Protest In The City

Monday, January 30, 2017

“This is my third protest this year,” said Kylie McElroy, a nursing student born and raised in  Columbus, who went to the rally to protest  President Trump’s latest executive order. As a long time friend, when I realized that Kylie was attending the rally I asked if I could tag along. This being my first excursion to a protest, it helped to have someone a little more experienced.

On the steps of the Ohio Statehouse, hundreds of protestors (Kylie and her mother included) stood in freezing temperatures, to openly oppose President Donald J. Trump’s executive order, which has been interpreted by many as a ban on Muslims. The order, effectively barring the entrance of “immigrant and nonimmigrant [aliens] from”[1] seven countries for the next 90 days, as well as the 120-day suspension of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), has raised both ethical and logistical questions.

The countries in question include Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Iran, Somalia, Libya, and Yemen, all of which have a majority Muslim population. Between Trump’s campaign rhetoric and the actions taken during his first weeks as President of the United States, many are taking issue and voicing strong opposition. The rally, titled “Resist Trump”, was organized by Socialist Alternative Columbus. A general mistrust and frustration toward both Democratic and Republican parties were a common sentiment among the crowd.  Everyone had a bone to pick with someone.

The refugee crisis is one of many issues that has caused tension since the  2016 election. However, this executive order and Trump’s promise to move forward with his plan to build a border wall has reignited the intense emotions surrounding recent events. Among the protestor’s signs, the phrase “No Ban, No Wall” was a popular theme. More than the “ban” itself, the less than graceful execution of the order made for intense backlash. The restriction on those entering the country from the seven states listed above went into effect immediately and without warning, over a hundred people, some already on their way, were denied entry, including green card holders and those with valid student visas. The chaotic rollout has made many question the constitutionality of the order.

The outcry is not limited to the Ohio Statehouse. Around the world, global leaders have denounced Trump’s decree. According to The Independent, the African Union has condemned American leadership stating that “[t]he very country to which many of our people were taken as slaves during the transatlantic slave trade has now decided to ban refugees from some of our countries.” Even among the United States’ closest allies, the executive order was controversial. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, have spoken out about the ban; Trudeau went so far as to publish a statement welcoming refugees in light of America’s ban.

Locally, the idea of making Columbus a sanctuary city was one of the many concerns touched on by the organizers of the protest on the steps of the Statehouse. Though there is no legal definition of what makes a sanctuary city, places like Chicago, New Orleans and even states like California take measures to protect undocumented immigrants. As tensions rise, events like the rally have become a place to vent frustrations and express dissent with the new administration.

Though the rally was meant to focus on the recent executive order, protesters and speakers addressed topics such as #BlackLivesMatter and police brutality, women’s rights, and immigration. While many people had different agendas for the night, most agreed that Trump was not the person to fix these problems. As crowds of diverse but liberal leaning protesters take aim at President Trump, his supporters praise his ability to quickly fulfill his campaign promises. The very promises that propelled Trump’s campaign, which many have called divisive, have followed him into the White House that presides over a deeply divided country.

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“You meet all kinds of people at these things. If your lucky, you can even make a few friends,” she said, laughing alongside her mother.

She carried signs reading “We can’t wait for a girl from district 12 to save us!” A reference to the dystopian landscape of The Hunger Games trilogy. Her mother decided on “Jesus Was A Refugee… WWJD” for her sign.

When I asked why she took time out of her busy day to come to the Statehouse in cold weather she said that it was the least that she could do.

“I have been told my entire life to stick up for what you think is right and for the people who are not treated as well as I am. It is also my civic duty to fight back when the government tries to take away the power from their people.”

As the organizers of the event spoke through their megaphones, it was this frustration and feeling of helplessness that echoed throughout the night. Through every chant and every sign, the complexity of the situation bled through. After all, even as this generally liberal crowd demonstrated its frustrations with the actions of the incoming administration, many conservatives who voted for Trump (in part because of frustrations with the previous administration) continue to support his actions.

Some on the conservative side argue that people should give him a chance, that it is only his first few weeks in office. Yet, the people in the crowd seem to be of the opinion that these few weeks have been more than enough.

“Politics will always be around. In general, a body of living things needs at least one leader to make things work,” said Ms. McElroy. As a result, at the end of the day, no matter what side you fall on, the political process continues.

[1] Full Executive Order published by NPR