Thousands of protesters descended on John F. Kennedy International Airport on Saturday in response to President Trump's executive order barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries for the next 90 days, and the admission of all refugees for 120 days.
Chants of "Let them in!" and "No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here!" rang throughout Terminal 4 until late Saturday evening before New York federal judge, Ann Donnelly, ruled to block the deportation of refugees who had been detained at JFK overnight.
Amidst chaos and confusion, people took to social media to help fuel the city's swift response. The Women's March organizers were especially vocal about organizing resistance to the executive action at JFK as well as several other major airports across the country. An estimated 2.6 million people around the world joined the Women's March last weekend, displaying a forceful and historic solidarity between progressive organizations representing everything from DACA students to transgender equality to black economic empowerment to refugee rights.
It remained unclear, however, how this golden moment of intersectionality and activism would translate when it wasn't organized around issues concerning "traditional white feminism."
We spoke with several demonstrators at JFK about the reasons why they protest, and how the rights of refugee and immigrant and central to the women's rights movement.
What brings you out here today?
I heard about the executive orders—one of the many that has been going through in the past few days, and I just was disheartened, not surprised, that this is going on. And it's in our city so I felt it was utterly necessary to not just go and give a speech but to stand in solidarity with folk. Last week, I gave a speech at the Women's March and I talked about how our liberation is directly linked to the liberation of undocumented immigrants, of disabled folk, of trans folk. So for me it was just putting my feet where my mouth and my words are.
What I thought was really interesting at the Women's March last week—one of the biggest themes was intersectionality and the idea of women's rights claiming things like refugee rights and immigrant rights. Can you speak to a little about how you see us as a group of people putting to work that idea of intersectionality that we have been talking about for a long time?
Kimberle Crenshaw came up with the concept; it was a legal term that was largely centered around unpacking what "women" is. Knowing that we don't only have genders, we also have race and class, and then you add immigration status, disability, sexuality, and all the various other things that interlock and intersect with our experiences. I think we also need to realize and unpack that "women" means so many different kinds of women, knowing that some women may be born in America but they have family who are undocumented, so that is something that is utterly necessary and vital for us to stand up and stand out on. It's important that we are intersectional with the way in which we discuss these things, but also to realize that a lot of people don't know what intersectional means outside of the academy or progressive circles. So I'm always trying to explain what it means: It just means the interlocking oppressions around folks's existence and lives.
What brings you here today?
Just standing up for the immigrants. We all come from immigrant families; I'm first generation born here. My grandfather escaped a war and he came to this country for the American Dream. And we were built on immigrants and immigration, and now that we are trying to cut it off, it's just not right.
Everything that's happening right now, it's devastating, but this hits home. It's so personal because we all have stories of how we got here, why we're here. And just to see something like this—innocent people who are suffering—it's not like these refugees are coming here because they're living in wonderful conditions. They're coming here because they're being tortured, they're being killed, and they're trying to escape devastation. And up until now our doors were open to them, and now we're shutting them down? It's just not right. Someone has to stand up for them and thats what we're here for: to stand up for them and stand up for our rights and stand up for the fucking Constitution.
Give me a sense of what it feels like to be here tonight.
It's extremely personal. It's really amazing to stand here with all of these other people in solidarity and to know that we are going to fight for the rights of everybody and we are going to keep America what it is—what it was started on—what it was founded on. That's what we are fighting for and we should continue to keep fighting for it, and we won't let up until we maintain those rights and keep them.
What brings you here today?
I come here in solidarity to stand with my Muslim brothers and sisters and to stand up against any hateful rhetoric. If you come for one of us, you come for all of us. So I'm here to stand in solidarity with them, as I do for a lot of the other movements: Black Lives Matter, Indigenous Rising, also with the undocumented lives movement.
Were you at the Women's March last weekend?
There was a lot of talk about intersectionality in terms of bringing these movements together. What do you think about that?
That's where it starts, right? The discussion. Something we noted when we came here was we were proud to see how many white people there are here. So to see that they are actually starting to show up for other movements, that's the progress. So while we critique, we also have to remember to move forward and to not just check them or call them out to bring them in, and pull them in, and make sure they are part of our movements.
Do you see this kind of movement to protect refugees and undocumented immigrants part of the women's rights movement at all?
