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UNITED STATES — On Friday, President Trump signed an Executive Order, which put a 120 day freeze on immigration from 7 countries. While the Department of Homeland Security initially interpreted the Executive Order as not applicable to persons from those 7 countries who already possessed a Green Card or a temporary VISA, the White House quickly clarified they, too, were included in the travel ban.

Word quickly spread that families had been detained at airports. Spouses were reportedly taken off planes and employees stranded overseas while on business trips.

On Friday evening, hundreds of pro bono attorneys headed to airports to seek the release of persons detained due to enforcement of the new Executive Order. By Saturday morning, the ACLU had received almost $20 million in online donations, which far exceeds the average $4 million that the organization receives in an entire year. Then, by Saturday afternoon, spontaneous protests were breaking out across the nation. The Wild Hunt spoke with several Pagans who took part in the weekend protests.

District of Columbia

David Salisbury had looked for a protest to attend on Friday night, but wasn’t able to find one. Then he searched Facebook Events and noticed a rally at The White House scheduled for Saturday afternoon and he joined in. The rally lasted for an hour and then turned into a march.

[Courtesy D. Salisbury]

[Courtesy D. Salisbury]

TWH: Why did you go?

David Salisbury: This just seems like a very common sense thing for decent people to speak out about. As a lover of American history, I find any attempt to ostracize and banish ethnic and religious minorities deeply troubling. History’s shown us that it never ends well, and it never will. I’m also learning more about families who are separated from each other or trapped in situations of terror and it’s all so heartbreaking.

TWH: What did you experience while there?

David Salisbury: The volume of people who showed up was very impressive. For many thousands to come out for something organized so quickly, that was exciting to see. I also noticed that despite the dreadful reasons we were there for, people seemed to be in good spirits, like we were all just excited to see such a big show of solidarity in our city.

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Minneapolis/St Paul

On Saturday, Tasha Rose received a message from a friend asking if she wanted to go to the protest. Tasha said 15 minutes later they were on their way to the Minneapolis/Paul International Airport with markers and poster board in hand.

[Courtesy T. Rose]

[Courtesy T. Rose]

TWH: Why did you go?

Tasha Rose: I went because the values I have and the values that this nation has do not have room for religious bigotry or irrational and reactionary behavior based on events that happened 15 years ago. There is no room for racism or white supremacy. There is, however, room for families fleeing violence.

TWH: What did you experience while there?

Tasha Rose: It was pretty light-hearted and happy as we welcomed international arrivals. No protesters were angry or rude. We did experience some people arriving who were not happy we were there, but there were more arrivals who started chanting with us or giving up thumbs up or other encouragement. It was pretty annoying when the person organizing told us that the police asked us to not chant. Protest, but don’t chant. People got a little annoyed at the “free speech zone” threats. At the end we were told we had 15 minutes of allowed time left. Nancy and I left at that point. Overall I was glad to have gone. It was spontaneous and there was no permit and the organizer was new at it so there wasn’t a huge turn out, but people turned out. That was the important part.

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Elysia Gallo heard about Saturday’s protest at the Minneapolis/St Paul International Airport through a post on Facebook from the group Stand Up Minnesota.

Elysia Gallo (far left) at Minneapolis Airport protest [Photo Credit: Laura Eash]

Elysia Gallo (far left) at Minneapolis Airport protest [Photo Credit: Laura Eash]

TWH: Why did you go?

Elysia Gallo: Big picture: because I believe this presidential order is simply unconstitutional. In addition, it was poorly thought out and executed, with no language on exceptions for people who are permanent residents, students, or on other types of work or study visas. A blanket ban like this accomplishes nothing but chaos, to borrow a term from Sen. Klobuchar.

On a more personal level, I strongly support immigrants. I’ve volunteered for the International Institute of Minnesota since I was a child and was raised valuing cultures different from my own. My father was a refugee immigrant, and my husband was an immigrant. Both are citizens now, and neither is Muslim, so my family is not personally threatened, but thousands of Minnesota families are. All day on Facebook I saw stories of friends and friends of friends who were directly impacted, stranded, or separated. This is not what America is about. Although I do not believe Trump’s administration will be swayed by popular opinion or protests in the least, I still couldn’t sit idly by and condone the executive action with my silence.

TWH: What did you experience while there?

Elysia Gallo: I got to the protest late, but even after I arrived more and more people joined us. We were told not to block the walkway or we’d be removed. Many people held signs. There was some chanting and some singing. I think passengers disembarking were more alarmed by the chanting (it can be jarring and one doesn’t know if one is safe or not), but while singing many passengers sang along as they exited or gave us the thumbs up. The gathering did not have a permit, and the organizer negotiated with an airport security officer that we could be there for one hour before we needed to move to the “designated free speech zone.” Therefore, at the end of the hour, we peacefully left en masse. I did see on Facebook, however, that more latecomers arrived after we left and took up the same position and continued the efforts.

One final comment, the organizers had said several international flights were landing in that time frame on Facebook – they said London, Frankfurt, Mexico, and Liberia. However, the Star Tribune reported that the only international arrival to the terminal at this time was a flight from Cancun! If that’s the case, then I wish the organizers had been more on the ball. We also are not or were not aware whether there were any detentions at our airport, unlike many of the other protesting airports. So was it worth it? I think just to take a stand against fascism, yes. But the impact was definitely lessened.

