Monday, January 30, 2017

"Love, Not Hate, Makes America Great!" -- Interfaith Rally & March in Morton Grove (and National Resistance) Against Trump's Muslim Ban Brightens a Dark Weekend

This weekend was, or at least threatened to be, one of the ugliest and most distressing of my lifetime, and perhaps--fundamentally--among the worst in U.S. history.

Even in trying to understand things from the perspective of those who don't think like me and didn't vote like me, President Trump's executive order to temporarily ban immigrants and refugees from seven specific Middle Eastern countries--Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen--seems moronic, mean-spirited, bigoted and counter to the principles for which the United States supposedly stands.

Please reference pretty much every other information source in the world for more details and discourse about the purported reasons, purpose, breadth, text and scope of Trump's order--including his business ties to countries not included in the ban, despite their citizens having killed far more Americans through terrorist acts--but it's pretty clear that this is, in essence, a rather malicious Muslim Ban.

Which, for the record, I think is bullshit.

While I believe the scourge of terrorism is real--though, per stats shown nearby, overstated as a source of perpetual fear--the percentage of Muslims engaging in vicious acts is infinitesimal, those seeking relocation and refuge in the United States are vastly more the victimized & vulnerable than evil perpetrators, and it's not like "terrorist" acts on American soil haven't been executed by U.S. citizens, of many colors, creeds and religions, including white Christians.

In a practical sense, Trump's brazen, poorly enacted decree would seem to compromise the safety of American travelers, expatriates and military, impair important business and counterintelligence relationships, stir international antipathy & antagonism and aid recruiting efforts by ISIS and other such terrorist organizations.

And by barring all Syrian refugees indefinitely, the new president would appear to belittle the vast efforts by numerous U.S. agencies and personnel, which--as detailed by the New York Times--already impose stringent vetting in an approval process that can take up to two years.

Even without being directly affected by the executive order, or personally knowing anyone who is, I am aghast at Trump's Muslim Ban, nearly to the point of disbelief that a country that stole the land of Native Americans, grew almost entirely through immigration and promised personal & religious liberty in its Constitution could engage in such petulant, vitriolic and xenophobic policy making.

Thus I was glad to have my distress somewhat mitigated Saturday by the sight of thousands of protestors at airports nationwide, and the efforts of the ACLU resulting in having a stay granted by Judge Ann Donnelly.

Graphic by Seth Arkin
And given the number of individuals detained at U.S. airports upon arrival, including many green card or visa holders with long-established residency, the tireless work of numerous lawyers can only be described as heroic.

Certainly this fight, and many others, will be ongoing, but it was heartening to see the New American Resistance continue to rise after so strongly representing at the Women's March just a week prior.

Although I have detested Donald Trump long before he became a presidential candidate, was perpetually revulsed by his campaign trail rhetoric and devastated by his election, I was willing to grant him the respect the office of the Presidency should afford in a democratic society with open elections and a peaceful transfer of power.

But in just 10 days in office, he has shown himself not only to be diametrically opposed to my beliefs on just about every issue, he has--to paraphrase the sagacity of Mark Twain--opened his presidency by leaving no doubt as to the diabolical bigotry of his aims, and the imbalanced depravity of his brash buffoonery.

Especially compared to many others, I've been relatively terse in expressing my anti-Trump sentiment, on social media and even among friends and family.

Not only didn't I have much to say that myriad others were already expressing far more vehemently, I thought I would save my external, enraged protest until treachery was actually enacted...

...and I felt the best way for me to "fight back" was to show those more vulnerable that I stand with them.

Since Trump's election, I had done so predominantly with my checkbook, making donations to the ACLU, CAIR (Council for American-Islamic Relations), Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, the White Helmets (for Aleppo aid), the Greater Chicago Food Depository, Everytown for Gun Safety, Doctors Without Borders, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), The Amplifier Foundation (We the People art campaign) and ongoing contributions to Global Empathy Now.

(Today, I've also given to Kal Penn's Syrian Refugee Fund "in the name of the dude who said I don't belong in America," the Muslim Community Center and more to the ACLU, in recognition of their vital efforts over the weekend.)

So when I awoke on Sunday around noon--to be fair I had been up watching (part of) the Federer-Nadal Australian Open final into the wee hours the night before--and saw a text from my sister Allison about sign-making ideas for an afternoon rally at a mosque in Morton Grove... seemed, so as not to be full of shit about what I purport to believe, I should get my fat ass out of bed and actually do something.

Hence, in just 35 minutes, while devouring some Cap'n Crunch, I made a double-sided sign (with the Let Them In and United We Stand graphics shown above), put on the most ecumenical outfit I could quickly surmise--a Cubs champions hoodie with a White Sox cap--and accompanied Allison to the Muslim Education Center in Morton Grove.

Along with my cereal, I had quickly ingested a brief Skokie Patch story about the march & rally, but didn't really know what to expect.

It was cool to see the parking lot entirely full when we arrived--fortunately nearby street parking was available--and a vast turnout that filled a downstairs event space at the center and much of the main level containing a gymnasium along with the mosque.

