NEW YORK ― “Resist!”
That was the chant that could be heard blocks away from New York City’s Washington Square Park Wednesday night as up to a thousand protesters gathered to show their solidarity with the Muslim community.
Demonstrators gathered to protest an anticipated executive order from President Donald Trump aimed at indefinitely banning Syrian refugee admissions; temporarily banning entry of people from certain majority-Muslim countries; and suspending visas to countries of “particular concern.”
Speaking beneath the park’s iconic arch, Muslim civil rights advocates and politicians described Trump’s vision for America as at odds with his hometown’s history as a welcoming sanctuary city for people of all faiths, races and immigration status.
“We reject policies that turn our nation’s backs on those that have suffered so much,” said Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-N.Y.). “Each one of us has seen the pictures of the children in Aleppo ... It breaks my heart.”
“So we are here to say to our Muslim brothers and sisters,” she continued, “that tonight, today and in the future, I too am Muslim.”
Sumaya Awad, 22, handed out fliers for the International Socialist Organization. Awad, a Muslim Palestinian immigrant, said she understands the importance of standing with her fellow Muslims.
“Trump has attacked basically every part of my identity,” Awad told HuffPost. “I’m a Muslim, I’m a woman, I’m a Palestinian immigrant, and the idea of living through four years, or possibly eight years of this, is terrifying.”
But there’s hope, she said.
“I’m used to having different forms of government and administrations try to silence me, so it’s great to see so many people out here fighting,” she said. “Hopefully this organized resistance continues on tomorrow, and the next week, and the week after.”
Trump’s presidential campaign was steeped in anti-Muslim political speech and policy proposals. In 2015, he infamously called for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States.
A draft of his forthcoming executive order ― which could still be revised before being officially signed ― was obtained by The Huffington Post on Wednesday. While the order stops short of a total ban on Muslims coming into the country, it still amounts to a dramatic reduction in the number of refugees and immigrants admitted from a number of majority-Muslim countries.
Most striking is the order’s provision blocking refugee admissions from Syria indefinitely. The civil war in that country has displaced nearly 5 million people, only 18,000 of whom the U.S. has accepted across its borders over the last few years, due partly to an extensive vetting process that can last 18 to 24 months.
“Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are here to stay,” was a chant New York City Public Advocate Letitia James started during Wednesday’s rally.
“We are a city made greater by the blood, sweat and tears of immigrants and refugees, and we will not close our borders,” James told the crowd. “We will not close our shores. The reason is why New York City is great is because we are an immigrant town and a sanctuary city.”
“And any threat to any group, to African Americans, to Jews, to Muslims ― it doesn’t matter ― any threat to any group is a threat to all of us,” she added.
Scott Stringer, New York City’s comptroller, said that as a “Jewish American, I stand with the Muslim community, because today and every day in New York City, we are one people. I stand together with you, because when they come for you, they come for me, and when they come for me, they have come for you!”
“I’m very proud to represent 150 different nations that speak 150 different languages, not just as a city elected official,” he added. “Again, to my Muslim brothers and sisters, as a Jewish American, I want to see a united world and the best way to do that is dump Trump and take to the streets.”
As night fell, protesters, including 33-year-old Jessica Maffia, lit candles.
“Trump’s proposed plan is the most horrifying thing I can imagine,” Maffia said. “I’m here to show solidarity. This is a city of immigrants, and we’re all in this together. I’m taking a lot of solace in the turnout today.”
Syrian refugee Um Mohammed, 30, resettled in New Jersey with her husband and two children a little over a year ago. She expected her parents and two siblings to join them from Turkey next week after being cleared for family reunification. Now they could be waiting much longer.
“We’re really worried,” she told HuffPost.
Hours after the demonstration at Washington Square Park, hundreds of protestors took to the streets again, marching toward Union Square. There, they held a short rally before continuing to march toward an unknown location. There was a heavy police presence but no immediate sign of confrontations with protesters.