Published on: Thursday, December 1, 2016 Takoma Park Newsletter

Residents rally in support of immigrants, Muslims

By Helen Lyons

Just three days after the election of Donald J. Trump as the next President of the United States, hundreds gathered at Piney Branch Middle School to hold signs, link arms, and sing and chant promises of support and protection for their Muslim and immigrant neighbors.

“I’m Muslim-American, born and raised in the United States,” said Shahid Mahmood of Silver Spring, who attended the rally with his wife Faiqa. “To hear what Trump was saying throughout this whole campaign was very disheartening, and I’m glad that we came together in the community to say look, we’re all supporting you, we’re supporting each other, [and] we want to stand together.”

Adults and children alike came carrying homemade signs with slogans like “Immigrants make America great” and “You are loved. We will fight for you! You are safe.” They cheered and chanted as local activists took turns with a microphone, delivering speeches of unity.

“People are angry, frustrated, shocked, and at wits end,” said Greg Artzner, a former Takoma Park resident who brought his guitar to perform. He and his wife, Terry Leonino, led the crowd in singing “Give Light,” a song they wrote together that concluded the rally with the message that “people will find the way.”

The event was organized spur-of-themoment, but drew a crowd of hundreds from Takoma Park and beyond. “It was very spontaneous,” Leonino said. “It was meant to give an opportunity for all of us to feel like we’re not alone. People in Takoma Park always make a point to find each other, and that’s why this is such a special place to live.”

Even those outside the city were drawn into the display of solidarity, including Muslims and immigrants who just wanted to confirm that they were still welcome and had a place in their own communities. “I’m a Muslim-American,” Dania Ayoubi explained, “and I wear the hijab so that makes me a visible member of the community. I feel that in some ways I have a greater responsibility to build bridges, and get to know my neighbors and make that powerful community that will be there to support me in times of need.”

And this seems to be one of those times. Faiqa Mahmood described the days that followed the election of Donald Trump as difficult, a sentiment that many in Takoma Park have echoed since the election results were first announced. “The kind of sorrow I felt was like if something that you really loved got broken and shattered,” Mahmood said. “You had this whole idea of what America was supposed to be, and I just woke up the next morning feeling very, very unwelcome. But at the same time, I’m happy to live in a place where the majority of the people around me are feeling the same way. Someone was holding a sign that said ‘We love our Muslim neighbors,’ and they weren’t Muslims. Things like that just allow the healing to begin.”

Jill Feasley was one of countless non-Muslims and non-immigrants to attend the rally, concerned about the policies Trump touted over the last several months and how they would affect her friends and neighbors. “I know people who are immigrants, and who are Muslim,” Feasley said. “I just felt it was important to show support for people who feel threatened and afraid of what changes might be brought about as promised in the election by candidate Trump when he becomes president.”

The rally came together with the participation of Takoma Park Mayor Kate Stewart, City Councilmember Rizzy Qureshi, County Councilmember Tom Hucker, Maryland Delegate David Moon, Ahmed Elmi of the Somali American Community Association, Delia Aguilar from CASA de Maryland, and community activists Tebabu Assefa and Jheanelle K. Wilkins.

“There was a massive call for gatherings in communities across the nation,” explained Nadine Block, another contributing activist who has lived in Takoma Park for over 25 years. “We have to really build local capacity and make sure we are doing things locally that support all of our community members.”

As people finally disbanded in the darkness, carrying their signs and a newfound resilience back to their homes, there was a sense that this was only the beginning. “We had to come together to express our solidarity,” Artzner said. “We’re in this. Standing here with this incredible community… To me, it just looks like America. The resistance starts now.”

This article appeared in the December 2016 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.