NEW YORK. This past Sunday, January 29th, a protest was held in response to President Trump’s recent executive order to ban incoming immigrants, a ban that specifically targets Muslim refugees. After a tumultuous day at the JFK Airport, with several passengers being detained and questioned, this protest came together quickly and hosted a variety of public figures including New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker.
The protest began at Battery Park’s Castle Garden, a port through which thousands of immigrants have entered the United States since its opening in 1808. Now a national monument to open borders and immigrants’ rights, Castle Garden overflowed with close to 30,000 New York residents who came to show their opposition to the executive order. Grounded in Lady Liberty imagery and “New Colossus” references, the protest engaged activists and observers with clear support from the American Civil Liberties Union, Make the Road New York, and the New York Immigration Coalition.
In one of the first speeches Democratic senator for New York Chuck Schumer discussed the issues found in the President’s new order. Pointing towards the Statue of Liberty and quoting passages from the Old Testament, Schumer drew upon ideas of camaraderie, the sanctity of freedom, and learning from collective memory. Directly after Schumer’s speech, Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, explicitly stated that “freedom does not come free in this country,” evoking audience affirmation in the form of the cheer, “No hate. No fear. Refugees are welcome here.”
Some made the occasional comment that the executive order is “just stupid,” but most speeches from politicians and activists went further, condemning the order as “pure bigotry.” The speeches were well-received and succeeded in energizing the audience. Breaking up the politicians’ speeches, a Syrian refugee spoke about her e xperience coming to the U.S. through JFK Airport in 2014. She spoke of the strength of the American people and the power to support incoming immigrants, calling it “the reason why this country is great.”
Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney cited specific examples of Democrats in Congress and their activism while also including the more abstract idea of fighting “in the court of public opinion,” an idea that had not yet been articulated until that point. Senator Cory Booker followed Maloney’s well-received thoughts, fervently proclaiming that “the power of the people is greater than the people in power,” an idea that empowered the crowd and has appeared on social media as one of the token epigrams of the protest.
Mayor de Blasio oscillated between the micro New York version of the protest and the macro focus of what the executive order represents, de Blasio said that there are in fact “four branches of government: the Legislative, Executive, Judicial, and the people.” Though somewhat outdated in today’s American ethos, this idea of public involvement in national change brought a new energy to the protest, harkening to the days of Pete Seeger and Joni Mitchell. Before returning to his place beside the stage, de Blasio closed by urging the crowd to “seek fairness,” perhaps a simultaneous plea to avoid any sort of violent protest.
New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer arrived next to share his thoughts on the anti-American quality of this order, saying that “we couldn’t run this town without immigrants,” a comment which was met with immense applause and emotional cheers. Towards the end of his thoughts, Stringer described the importance of this protest—and the democratic process in general—as a key part of raising American children. With a few hundred children present, some in strollers, others waving their own homemade posters, his message touched upon a population of Americans for whom he said, “Let us lead the way.”
Closing with the ideas that “this is not the time to be weak-kneed,” and “this is what America looks like,” the protest moved towards Greenwich Street, leading towards the destination of 26 Federal Plaza. This final location houses the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office. Carrying signs that read “Love your neighbor,” “Resist,” and the like, the march continued in full force for another two hours until the crowd reached the steps of the Plaza.