Monday, January 30, 2017

Refugees Are Welcome Here

Saturday, January 28th, 2017, 6-8pm
Emergency Immigration Detention Rally 
JFK Airport, Terminal 4, Arrivals.

The newly sworn-in president had signed yet another executive order late on Friday. It's just now coming to light that his intent was, indeed, to make it a Muslim Ban (read article.) The phrasing of the executive order, however, was about a travel/immigration ban from 7 Muslim-majority countries. Interestingly, none of the countries that actually produced terrorists who affected USA were on that list (read article.) Trump also halted USA's acceptance of Syrian refugees.

The outrage at the discriminatory ban, as well as 11 detained people at the JFK airport, who were en route as the travel ban was announced, prompted massive crowds of protesters to flood JFK's terminal 4 on Saturday. By the time I got there for the 6pm rally, all the major news outlets had stationed their vans, cameras and reporters in the parking lot of terminal 4 arrivals. 

I held back tears, standing in the crowd that was chanting "Let Them In".

My family landed at JFK on July 1, 1994. We were refugees, fleeing anti-Semitism in Russia. The military coup of 1991 in Moscow convinced my father to make the hard decision to immigrate. He didn't want to leave the country where his parents are buried. It took my parents 3 years to file all the paperwork, stand in lines in bitter cold for rounds of interviews at the embassy, sell belongings and the apartment, quit jobs and say goodbyes. 

The most vulnerable I've ever felt in my entire life was when we deplaned at JFK. There was nothing to return to. Future was unknown. We had 2 bags and money from the sold apartment. And we had family expecting us on the other side of the customs.

And then I tried to imagine what it is like to be a refugee whose home/city/country is bombed into none-existence, no money, no relatives to rely on. I also tried to imagine what it feels like when you deplane and are told that you can't pass the customs. You are no longer welcome, and it doesn't matter that you have a green card or a visa. There's no turning back, but there's no going forward either. And what about all those who were in the midst of making arrangements to immigrate? It takes years to prepare, where each step is progressively more irreversible. 
An older couple stood next to me in the crowd. They both had silk white sashes with blue Yiddish writing. I asked them what it says. "A Better and More Beautiful World", they replied. 
 My friend and artist Audrey and I finally managed to find each other in the sea of people, and proceeded to draw next to each other, despite our frozen fingers. You can check out her beautiful art blog here.

Then I saw this young woman in a head scarf. She was filming the chanting protesters on her phone. Her kids were in the car next to her, peaking through the open windows - they also chanted. In their little high-pitched voices. " No Hate, No Fear! No Hate, No Fear!". She told me they're from Egypt, landed in JFK 16 years ago. I felt our kinship: both lucky to be here. 

The evening ended with the news of the federal judge granting emergency and temporary stay to detainees. 

Multiple airport protests erupted all over the country in response to Trump's immigration policies.

 Sunday, January 29th, 2017, 2pm
"We Will End the Refugee & Muslim Ban"
March & Rally
Battery Park, NYC

 The following day, there was a rally and a march in Battery Park, with unprecedented and electrifying crowds. Literally everyone held either a sign or a flag; some wore pussy hats or Lady Liberty crowns; some even had messages written on their faces. So many parents brought their kids: babies in harnesses, toddlers riding the shoulders, elementary-schoolers proudly holding hand-made signs...

The speakers at the rally repeatedly denounced Trump's refugee and immigration policies as unconstitutional and illegal, reiterating that his executive order discriminates based on the country of origin and religion.  

Senator Cory Booker passionately reminded us that "The opposite of love is not hate: it's apathy."*  

The New York City mayor Bill de Blasio assured: "We will not let the beacon to be put out by Donald Trump."

At the end of the rally, as the crowds shifted, Audrey and I finally found our art friends Sunil and Veronica (here is her incredible reportage illustration site), and together we marched.  On the way out of the Park, we passed a praying Muslim woman. She knelt on a little rug, with Lady Liberty directly behind her, guarding the harbor. One of the rally speakers reminded that the Statue of Liberty was originally a Muslim woman

"Bartholdi’s concept morphed from “a gigantic female fellah, or Arab peasant” into “a colossal goddess.”  -more on that here,

"No One Is Free When Others Are Oppressed"

The march terminated in Foley Square. At some point, we marched directly towards the Freedom Tower, with Lady Liberty behind us, adding our voices to the choire: "No Ban! No Wall! No Ban! No Wall! No Hate! No Fear! Refugees Are Welcome Here!"

It's far from over... There are other marches planned this week, next month and several months from now. We are all shocked, appalled and so ready to fight back, to protect the values that make America the greatest experiment in human history, the melting pot, the beacon of hope, the land of the free. 

"The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of beauty is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, but indifference between life and death."- Elie Wiesel

 #artistsfordemocracy #resist