percent of its proceeds to Palestinian relief.
Sydney Thornton, a junior political science major from Raleigh, North Carolina, founded Howard’s branch of Students for Justice in Palestine weeks ago after the Hamas attack on Oct. 7. “The goal was to get a bunch of like minded individuals, specifically Howard students, who also felt helpless in regards to what is going on in Palestine,” said Thornton.
“I think a big issue that we’ve been having is making HU students care – it’s easy to get wrapped up in your own things,” she said. “But at the same time, we’re the number one Black institution that is supposed to represent minorities and we can’t stand with our Palestinian brothers and sisters who are going through a genocide right now?”
According to Thornton, SJP was established at Howard in order to bring awareness to the violence that Palestinians are facing in the Gaza Strip.
Amniche Guerin, a junior sociology major and member of SJP, supported the unions that Starbucks condemned. “I know that Starbucks, their union workers have shown support for Palestine, and Starbucks as a corporation denounced that support,” she said at the boycott.
Victoria Koffi, a senior Biology major from California who also attended the boycott, said that she thinks it is important to show solidarity with the Palestinian people.
“I think it’s important that we voice how we feel as students, and fight for justice for all the people who can’t right now,” she said.“I don’t know if the people over there will see us doing this, but it’s important to raise awareness and show them that they aren’t alone.”
Copy edited by Alana Matthew