Two hours after that run, a march and rally organized by doctoral student Heba Gowayed and a group of grassroots activists filled the streets, traveling from Wilbur Cross School in East Rock to the New Haven Green downtown.
Before the march, there was the run. A little before 10 a.m. Sunday, IRIS Executive Director Chris George welcomed a group of over 2,500 runners—that’s more than twice last year’s registration of 1,100—to the starting line. He said several resettled refugee families would be running alongside those who had considered themselves “American” for years. It was time to get behind them, he said, for the long haul.
“It’s been a rough ten days,” George said, referring to President Donald Trump’s executive order barring entry to the U.S. from seven Muslim nations. “Refugee resettlement needs strong support from all branches of Connecticut.”
“Thank you for running for refugees, but thank you for running for America,” said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who remained at the start line for hours to march with protesters after the race. “You are running today for the heart and soul of America. You are showing the world that America’s heart is bigger than some people in Washington think it is ... that America welcomes refugees because they have helped to make America great. We can make it greater if we open our arms to the refugees who are fleeing violence and persecution.”
Then runners were off, pounding the pavement as they passed Wilbur Cross, up the gentle slope of East Rock towards the summit, and back down again in a loop. Many came in partial or full costume as the statue of liberty; others proudly raised signs in English and Arabic that voiced support for refugees.
One of those runners was Joseph (who asked that his full name not be used). He arrived in New Haven with his wife and three children three months ago, fleeing violence in Congo.
“Today, we are here, we stand on the constitution, with America, because the future of the nation, of the world, is in danger.” he said. “You have to start here from the ground up—to start your life over again. But we feel safe, and we love this country.”
“You cannot divide us up by country,” he added, referring to the travel ban on majority-Muslim countries that President Donald Trump has put into place. “Refugees are refugees.”
The race concentrated on that fact. Signposts announced how to say “welcome” in Arabic, Pashto, and Farsi dotting the upward climb. Statistics—that 6 in 10 Syrian refugees have encountered extreme violence at home; that refugees are the most likely to open small businesses—marked the way down. A drum circle played on festively at the two mile mark, urging runners on.
A small smorgasbord and trophy ceremony for winners—New Haven’s Raphael Sarfati in first and Jacob Zonderman of Orange in second—in Wilbur Cross’ gymnasium lent a celebratory feel to the morning’s activities, for which several people had turned out feeling somber.
“This was really important to us,” said Valery Horsely, whose team for Action Together CT led the run’s fundraising charge, clocking in at over $12,000.
This Is What America Looks Like!
At noon, runners, organizers and activists close to the park had another task before them: march the mile and a half from Wilbur Cross to the New Haven Green, where there would be an hour-long rally.
Chaperoned by New Haven cops, thousands of marchers filled the streets of East Rock, spanning the length of almost four blocks as they made their way downtown. The front of the line—a group comprising George, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, U.S. Sen. Blumenthal, and a clump of protesters holding a banner that read “Refugees Welcome”—offered up a cheer. The rest of the crowd picked it up, waves of “Show Me What America Looks Like/This Is What America Looks Like!” and “No Hate/No Fear/Refugees are welcome here!” echoing through the crowd.
Turning down Trumbull Street and again down Temple, the group made its way to the Green, where over 3,500 had gathered to hear three refugees tell their stories, in their own words.
Three women took the stage to speak in Arabic, with Gowayed translating into English. Each, surrounded by family and friends, said they were telling their stories for a specific reason: to show the American government how little there was to fear from refugees, who left their countries of origin when there was truly no hope.
One woman, Azhar Ahmed, told the crowd that she had arrived in New Haven a year ago from South Sudan, where she and her family were forced to flee persecution in the Nuba Mountains, subject to attack from rebels fighting the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). It was, she said, “a land of mines, planes, wild animals.” They had made the trek to Khartoum, where she “died a million times a day,” stigmatized by her place of birth. She fled to Egypt, where she was persecuted by the government of Hosni Mubarak and watched a 2005 massacre in Mustapha Mahmoud Park. When she received note that she and her children could make safe passage as refugees to the U.S., she said she felt like she was dreaming.
