Mayor Justin Bibb speaks at the GCP "All In" forum.
Credit: Kasey Sheridan
Mayor Justin Bibb, left, speaks at the Greater Cleveland Partnership’s “All In” leadership forum on Nov. 20, 2023.

Protesters interrupt Greater Cleveland Partnership’s “All In” forum

The Greater Cleveland Partnership hosted their “All In” leadership forum in Playhouse Square on Nov. 20. The event was met with increased law enforcement, intense security measures, and protesters.

The Greater Cleveland Partnership (GCP) hosted its “All In” leadership forum at the KeyBank State Theater on Monday, Nov. 20. The event, which was free to GCP members, was meant to “provide GCP Investor Members with a look at advocacy in action.” 

Attendees of the event did, in fact, witness “advocacy in action,” as the event faced multiple interruptions by pro-Palestine protesters, angry at the city's action or lack of action concerning the ongoing war in Israel-Palestine, given Cleveland's large Palestinian, Arab and Jewish populations.

The passions inside the KeyBank State Theater were matched outside, where about 100 pro-Palestine demonstrators protested the event.

Speakers scheduled for the "All In" event included Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Democrat congresswoman Shontel Brown, and Republican congressman Max Miller. 

Governor DeWine chose not to attend, though his absence was not announced until the forum began. Jon Husted, Ohio’s Lieutenant Governor, attended in his place.

The forum

The forum began at 4:30 p. m. with Husted as the first speaker of the evening. 

“This is Ohio’s time,” Husted said, emphasizing the importance of new jobs and commerce in Ohio as of late. “We fought our way back, and our children and grandchildren are not going to have to leave Ohio to find jobs.”

Husted spoke positively about Ohio’s economy, citing the “54 companies” who have moved from coastal cities to Ohio in recent years and he emphasized the importance of local “talent” and workers. 

The second speaker of the evening was Mayor Justin Bibb, who addressed some of the economic issues faced in “The Land” amid his term.

“I’m concerned that we don’t have a focused strategy quite yet when it comes to business attraction and retention, so we still have a lot of work to do,” Bibb said. “We’re pitching Cleveland as a central hub, and as we’re approaching a big election, we’re making sure we spend the appropriate amount of time in D. C. advocating for our region.”

As Bibb discussed infrastructure, chanting by protesters in the building but outside the auditorium became louder and louder. 

“From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” and “ Oct. 7 was just one day, we’ve been fighting since ‘48” could be heard for a few minutes as Bibb continued with his portion of the forum. The protesters did not enter the auditorium.

“Cleveland is open for business,” Bibb said at the end of his address, which was met with applause.

The protests in and outside the buidling prompted additional safety measures for the event, including numerous road closures in downtown Cleveland. An email was sent to attendees reading, “It is expected that a political demonstration will be taking place on Playhouse Square during today's event. To ensure the safety of all our guests, there will be an increased law enforcement presence on hand for the duration of the All In Leadership Forum.”

Multiple streets were closed off and the main entrance to the theater itself was also locked, leaving GCP members to enter the event through a back entrance in Dodge Court. Anybody who left the main theater during the forum was denied re-entry. 

Despite the protests, and absent Gov. DeWine, the forum continued as planned. The final speakers of the evening were Democrat congresswoman Shontel Brown and Republican congressman Max Miller. Miller was previously an aide to former President Donald Trump.

Brown and Miller discussed NASA’s potential in Ohio, suggesting that the NASA Glenn Research Center, located in Cleveland, could potentially bring in “20,000 jobs” if its program was granted more authority. Miller emphasized the importance of improving Cleveland’s airport as well. 

“Every major city with a robust airport is surrounded by infrastructure and business,” Miller said. “We have to continue to develop the land around NASA Glenn and Cleveland Hopkins Airport to attract businesses.”

The interruption

While Brown was speaking, two audience members, presumably part of the larger protest, interrupted her.

“I cannot believe you are sharing the stage with Max Miller, who said ‘we will turn Gaza into a parking lot,’” the first protester interjected as the second filmed. “Palestinians are dying every day and you specifically have taken funds from Israeli lobbying groups, I would really like to have a rational conversation with you.” 

Brown directly addressed the protesters while Miller did not comment. 

“No one here is a supporter of genocide,” Brown said in response. “This conflict was initiated by Hamas, terrorists, and there are 239 hostages that we would like to see free and both myself and Miller defend Israel’s right to defend itself. As well as the President, who made it a point to say that we need to make humanitarian pauses so we can get aid to innocent civilians in Gaza, both Israeli and Palestinian.”

Brown’s response to the protester received sustained applause from the audience. 

As on-site police officers escorted the pair out of the auditorium, one of them shouted, "Biden is supporting genocide, stop the killing of civilians."

The forum continued as normal after the interruption, and Brown and Miller went on to discuss improving child care, averting a government shutdown, the dissonance between the Democrat and Republican parties, and the resources available to Ohioans, including the ​​Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and education programs.

The massive reception in the KeyBank State Theater lobby following the GCP "All In" forum.

The GCP hosted a reception in the KeyBank State Theater lobby following the event. (credit: Kasey Sheridan)

During the event’s reception, Congresswoman Brown said that she was unsurprised by the interruption. 

“We don’t want to stifle anybody’s ability to protest, but we have to be respectful,” Brown said. “That’s democracy.”

Two days after the event, Israel and Hamas agreed to a four-day ceasefire, which was extended by two days after going into effect on Friday, Nov. 24. The temporary truce allowed for aid to be delivered, as well as for hostages to be released. On Friday, Israel resumed its bombing campaign of Gaza, which has killed more than 15,000 Palestinians since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel which killed 1,200 people and triggered the war. 

Information about upcoming GCP events can be found here.