As the center's Imam, Nazim Mangera, would so wonderfully put it:

"There are maybe 500, 1000 people here. Or alternative facts of 1.5 million."

Although the Muslim Ban and weekend protests brought hundreds of people of various ages, races and faiths to the event, it soon became obvious that the well-organized program had been planned months in advance, likely after Trump's election but without expectations of an overflow crowd.

Not that the Imam, the event organizers--Dilnaz Waraich of the Muslim Community Center (which includes both the Morton Grove facility and one on Elston in Chicago) and Lesley Williams of Jewish Voice for Peace, a woman Allison knows--and others who spoke weren't enthusiastically grateful for the turnout and support.

With Ms. Waraich warmly serving as the program's emcee, we were treated to some songs by a cantor named Jay O'Brien (I think)--including the refrain of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" and The Weavers' "If I Had a Hammer"--and soon after, the Niles West High School choir led uplifting singalongs, including "We Shall Overcome."

Along with much I observed on Sunday, it was really a thing of beauty to hear such a large, diverse crowd standing and singing this historic song of perseverance and protest. (See video below; apologies for my braying.)

An immigration lawyer I believe to be named Kalman Resnick spoke about the work he and over 50 others were doing at O'Hare Airport, conveying that--as of about 2:00pm on Sunday--most immigrants and permanent residents had been admitted, but that there were people who had been returned to the Middle East.

Opening with a great quip--"I've always said, a great friend is one who comes out to the airport for you"--Ms. Williams, co-chair of Jewish Voice for Peace Network against Islamophobia, imparted that "This is not a moment, it's a movement" before quoting the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.:

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

Imam Mangera graciously thanked the large crowd, and a Niles North student named Miriam and a Niles West teacher whose name I didn't catch well-enough to even guess at, both delivered excellent speeches that truly resonated.

The young woman, part of a school group called SOAR--Students Organized Against Racism--boldly spoke against the President's perceived agenda: "We will rise against his hate and come out stronger than ever before."

And to great applause the teacher gave something of a civics lesson, pointing out that "since 2005, 71 Americans have been killed by terrorism, yet over 300,000 by gun violence."

He also shared another great MLK quote, which I identified with due to recently using the nearby graphic as a Facebook profile photo, and ended by citing the hashtag:


The crowd (which I now see estimated at 1,200 people) then took to the streets, walking a mile and a half loop, mostly down Dempster Street and back to the mosque, as many drivers honked their support.

Allison and I were somewhat near the front of the marchers, who stretched beyond 3 city blocks, and continually engaged in chants such as:

"No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!" (alternatively "everyone is welcome here")

"Love, not hate, makes America great!"

The march would seem to have been the culmination of an (under the circumstances) uplifting day--sadly ruined later by news of the deadly shooting at a Quebec City mosque, which some horribly and inaccurately tried to use to defend the Muslim ban by misidentifying the suspected shooter's ethnicity--but upon the return to the Muslim Education Center, we were funneled into the gymnasium, soon packed to capacity.

Here we heard from several more speakers, including Illinois state senator Daniel Biss, U.S. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Rev. Michael Nabors of the Second Baptist Church of Evanston, Pastor Liz Munoz La Reve of the Iglesia Episcopal Nuestra Senora de las Americas, President of Muslim Community Center Sarwar Nasir, Rabbi Andrea London of Beth Emet Synagogue, a transgender high school student and once again the event's hosts, Waraich and Williams.

Providing a variety of ethnic and religious perspectives, all were unified in condemning the Muslim Ban and the direction of the new administration.

About Trump, Rev. Nabors stated, "This is not presidential material," and then to a huge ovation declared, "This is what America looks like. This is the new resistance." 

After which Pastor Munoz La Reve tellingly imparted about the President's rash executive orders and seeming objectives:

"Ask yourself if "I'm next."" 

"If you're certain that you're not, that's called privilege."

"And if [you're] not [certain], I've got your back."

To which I can only say, "Amen," before concluding with the words of perhaps the most courageous orator of the day, a transgender Niles West freshman, who spoke extremely eloquently, ending with this abiding tenet for us all:

"The power of the people is stronger than the people in power."

1 comment:

Ken said...


This is one of your most moving pieces.

Thanks for writing it...and making your voice heard.

I commend you, Allison and your fellow marchers for standing up for compassion and basic human decency.

Back in the day when I still had an office I offered its use to my Moslem co-worker and friend so that he would have a private place to say his noon prayers.

I still believe in my heart that this is truly what our county is about.

But in my head I'm seeing the fight for America's very soul now entering its final stages.

In Morton Grove and hundreds of other towns and hamlets across this country the battle has been joined. The moral among us slowly but surely are beginning to stand up for what is right.

We may not win this war. The power aligned against us is formidable. But that doesn't matter. To paraphrase Chris Hedges we fight because it's the moral thing to do. By standing up to fight for what is right, those oppressed who were persecuted and put to death before our time...did not die in vain.