Cedar Valley joining nationwide political actions: Protesters gather outside Rep. Blum’s office on Sunday

The corner of Fifth and Main was the place to be for protesters, including sophomore Weerada Wechakij, on Sunday, Feb. 5. Photo by Leah Forsblom.

A “whole sea of immigrants” showed up right outside U.S. Congressman Rod Blum’s office on Main and Fifth Street at 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 5. All 1,000 or so of them peacefully protesting the executive orders of Trump, more specifically the ban of immigrants from seven countries and the building of a wall on the American-Mexican border. All 1,000 had two things in common, they were all immigrants or descended from immigrants, and they were all willing to protest to welcome more like them in the country.

On Jan. 27, Trump signed an executive order titled ““Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” It created a 90-day travel ban on seven Muslim countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen. In addition to banning several Muslim countries, it also indefinitely restrains Syrian refugees from entering the United States, stating, “The entry of nationals of Syria as refugees is detrimental to the interests of the United States.”

Immigrant lawyer and German teacher Gunda Brost, who is from Westerstede, North Germany, voiced her knowledge on “the ban” at the protest. “The ban was not thought out at all. Even those with green cards were surreptitiously detained and turned away from entry. People who had waited for years to have their visas approved were separated from their family members here. Employers had their companies disrupted as their immigrant workers were unable to return to work. This ban affected U.S. citizens, not just ‘immigrants.’ It caused a huge chaos and disruption, the aftermath of which we are still dealing with. You may have heard about the baby girl who was scheduled for a heart transplant and turned around at the airport. Luckily she was able to finally enter the U.S. and receive the medical treatment she requires, but not without hard fights by lawyers and civil rights organizations,” Brost said. (Want to know more about Gunda Brost and her work as an immigration lawyer and her views on immigration? Click here)

Chris Schwartz, Black Hawk County Supervisor and community organizer of Americans for Democratic Action, organized the protest with his team. “Today, we stand here together with one voice, to deliver one clear voice to the president, to Representative Blum and to Senators [Joni] Ernst and [Chuck] Grassley: A wall shall not be built in our name,” Schwartz said in The Northern Iowan.

No Ban, No Wall protesters felt the protest was a great way to open up the eyes of the community and for them to see how many are against Trump’s executive orders. “I think it will be good for the community because it shows that the majority of the community support unity and are open to welcoming refugees that are suffering,” protester Roland Ganter said. “Most refugees that come are suffering. You can’t keep all the people out because there might be a slight chance that someone is dangerous. Most terrorists are home-grown. They come from inside the country not outside the country.”

Many members of the community spoke out at the protest, including government worker Boone Whip. Whip talked about how the nation needs to unify and welcome everyone in. “Open up your hearts. Open up your minds and listen. We are about human beings. Open up your hearts and do something. Step forward. Find the courage. I can’t let what my ancestors died for be lost. That’s why I work for  the government,” Whip said. Like most at the protest, Whip is against the wall, and he dreams that America will welcome everyone in some day, like his people (Native Americans) once did. “I’m opposed to the wall. My people allowed immigrants in. We didn’t resist them. We didn’t make rules or send them back. I am mostly against the wall.”

Brost shared her story on how she got interested in being an immigration lawyer. “I was teaching English to speakers of other languages and some of the adult students developed a relationship of trust and confidence in the course of knowing me as their teacher,” she said. “One day a young man stayed after class and showed me his hand in a cast. He had apparently had his fingers cut off in an accident at a meat packaging plant. He was undocumented (illegally there). He stated he did not know what to do. He was no longer able to work having essentially lost the function of his hand, and his employer refused to help him pay the medical bills and threatened to call immigration on him if he complained. I realized how undocumented people could be exploited, and his plight inspired me to try to fight for people in his situation (or similar situations).”

Photo by Leah Forsblom.

As more people started filling in on Main Street, the voices of concerned citizens just got stronger and yells of “Build that wall,” and “Trump is President, get over it,” got lost in the crowd. Approximately 40 members from Cedar Valley Patriots for Christ showed up on the other side of the street. These voices were dismissed and ignored by the supporters outsides Blum’s office as more and more speakers shared experiences and ways to stay positive through these hard times.

To keep peace amongst the two groups, police closed the intersection of Main Street and Fifth Street. The large Trump-Pence 2016 campaign board and signs saying “Come Legally or stay the f#@k over there!” was threatening enough for one intoxicated male to break through the hold of “No Ban, No Wall!” supporters and attack a female holding a sign saying “I’m an infidel.” The Cedar Falls police pulled the attacker away and the attacker was arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct. This was the only violence of the day, and the rest of the protest was peaceful.

Schwartz said he was very happy with the outcome of the protest and knew that Cedar Falls was dedicated to all their citizens. “The Cedar Valley will never turn its back on immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters,” said Schwartz in The Northern Iowan.

Protester Regina Kureger carried that same idea and said that America should be uniting and has always been a society that comes together. “It is always better to love than to push people away,” she said. “It’s what we have always done. We have always welcomed people. That’s who we are. It’s supposed to be a melting pot. It always has been, and it always should be.”

Sarah Kiani, a protester who is also Muslim, said she was very outraged by the current president and also believed this protest would “unite the people” and “help our movement grow stronger.”

“We will not be quiet in the face of racism and fascism, and we will stand up against Trump and his horrible policies to marginalize the minorities of this country,” Kiani said.

Kamyar Enshayan, an Iranian immigrant and director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Education, said in The Northern Iowan that “our task is to turn outrage into positive action,” he said. “I am here to show my support for the immigrants and show my outrage over discriminatory policies.”

Enshayan was also a speaker at the protest and noted many times in his speech about uniting the people. “People want to support each other. It confirms we’re not alone. It helps us connect with each other.”

The Americans for Democratic Action is planning another protest, this time for Women’s Rights on Feb. 14 in front of Congressman Rod Blum’s office on Main Street.

Brost recommended that those who are looking to make a difference should, “Get to know the immigrants in your community. The veiled girl who sits alone in the lunchroom? Ask her where her family is from, and why they are here. The boy with the accent? He probably speaks more languages than you do. That’s why he has an accent. Include him in your friend’s activities and learn about him,” Gunda said.

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