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Courtney Weber was in Minneapolis due to a speaking engagement and was scheduled to fly back home on Sunday. She saw a friend post on Facebook about protests at the Minneapolis airport and decided to go to the airport early so she could take part before her flight left.

TWH: Why did you go?

Courtney Weber-Hoover: I am sickened and saddened by the news of refugees, green card-holding citizens, and others turned away at the border. I’m reading about researchers sent back, Syrian families refused entry after being approved. My Ancestors were immigrants. I have Muslim friends and colleagues. This ban is against the principals of Love and Trust that I, as a Witch, hold dear.

TWH: What did you experience while there?

Courtney Weber-Hoover: It was peaceful, but it was serious. When I was on the elevator, a man asked me if I were heading to the protest. I said yes. He said, “Thank you. This is my wife–she is Iranian. She is a legal citizen and a flight attendant. She is having trouble working right now.” His wife said, “I can’t take international work at the moment.” She was in tears and then, so was I.

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San Francisco

Christina Gargiullo’s partner heard about the protest forming at the San Francisco airport on Indivisible East Bay Facebook page. She attended rallies on both Saturday and Sunday.

[Courtesy C. Gargiullo]

[Courtesy C. Gargiullo]

TWH: Why did you go?

Christine Gargiullo: I’m an interfaith chaplain, and I spent my teenage years as a member of a minority religion in the South. I’m passionate about protecting religious freedoms in general and fighting Islamaphobia in particular.  Islam is as peaceful a religion as Christianity–which is to say they are the 1st and 2nd largest religions among humans in the world.  Humans have the capacity for cruelty and bloody conflict and, I have faith, far greater capacity for peace and compassion. I find it deplorable and hypocritical to judge the Muslim 23% of the world’s population by the actions of a sect of extremists. The racist component cannot be overlooked either: most Muslims are people of color.

If that weren’t enough–and it is–I know that if we allow explicit religious prejudice to become law in this country, in any form, then all minority religious communities are at risk. I am one of many concerned by the Nazi echoes in Trump’s campaign talk about keeping a government registry of a specific minority religion scapegoated as a public safety threat in a time of sociopolitical unrest.

It’s not abstract for me. I’ve got a coworker and friend from one of the banned countries, and I spent some time on the weekend supporting her through her fear for her aging parents overseas–who are in danger of losing their green cards & being separated from the rest of the family indefinitely if the ban is not lifted.

TWH: What did you experience while there?

Christine Gargiullo: The protest honestly started for me while I was BART’ing on the way over with my partner and a fellow clergy member of Come As You Are Coven, with people checking on each other in the train, sharing Lawyer’s Guild phone numbers in case of detention, and sharing stories of anger, fear, and hope. Saturday we were at the airport for nine hours, and the energy was amazing and sustained the whole time. I kept an eye on the police throughout the day and night, and I’m pleased to report that they appeared ready for action should things get ugly but stayed back, relaxed and chatting, while we demonstrated peacefully.

Around 6 pm, people started circulating food among the crowd–first random things that individuals had brought, then stacks of pizzas and crates of granola bars and water bottles that I’m told were donated by people too distant to protest themselves. The atmosphere was one of fierce determination and community. I found out later that a swell of cheering around 9:30 pm indicated the announcement of the first San Francisco detainee released. Announcements via People’s Mike didn’t carry reliably to the back of the crowd and, at the time, my little crew only caught that all detainees in Chicago had been released.

When we left at 1:30 pm in the morning the protest was still going strong, with some people pulling out pillows to bunk down, and most others rocking out with protest songs alongside an honest-to-Goddess brass band.

After some good sleep and a little preparation, I returned on Sunday late afternoon with my sister, my violin, and lyrics handouts for “We Shall Overcome” and “This Land Is Our Land.”  The acoustics were bad, so I had limited immediate feedback, but my sister was on the other side of the terminal while I was playing. She says she could hear the crowd singing with me from over there.  At one point a drummer and a tamborine player joined me. When I put the violin down the chanting started again, loud, and fierce. I’m fortunate to have been there when we got news that the fifth and final detainee at our airport had been released. The crowd erupted in elated cheers. I know the fight is just beginning–and also I’m proud and honored to have been part of this small victory.

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There has been confusion, much of it caused by conflicting statements from White House officials, on how the Executive Order is currently being interpreted. The order bars the entry of any refugee who is awaiting resettlement in the U.S. for the next 120 days. It also bans persons from 7 countries (Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Libya, and Yemen) from entering the U.S.

On Saturday, this was enforced on persons who are permanent residents of the U.S., also known as green card holders. By Sunday, after judges in four U.S. cities ruled against detaining permanent residents at airports and ordered their immediate release, the White House appeared to be changing its stance. Rince Preibus, on Meet the Press, said the order wouldn’t affect permanent residents going forward.  And, on Sunday evening, the Department of Homeland Security said all permanent residents would be allowed immediate entry to the U.S., except in cases where information suggested that a specific person was a national security threat.

However, on Monday, the president fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates, who had previously stated that she would not enforce the executive order on immigration. More legal challenges to the order are expected to be filed and due to the complex nature of presidential authority on immigration law, those challenges are expected to be taken up by the Supreme Court of The United States.