With the federal courthouse to the east and Portland City Hall to the west, hundreds gathered in the muddy grass of Terry Schrunk Plaza to protest President Donald Trump’s sweeping executive order aimed at stopping travelers from seven majority Muslim countries.
“Say it loud, say it clear, Muslims are welcome here!” shouted the crowd, under the direction of D Pei Wu of Portland Jobs With Justice. “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here!”
Signs in the crowd reflected similar sentiments, with messages like “No Wall, No Ban” and “Refugees Welcome.”
Some speakers tried to convey how scared people in their communities are feeling.
“One of the things that I’m struck by is that even going to the grocery store is a scary thing when you are being targeted by the president of the United States,” said Raahi Reddy, a board member of the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon.
Reddy, who is of South Asian descent, told the crowd about her experience in the weeks after the 9/11 terror attacks, when her friends had to coax her out of her house and agree to accompany her to the store.
Speakers often framed the protest in terms that supporters could act upon. Amina Rahman, a union organizer and a Muslim, told the crowd they should look to act at a very local — even a personal — level.
“Resistance comes in our everyday relationships — check in on your neighbors,” Rahman told the crowd. “Check in on your Muslim communities, check in with the local mosques, the local center and offer your privileged bodies to protect theirs.”
Others directed their messages at the leaders in Washington, D.C. U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley sent a representative who pledged the Oregon Democrat would continue to oppose Trump policies such as the travel restrictions. Portland Commissioner Nick Fish recalled meeting Khizr Khan, the Gold Star father who spoke at the Democratic National Convention and drew criticism from Trump, then the GOP nominee.
Leaders of Portland’s Iraqi and Somali communities spoke out as well. Baher Butti with the Iraqi Community of Oregon compared the Trump policies to the dictatorship he left behind under Saddam Hussein. Butti also talked about family members who were still trying to leave the instability of Iraq but would face an uphill climb under Trump’s policies. Although most aspects of Trump’s executive order are limited to 90 or 120 days, many of the president’s critics suspect the restrictions could be extended.
“Please know that this is not going to be the last — we are going to fight hard, we will be victorious,” said Kayse Jama, a Somali-born Portlander and leader of the organizing group Unite Oregon.