I Am A Muslim Too rally in Times Square: Protesters gather against travel ban

The “Today, I Am A Muslim Too” rally draws New Yorkers to Times Square on Feb. 19, 2017, with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons among the event’s hosts. Photo Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Mandel Ngan

About 1,000 protesters crowded two full blocks in Times Square on Sunday in a show of solidarity with the city’s Muslim community. The Today, I Am A Muslim Too rally, co-hosted by music mogul Russell Simmons, took over the Crossroads of the World.

Simmons took to the stage, on the corner of 48th Street and Broadway, against the backdrop of an American flag, and offered a summary of the purpose of the event.

“We are here today to show middle America our beautiful signs and, through our beautiful actions and intention, that they have been misled,” Simmons said, underneath clear blue skies on a day with temperatures in the 60s.

“We are here unified because of Donald Trump,” he said. “We want to thank him for bringing us together.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio encouraged protesters to continue to voice their beliefs and concerns.

“This is about defending everything the country has always been about,” he said. “And remember: An election dos not change who we are as Americans. An election does not change our values. We will stand up and speak out on our values.”

“We actually find a way to make it work in NYC,” de Blasio said. “The message is one of solidarity.”

A message of unity connected many of the speakers, with the Rev. N. J. L’Heureux Jr., of the Queens Federation of Churches, noting that, “We must not fear in the face of oppression. We must work together and stand solidly together.” 

The nation, he said, is stronger than President Donald Trump.

Another of the event’s organizers, Imam Shamsi Ali, told those gathered that “this is what democracy looks like.”

Ali, who is the spiritual leader of the Jamaica Muslim Center and president of the Nusantara Foundation, made it clear that the rally was not just for those of Muslim faith.

“This rally today is for America. Do you know why? Because any harm that happens to the Muslim community, which is an integral part of this nation, is harm (upon) all Americans.” 

The protest, organized Rabbi Marc Schneier’s Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, was planned in response to Trump’s executive order barring travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries for 90 days. Despite recent legal challenges to the travel ban, the president has promised a revised version as early as this week.

Echoes of Nazi Germany reverberated as Schneier spoke of Jews who wanted “to come to these blessed shores” but were denied entry. “Never again,” he said. 

The crowd, holding signs both professional and handcrafted, chanted “not my president” and “hey hey, ho ho, Donald Trump has got to go.” 

Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association of New York, addressed New Yorkers in particular, asking people citywide to commit to “being part of the true never-again generation.”

“We will not be intimidated, we will not be silenced,” she said. “Stay fierce, stand tall, keep your shoulders back and every single day be blessed that you were chosen to be a New Yorker.” 

Rice Cassidy, a 58-year-old from Stapleton Heights, Staten Island, said she came to the rally to show the administration that people are against its policies. 

“We’re just all one people, and we have to show the GOP and the administration that there are more of us than them,” said Cassidy, an international college guidance counselor. “America is already great. The resistance is real.” 

Harlem resident Randi Klein proudly held a sign with a middle finger and an arrow pointing at it. The text: “Vet this.” 

“What’s happening with our government requires that people take a moral, an ethical stand for people who can’t stand for themselves,” Klein, 45, said. “This is what democracy is all about, doing it the right way.”

Klein said she has been going to every protest she can in the city. 

“Being out here, being present means something,” she said. “You come, you show up, you’re peaceful, but you’re loud.”  

Sue Magasich had a longer commute to Times Square: She and her sister rode on a bus for some two hours Sunday morning from outside of Allentown, Pennsylvania. After the protest ends, they plan to make the trek back home.

“I think it’s important that people realize that (people) coming into this country just want a better life,” Magasich, 45, said. “I don’t want to be an armchair protester anymore.” 

Sunday’s rally wasn’t the first installment of “I Am A Muslim Too.” According to Schneier, the original rally in March 2010, also held in Times Square, drew more than 5,000 people.

With Polly Higgins

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