Yes, I think it's definitely making progress. it's slow but any progress is something. We're definitely becoming very much so intersectional. So the motto is, if your feminism isn't intersectional it isn't feminism, it's white supremacy.
What brings you to the protest here today?
I do not think this is right to exclude refugees or immigrants. We did it in the 1930s and relatives of mine died in concentration camps and this is just plain wrong. I spent my entire professional life working with immigrant students, and these could be relatives of those students.
Are you a teacher?
I was for 30 years.
Is this reminiscent of anything you've seen in history before?
Yes and no. I ran into a roommate of mine from 40 years ago, and what we were saying is, during the Vietnam War, we had demonstrations that were called TDA, The Day After. So they would bomb Hanoi and they would bomb wherever they were going to bomb, and we could be out in the streets, protesting, day after day. When they bombed Laos, when they bombed Hanoi, when they bombed Cambodia. So in the sense of like an immediate reaction when people are just outraged—absolutely. On this issue? No. I don't think we've seen this kind of concentrated attack on immigrants in many years. And I am so glad that New Yorkers have come out and are making themselves heard.
What brings you here today?
We were going to the movies at six o'clock, we saw what came across the news, and I said, let's go to the airport because this is some shit that's going on that we're not standing for.
Have you always been very politically active?
Has it just been in the past couple of months or the past week?
For some reason I've never been moved before in my life until the election. And i went to the DC [Women's March] and it came across me and I said to myself, I'm going to start being an activist and I'm going to start finding out what that means, but first of all it means showing up.
A lot of what they were talking about in DC is this intersectionality that we have to have, especially in a women's movement or in a progressive movement. Do you have any thoughts on that in terms of, the people who showed up in DC are also here for refugees, here for immigrants tonight?
I'm visiting my friend who actually lives here. I was like, you live in the greatest city. I bet people were just sitting in the bars, they saw what was going on, they just jumped on the train and came in. Because that's what we have to do. I learned while I was in DC—it was so crowded that I actually couldn't get up close—but if i wasn't there taking my space, then it wouldn't have shown how many people had just shown up; sometimes it's just showing up.
What brings you here today?
I'm here today because I'm here to speak up for my Muslim brothers and sisters because when they [the Trump administration] come after me, they can come and speak up for me. I think it's important that we stand in solidarity. I myself am actually undocumented, and I know what it's like to be living in fear of deportation, living in fear of going back into a country where it's clearly unstable, where my rapist resides, where people that have harmed me reside. I know that this is where I call home, the United States. I've been here since the age of six and I think that other people deserve the opportunity to call this place home as well and feel safe the way I feel now. I think it's very important that we stand in solidarity with these folks because these folks are escaping situations and conditions where they can't care for themselves, they can't care for their families because the first thing they have to worry about is whether they're going to get bombed, whether they're going to get killed or what kind of harm they and their families are in.
It makes me feel like if Donald Trump comes after me, if he comes after undocumented immigrant youth, that I'm actually going to have a group of people, a movement that's going to stand behind me and fight for my rights and my justice.
You've been here since you were six and you say you feel safe here. Do you still feel safe now that Trump is president?
Oh no, definitely not because I also have DACA, which is Deferred Action for Early Childhood Arrival, the executive action President Obama granted where he granted administrative relief from deportation to young people. Now we're in a state of uncertainty where I'm afraid to renew my DACA, where I'm afraid to come out and be myself again, where I actually fear time and time again that I'm going to get deported, that I'm going to get sent back to Honduras where again my rapist resides. I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and just thinking about that brings my anxiety up, it starts to trigger me. Now I think I'm at a point in my life where I'm at a better state than I once was, but at the same time with Donald Trump becoming president my fears have only increased. I feel that I have fears but I know that a lot of people in the crowd have fears too. It's their resilience, their strength that is actually bringing them out here to say we're going to fight in unity. Even though we're scared, we're gonna fight.
How does it make you feel being out here tonight and seeing that a lot of people who I don't think normally would show up are out here tonight?
It makes me feel empowered. It makes me feel like if Donald Trump comes after me, if he comes after undocumented immigrant youth, that I'm actually going to have a group of people, a movement that's going to stand behind me and fight for my rights and my justice.