February 20, 2019

Hundreds Gather to Protest “Emergency”

“NO EMERGENCY, NO WALL”: More than 300 activists gathered on Monday in Hinds Plaza outside the Princeton Public Library to protest President Trump’s emergency declaration to gain funding for a border wall. The Rev. Lukata Mjumbe (at microphone), one of ten speakers, urged the crowd to stay focused on issues of inequities in social justice, along with their focus on the wall. Co-organizer and rally moderator the Rev. Robert Moore looks on at right. (Photo by John Lien)

By Donald Gilpin

More than 300 spirited demonstrators gathered in Hinds Plaza outside the Princeton Public Library at noon Monday to protest President Trump’s emergency declaration to obtain funding for a border wall.

Warning against “an imperial presidency,” “fascism,” and the deterioration of democracy, ten speakers, including ministers, politicians, public officials, and others, expressed strong opposition to Trump’s actions and called for resistance on numerous fronts.

Blustery winds and cold temperatures did not temper the determination and anger of the speakers and their supporters, who repeatedly chanted “No Emergency, No Wall, No Wars,” and held up signs proclaiming “Stop Trump,” “Dictatorship is Un-American; Congress Rules the Purse,” “We Stand With Immigrants and Asylum Seekers,” “Fake Emergency, Fake President,” and other similar sentiments.

“It might be cold right now, but our blood is boiling,” said the Rev. Carlton Branscomb of the First Baptist Church in Princeton. “We are hot against this issue in front of us now, so let us stand up together.”

The hour-long demonstration organized by the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action (CFPA), the Bayard Rustin Center for Social Justice (BRCSJ), and Moveon.org was one of more than 250 rallies around the country Monday in response to Trump’s February 15 announcement.

In addition to the widespread protests, 16 states, including New Jersey, California, and New York, have challenged Trump in court over his plan to use emergency powers to spend billions more than Congress had granted him for his border wall.

Emphasizing the importance of the separation of powers, CFPA Executive Director the Rev. Robert Moore said, “The Constitution is clear that only Congress can appropriate public funds, the president can only sign or veto funding legislation. If he succeeds in a power grab to spend
taxpayer dollars however the president wants, without authorization from Congress, we are on a path to dictatorship.”

Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, suggesting that “this president has a bad habit of calling real things fake and pretending that fake things are real,” urged the audience to “take a moment and remember what is actually real and what is fake. The promise that a wall will make us great, that’s fake.” 

She went on to state that the emergency is fake and the reality is that Trump is in trouble and that “Congress does not want his wall, the American people do not want his wall, and we do not want his wall.”

Calling for unity in opposition to the wall, she urged, “Let’s organize. Let’s mobilize. Today is Presidents Day, so let’s celebrate, but let’s celebrate by making sure that in 2020 we get a new one.”

Several speakers cited the plight of immigrants as the real emergency. “There is an emergency, but it’s not the emergency Trump claims,” said Moore. “When children are separated from their families, that is inhumane. We say bring them back together now. That’s the real emergency, and the other emergency is that we have a president who is manipulating and distorting the truth so that he can try to get what he wants.” 

Moveon.org area representative Mary Stevens added, “The only crime is the Trump administration’s cruel policies, undermining the foundations of democracy. We need to turn this around.”

BRCSJ Chief Activist Robt Seda-Schreiber described “their wall made of fear and built with hate. Their wall will not keep us safe. Their wall endangers the very foundation of what our country stands for, who we are.” Seda-Schreiber urged that that wall, at least symbolically, could be best brought down by bridging the gaps between people, by not allowing the concept of “the other.”   

“Look the passing stranger in the eye,” he said. “Invite the neighbor into your house.  Hear the words spoken not of a different language but of the same heart.” Seda-Schreiber concluded by calling for recognition, respect, and love for all diverse community members. “No more can any of us be marginalized, forgotten, bullied, or otherwise unrecognized. That’s how we break down the wall.”

Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund Executive Director Adriana Abizadeh cited a national crisis of mass incarceration, and the deaths of children in ICE detention. She encouraged her listeners to “become engaged with organizations that are committed to change and to make sure that the voice of truth is heard.”

She was followed by Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, who echoed other calls for less hate and more love. Referring to the 2018 elections, he reminded the crowd, “We changed the course of this country in November. We took back the House. Do not ever get tired. Together we will take our country back and make it a country based on love and respect and not hatred and fear.”

Councilman Tim Quinn picked up on the “indefatigable” theme and placed it in an historical context. “We say no. We always said no to walls,” he stated. “We must never tire of raising our voices and assembling. We must never tire of doing the legwork of democracy. We must never tire to strengthen the bonds of what makes us truly great, an inclusive society where all people are truly equal.”

Also invoking United States history, Branscomb warned, “This president, this uninformed and arrogant man, has aspirations akin to a common dictator. Our image around the world has been tarnished.” He went on to describe the wall as “nothing more than a symbol of closed-mindedness, fear, separatism, and distrust.” 

Reiterating that “we are Americans,” Branscomb continued, “We are a global village and we need to start acting like one. We are Americans and as Americans we do not believe that any person has the right to dictate to us where our money goes and how it is spent.”

Freelance activist Fatima Mugal provided first-hand information from her visit last month to the San Diego-Tijuana border, describing separations of parents and children. “We should not be building more walls,” she said. “We should be tearing them down.”

The final speaker, the Rev. Lukata Mjumbe of Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church, exhorted the audience to consider what happens on both sides of the wall. “When we have the victory of defeating this wall, this racist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant wall, we still must deal with the same fascist thinking, the same demonic policy on this side of the wall.”

He pointed out that many people in this country, including people in his congregation, don’t have the privilege to be able to stand up and speak out without fear. “People are being criminalized. People are being demonized,” he said. “We stand with our brothers and sisters all around the world. We must rise up and say no wall, no fascism.”