March and Rally: We Will End the Refugee and Muslim Ban!
Last Sunday in Battery Park, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, New Yorkers came together to support their immigrant population.
On Friday evening, Pres. Trump had signed the executive order banning immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries for 120 days, and on refugees from Syria indefinitely. On Saturday evening there was a protest and vigil at JFK airport calling for the release of those detained (see drawings of this by friends Julia Sverchuk and Audrey Hawkins) and on Sunday afternoon the protest moved to Battery Park in downtown NYC.There was a podium set up right in front of Castle Clinton, the fort at the foot of Manhattan, and the immigration station that pre-dates Ellis Island. From there you can see both Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty – fitting icons to circle a gathering in support of immigrants. And the people came, from every corner of the park, to hear the speakers and lend their voices. Everywhere were signs that said: I Love Immigrant NY! Linda Sarsour, a co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington, and the executive director of the Arab-American Association of New York, spoke with passion and got the crowd going: Brothers and Sisters, you ARE what democracy looks like!
Other speakers followed. From Senator Cory Booker, to a Sudanese immigrant, to Congresswoman Nydia Velásquez, the messages came: We are stronger when we are together! From the airport to the court to the streets, we fought and we WON! Resist!
The Mayor of New York spoke too, in defense of the immigrants, as did Sen. Charles Schumer, who told the crowd that his middle name is Ellis, after Ellis Island.
We came to this country for freedom! We came to this country because it is a beacon! We will not let this beacon be put out by Donald Trump! – Bill de Blasio
Sen. Schumer led the chant: The People, United, Will Never Be Defeated!
An undocumented Mexican woman spoke bravely of how her family brought her here at the age of 2, and how she wanted to continue her life and studies in New York. The listeners cheered her on as she called out for immigration reform in the US. News reports say that there were at least 10,000 people packed into the park on Sunday (CBS) and I don’t doubt it. Like at the women’s march, the crowd was positive, peaceful, and motivated.
And there were more speakers: Tish James, Sen. Kristen Gillibrand, and Scott Stringer, who asked: Who Is Equal?
And then, a Syrian refugee spoke emotionally about coming to America and how the people of New York City had embraced her. As she spoke, I could not stop thinking of the promise of the nearby Statue of Liberty, and how the sight of her in the New York harbor brought joy to the hearts of so many people for whom the United States could mean a new life, away from poverty, or persecution, or tyrannical rule.
As I said in my previous post, the facts of the US immigration policy have not always stood up to the spirit of the famous poem by Emma Lazarus, but I hope that we can keep that ideal as our national goal, and not refuse help to so many refugees from Syria who are in trouble, or enact an outright ban on people based on their country or religion.
The speakers wound down, and the crowd began to move. It was time to march.
There were musicians playing drums to keep our spirits high, and New Yorkers of diverse backgrounds and religions chanted and walked together. I found my friends Julia, Audrey, and Sunil, and we began walking and drawing as a group, to document the events. (see #artistsfordemocracy)
In the midst of all of the movement and excitement, we saw a Muslim woman quietly kneel down and begin her daily prayers, with Castle Clinton, the Statue of Liberty and the protesters surrounding her. What a beautiful moment.
America has always been a country made stronger by diversity. Yes, we need safe borders. Yes, a government should protect it’s citizens from harm. But if we lose our compassion in the process, and allow ourselves to become so afraid that we turn our backs on refugees and the most vulnerable, what does that say about us as a nation? A wall will never stand, when people are in need.
And so, we marched! 10,000 people walking north to Foley Square, with a goal to protect our immigrant heritage and our diverse future. One sign put it very well: We are ALL Immigrants.
Diversity = Strength.