Why I Participated in the "Rally: Jersey City Stands with our Muslim & Immigrant Community"

February 7, 2017

To learn more about Jersey City Stands, the organization that put on this rally,

please follow them on Instagram.

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Socialist.

 

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

 

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

 

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

—Martin Niemöller

Photo provided by @fullmetalphotography

 

When I was 16, I told my AP Government teacher that I wanted to be president. His response was a boisterous and discouraging laugh. Eight years later I am still gunning to smash that glass ceiling, fueled by similar responses over the years to the idea of me becoming president. On November 8th, I was buzzing. Here in Jersey City, the excitement of the first woman president surged into our homes and poured onto our streets. I bought a bottle of champagne, only to be opened when our country could proudly announce the first woman to hold the oval office. That bottle now collects dust in my friend’s Brooklyn apartment, unused in the mourning of the loss of equality and wounded pride.

 

I am a feminist who voted for Hilary Clinton. However, I opted to not join the nearly four million women who marched around the world in support of the Women’s March on Washington because I wanted to do just as the newscasters recommended, I wanted to give Donald Trump a chance.

 

I wanted to give him a chance for personal reason. My former boss and mentor was not a supporter of Trump’s politics, but had worked with Donald Trump for 10 years and told stories of a friend. The past year, for every news article about Donald Trump, there would be a story from my mentor’s mouth about the man that didn’t reflect the bigotry and racism he spouted. Through my mentor, I saw President Trump on a personal level. For that, I truly wanted to give him a chance. 

 

I love my country and I respect it’s history and it’s political system. Maybe it’s the martyr in me. I would rather our Republican congress waste resources on already failed bills to legislate abortion than turn away legal residents in this country simply because they were traveling the day Steve Bannon was writing executive orders. 

Things changed this past week. I have been worried and angered and as of Friday’s (January 27th) Muslim Ban, I am scared. I am terrified because the same intimidation tactics that Hitler used, the same ones that we said we would never let happen when we heard about them in history class, are now being replicated to shame immigrants and bar Muslims simply because they do not believe the same as us. When my rights come on the chopping block I am not afraid because I will fight, and for that, I will protest for others who are wrong fully persecuted. 

 

I have never been more proud of humanity as a

whole as I was when I saw the large numbers that

were able to materialize; it seemed in only minutes at JFK, Dulles, LAX and O'Hare.  


I’ve never felt more hope for humanity than when I went to the Rally: Jersey City Stands with our Muslim & Immigrant Community. Community activist, Michael Billy, who was recently           Photo provided by @fullmetalphotography

nominated to the Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board,         

organized the event.

 

Michael Billy is a Teaneck NJ native raised in Jewish and Catholic household and adopted from Columbia.  He and his husband moved to Jersey City in 2011 when they fell in love with our fair city and dedicated themselves to growing the businesses and community locally. For the past 20 years, he has been advancing equal rights and protections for the LGBT community and minorities as well as supporting those affected by mental illness and alcoholism. 

 

Michael has given voice to these causes in Jersey City by organizing gatherings to draw attention to important causes including a memorial vigil for the Orlando Shooting and a Donald Trump protest. Michael tell us that events like the Monday night’s rally give activists and organizations a chance to reach the masses and show the emotion of the residents of Jersey City.

 

“It's particularly important in Jersey City because of our diversity.  I see the difficulties that face the different wards in our city; we have to continue to blur the dividing lines and come together on unifying issues.” He pointed out, “There is a movement happening. The most radical thing we can do is be our authentic selves and not turn a cheek to what is happening in our country and our own community. We can't afford to turn a blind eye anymore and we have to take moral responsibility for the tragedies that are occurring within our own communities.”

 

When I walked towards the rally, I could hear the crowd, but it was not overwhelming.  As I walked closer to the center of the protest, I became part of an intimate experience; the subject matter was personal. I was enveloped in a steady hum of harmony. We raised our voices in excitement, in unison, and in resistance. Jersey City was not ready to burn itself to the ground in protest. We were organized, focused;

we were ready to fight.

Photo provided by Jennifer Brown Photo at @jbrophoto

 

We were armed with words, snarky picket signs, and wrapped in love. We listened to esteemed community members talk about the importance of diversity in a town like Jersey City.

 

Since November 9th, when we all hung our heads low and resigned ourselves to Trump’s America, I was never certain about our future. As one of the speakers reminded me the waters of Lady Liberty lap the shores of Jersey City. Millions of immigrants have come through our city on a way to a better life.

 

Without our immigrant community, we would not have the culture that electrifies our streets with striking murals, exotic foods, and eye-catching goods from all over the world. Just steps out of Journal Square, you’ll stumble upon Little India, where the smell of curry spices waft through the air, fighting with the aroma of White Castle. And on the other side of The Square you will find many Filipino bakeries. When driving through Jersey City you’ll want to pull over to take photos of the murals lining our streets and roads with positive messages of community. In the Heights, you’ll find anything from hole-in-the-wall Dominican food to dime-a-dozen pizzerias. And throughout the city you find barbershops that are the watering holes connecting generations.

 

One of the signs that resonated with me during the march was a neon-green sign with thick black letters, “End White Silence.” It hit home because I am too often aware of my whiteness in Jersey City. Together with all the colors of the rainbow we joined together - holding signs, chanting, roaring and raising our fists for all to see. We came because we know that we are not privileged without warrant. All of us come from immigrants. Some of us have to trace it back to the revolutionary war. Some of us have to trace it back down to a different part of town.

 

Photo provided by @fullmetalphotography

 

Jersey City is special to me. It has watched my family grow for generations. My great grandfather immigrated to the United States from Sicily early in the 20th century, buying a three-family home off Communipaw Ave. My grandfather was born in Jersey City Hospital and later my father was born in the same institution, later to be renamed The Jersey City Medical Center.

 

We often forget that one hundred years ago, the Italians and the Irish, two of the largest immigrant groups at the time in United States were painted as terrorists, mobsters, delinquents and thugs. My father told me he used to get bullied by the neighborhood kids. Once, when he was six, a group of older boys took him and his cousin’s money for the movies. They lived 14 people to one house and there were no bedrooms for the children. They brushed their teeth in the kitchen sink.

 

We all come from immigrants. In our bloodline is the struggle to make it in America. On Monday January 30th, I stood in solidarity with over one thousand residents. The rally opened my eyes and instilled hope in the spirit of America. Donald Trump can sign as many executive orders as he wants because as long as there are communities of strong diversity willing to stand next to our neighbor, we have nothing to fear.  “Jersey City is at the vanguard of liberty.”

 

Photo provided by @fullmetalphotography

 

Throughout the rally, I chanted, I basked in the feeling of togetherness; I held my fist high with my neighbors and I went home with a renewed since of hope for the next four years. I hopped on the JSQ-bound Path at Grove Street after the protest had ended. I joined the solemn commuters, seemingly unaware of the thousands that just marched above.

 

When I got off the Path at Journal Square a woman halted me. She pulled me aside while casting a wary eye on a gentleman walking away from us. “Just so you know some man was taking photos of you on the train. I saw him focus and take photos of you. It’s weird. He has a wedding ring on.” When she finally dubbed it safe for me to leave, we parted with saying, “Sister love! We need to stick together and support each other.”

 

It was a coincidental allegory for the night. Bad people exist. Ill intentions have the potential for great harm. Jersey City though, Jersey City has each other’s backs.

 

This piece was written by our contributor Melissa Vitale.

To learn about our contributors check out our ABOUT page.

 

 

 

 

 

 Photo provided by @fullmetalphotography

 

 

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