“I thought it was the last journey I would make in search of peace,” she said. “Until Jan. 20 2017, I realized my search was not over yet. My hopes and dreams had evaporated ... and now I must wake up from my dream, and look for security once again.”
Another, Rawan (who asked that only her first name be used), began her speech with “As-Salaam-Alaikum,” the Arabic greeting for peace. She said she wished to show politicians, legislators, and even the president that she carries with her only compassion for fellow Americans.
A refugee from Syria, she has been in New Haven for almost two years. Her son, a special-needs student in the West Haven schools, has gotten the help that he desperately needed back home. Her older daughter was lucky enough to get a scholarship to a boarding school in Vermont, and is now learning more than she could have in Syria, Rawan said. Her friend’s young daughter got a cochlear implant. Another colleague, a father of four who has cancer, has been able to get lifesaving treatment.
Then Trump issued his executive order, and she watched her children become afraid again. Her friend Afifa, whose daughter was at a refugee camp in Jordan, didn’t know if she would ever make it over to see her mother again.
“People were settling into their lives until President Trump issued his decision against refugees,” she said. “This has returned us to a state of fear and anxiety for the future ... fear that families who are affected will not make it. A am a Syrian, a Muslim, and I wear the hijab—but I am also a human.”
A third woman, an Iraqi refugee named Bushra Mahdi, said she had been physically ill since the election, ending up in the emergency room last week with anxiety over Trump’s executive order.
Several elected officials including DeLauro, Blumenthal, New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, and State Sen. Gary Winfield, also gave short speeches of encouragement and support as they took the stage. Picking up on Sen. Blumenthal’s statement that “We are a nation of immigrants, and we will win this fight,” and DeLauro’s that “we will not cower in fear” in the face of an unconstitutional ban, Harp told the crowd that New Haven will remain a sanctuary city, welcoming immigrants and refugees.
“We know that what it takes to make this country what it says it is—a place of freedom—that you must stand up and you must fight,” she said. “We demand that this country be what it says that it is. That it is tolerant. That it believes in religious freedom. That it supports the people who come here with a dream.”
“I will tell you that we, in my background, did not come as immigrants willingly,” she added. “But we helped build this country ... I stand with you because I stand for the America that we all believe in. And I think what we’ll have to do for the next four years is to stand up. And don’t get tired, because this is not over yet.”
Vietnamese refugee Trinh Truony (pictured), a Yale undergraduate who became an American citizen four years ago and is now working towards becoming a civil rights lawyer, echoed that sentiment.
“We need to stop defining by race, class, religion, immigration status and country of origin,” she said. “We need to tell our politicians: don’t be afraid of refugees. Be afraid of the people who made them refugees.”
As the crowd launched into another cheer of “Show me what New Haven looks like! This is what New Haven looks like!” many attendees shivering in the cold, George took the stage for a final hurrah, and call to action.
“The race this morning was a 5k,” he said. “The fight for social justice is a marathon. I’m honored to be running it with all of you.”
The New Haven Independent was live on Facebook for most of the rally. To check it out, visit the NHI’s Facebook page.
I was in the green with my pussyhat and my poster. For once, we got press coverage and a youtube video. I applaud everyone there and also the judges and others who defied Trump. We are a nation of immigrants and must continue to rescue our fellow human beings.
As far as the politicians, I want to see some action not just speeches. Do they have the guts to stick their necks out and fight for justice. Sat. “little” people got knocked down by police and troopers with dogs and gas for defending immigration in the same town.
posted by: K Hinds on February 6, 2017 8:07am
Wonderful wrap-up of a special event in New Haven. As one sign said during the walk up East Rock—“New Haven is living up to its name.” It’s really important that people show up, stand up, and speak out—and this was a beautiful day. Thanks, Lucy, for such great coverage!
