More than 10,000 protestors gathered in Battery Park on Sunday to voice condemnation of immigration policies newly announced by President Donald Trump, which refugees from around the world and immigrants from seven majority-Muslim nations from entry into the United States.
The rally was slated to start at 2pm, but thousands began assembling a few minutes past noon. Soon, the park was filled and the crowd was overflowing onto adjacent side streets, while others climbed trees observe the proceedings.
Standing in the shadows of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the multitude listened as Mayor Bill de Blasio said of President Trump’s order, “we see the beginning of the degradation of our civil liberties and our constitutional rights. We are not fooled. We know where this leads and how dangerous it is.”
“We have never seen such a brazen and open and immediate attempt by a president to undermine our Constitution,” the Mayor continued, and then challenged the assembled throng: “Are you ready to fight for the values of this city and this country?” The crowd roared its approval.
United States Senator Cory Booker reflected that, “every generation of Americans must prove worthy of the fights and the struggles and the battles that came before,” adding, “we must let them know when you demean and degrade some, you demean and degrade the dignity of all. And so, we have no choice now — we must fight with all of our heart, with all of our energy, because the opposite of love is not hate. It is apathy and indifference.” He closed by observing, “the power of the people is greater than the people in power.”
United States Senator Charles Schumer said, “we’re here to deliver a vociferous, vociferous ‘no’ to both the President and these horrible executive orders. They’re bad for America, they’re bad to humanity, they’re bad for our national security, and they are against everything that is American. The orders make us left humanitarian, less safe, and less American.”
United States Congressman Jerry Nadler, who represents Lower Manhattan, said, “Trump’s executive order is unconstitutional, illegal, un-American and stupid! This is meant to be a ban on Muslims.” He was echoed by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who predicted, “this dude is going to get impeached.”
Dozens of Lower Manhattan residents were among those gathered in Battery Park on Sunday. “There were all kinds of people there,” recalls Sarah Cassell. “Many, many from our area — and not mainly immigrants, either. Just citizens angry at the betrayal of our country’s origins. It was interesting that I saw no signs against America, or Republicans, or even the presidency itself. Just anger at Donald Trump.”
“My dad’s family were French religious refugees in 1648,” Ms. Cassell recalls. “And my mom’s were economic refugees during the Irish potato famine, who had to jump off the ship in New York harbor and swim to shore. My husband’s great grandmother was Jewish and was smuggled to this country from Cuba inside a freezer. My family includes descendants of African slaves, Latinos and Native American. We have Republican, Democratic, Southern Baptist, Jewish and agnostic relatives, plus, gay, straight and undecided people. All citizens. We encompass the over- and under-educated, the rich and poor, and everything in between.”
“Each person at that rally seemed to have a story like mine,” she reflects. “Trump’s total betrayal of my family brings tears to my eyes. Immigrants are us. Immigrants built this country, continue to build it, and however they arrive, we must always have plenty of room morally and physically, or we betray our origins.”
Andrew Greenblatt says of the policies that sparked Sunday’s protest, “ISIS and other terrorist groups will never be powerful enough to destroy our democracy. Only we can do that to ourselves. Donald Trump’s attempt to use religious and national tests for refugees and other immigrants is a dangerous step in undermining what makes this country great.”
About his own decision to turn out, Mr. Greenblatt notes, “this executive order violates the laws, the constitution, and the moral fabric of our nation and I wasn’t going to just sit home and let that happen.”
He adds, “it was great to see thousands of patriots joining together to protect our country from the most dangerous threat we face today — an authoritarian power grab from the White House. Sometimes, taking on this big a fight can feel hopeless. But standing there with thousands of other people willing to fight to protect our country made me see that together we can win. We’ve got a tough four years ahead of us, but going to a rally like this gives me the strength to keep me in the fight to protect our country.”
Caroline Ramsey says, “I still can’t believe that these protests for ‘basic human rights’ are necessary in the United States. But only one week after the Trump inauguration, here we are, trying to maintain a democracy that took hundreds of years to put together.”
Crystal Hall reflects that, “I was there because of crazy, ill-conceived immigration entry policy that came out of the White House Saturday. I was very happy to see my friends and neighbors standing up to be counted. If politicians won’t fight back against Trump, the American people will. Somebody there said something that really resonated: ‘this is what we do now,’ meaning another weekend, another protest. I expect we have just begun.”
Brad Fountain says of the event, “I felt the mood was fairly upbeat considering the looming terribleness. Many signs echoed missteps the 1930’s, such as, ‘First they came for the Muslims…'”
This was a reference to an address by the German anti-Nazi theologian Martin Niemöller, which chronicled Adolf Hitler’s sequential purges of various target groups. It recalls,
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Mr. Fountain notes a more upbeat prediction emblazoned on the sign at Sunday’s rally:
“…and I said not today motherf***er!” He recalls, “I also loved a sign that said, ‘I’m with her,’ next to a picture of the Statue of Liberty.”
Among the signs other signs that caught attention at Sunday’s protest were one that quoted President James Madison: “If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” Another noted that, “Anne Frank’s Family Was Denied Entry.” (Coincidentally, as the protest unfolded in Battery Park, a staged reading of “Night,” Elie Wiesel’s memoir of Nazi persecution, was taking place steps away at the Museum of Jewish Heritage.)
“I was there, with my wife and daughter because it’s important,” Mr. Fountain reflects. “This country is diverse and better for it. One viewpoint does not lead to progress. I have Muslim friends and coworkers. They are positive and an asset in my life and work. So this weekend was absolutely a test of the First Amendment — freedoms of religion, speech and assembly. How much more basic does it get in this country?”
Mr. Fountain adds, “many people, including myself, have never been so motivated to get involved. But this was a very good event for the quickness with which it was organized. I truly wondered how the Arab Spring was supposedly organized on Facebook, but now I see.”
Among the attendees at Sunday’s protest were hundreds of teenagers. One of these was Mr. Fountain’s daughter, Katie, who is a sophomore in high school. She says, “I was very overwhelmed and moved to tears by the emotion at the protest. I hope this ban gets overturned, because I feel that it’s a violation of the Constitution, and human rights.”
After more than an hour of speeches, the crowd began to move out of Battery Park and up Trinity Place in an orderly fashion, following a path that led eventually to the federal office building on Broadway and Worth Street, which is the local headquarters of the Immigration and Customs Service and the Border Patrol, both of which are charged with implementing President Trump’s controversial executive orders.
By nightfall, the protest was winding down. Police officials reported that out of more than 10,000 protestors in Lower Manhattan on Sunday, only five were arrested: four were charged with disorderly conduct, while a fifth was detained for carrying false identification.