The travel ban is NOT a “Muslim ban”. 10 percent of the population of Syria is Christian, some 2.2 million people. Yet in Fiscal Year 2016 Pres. Obama admitted more than 12,000 Muslim refugees from Syria, but fewer than 100 Christian refugees from the same country. Thus, Christians only made up about one-half of one percent of Syrian refugees admitted that year—despite making up 10 percent of the Syrian population. “6 in 10 Syrian refugees have encountered extreme violence at home”—including Syrian Christians, who have had most of their churches destroyed. So why is no one protesting THAT apparent “religious ban”? https://stream.org/lets-real-obama-barred-syrian-christian-refugees/ The TEMPORARY travel ban “establishes a process to develop new vetting and mechanisms to ensure those coming into America love and support our people. That they have good intentions.” [Excerpt of Pres. Trump’s Feb. 3 weekly address: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/02/03/president-trumps-weekly-address ]. The 7 countries affected by the ban were identified by the OBAMA administration as being the greatest threats via terrorism. So the TEMPORARY order by Pres. Trump merely carried through on what Pres. Obama identified—but then failed to act upon. However, careerist politicians like Sen. Blumenthal a Rep. DeLauro never miss an opportunity to twist facts for political gain. Perhaps that’s why a NON-politician now occupies the White House. A final note: I have immediate neighbors who are Muslims from Sudan, as well as Morocco and Algeria. They speak Arabic to each other, English (or French) to me. They are great neighbors: friendly, industrious, employed—and now are US citizens. I will welcome more of the same, as soon as a more secure vetting process is in place, which better ensures US safety. And I don’t need to join in a deliberately-misleading, politically-motivated protest to tell you that.
posted by: Pat from Westville on February 6, 2017 9:21am
@ Christopher Schaefer
What insufficiently vetted refugees have been responsible for terrorist attacks in the US? As I recall, the Orlando massacre was the doing of an American-born son of Afghan immigrants, the San Bernardino one due to a couple, the man again the American-born son of Arab immigrants (forget which country) and the wife from I think Saudi Arabia entering on a visa to marry an American citizen.
As for the current vetting process, I’d like to remind folks that the Department of Homeland Security was set up by George W. Bush in the wake of 9/11 and already had more than 5 year’s experience therein when the Obama administration inherited it. Another commenter to a post of mine to another NHI story used the fact that my link to the DHS web site had the Obama name embedded in the URL discredit the current vetting process.
posted by: robn on February 6, 2017 9:22am
Give it a rest Schaefer. We all know you hate Rep DeLauro.
On the subject of the “aternative facts” that you Trump supporters feed upon, your claim that Obama discriminated against Syrian Christians is completely false. The simple answer is that fewer Christians applied for asylum.
jim1: I also marched and was on the Green for yesterday’s event. It was a fine occasion, as you say. And I agree that we will need to be vigilant in attention to what our politicians actually do, though local Democrats in Congress—certainly Rosa DeLauro, Chris Murphy, and Dick Blumenthal—have not rested content with pious speeches. But if you’re referring to Saturday’s late afternoon protesters on Route 34 in New Haven when you write, “Sat. ‘little’ people got knocked down by police and troopers with dogs and gas for defending immigration in the same town,” I deeply disagree. The fact that they were motivated by concern for just immigration policy doesn’t amount to a legal, political, or ethical defense of what they did in blocking northbound traffic on Rte 34. The police were not hassling them until they chose to break the law. As a matter of politics, it was a stupid move on the protesters’ part. How did their action (in shutting down Rte 34 north) advance the cause of building public support for justice for refugees and immigrants? Instead of smartly targeting protest action, all they did was provide those who don’t see anything wrong with Trump’s executive order with a reason to dismiss those of us who are challenging it. Whom does that help? Trump and his supporters. Independent of law and politics, what they did was wrong, as they blocked a route used by ambulances heading to YNH Hospital. The ill or injured should not be treated as ethically acceptable “collateral” damage by those who claim to be demonstrating in the name of compassion. (What would any of us think if it were a member of our family in the back of an ambulance slowed or blocked by such efforts?) The movement needs clear thinking as well as moral passion.
Christopher Schaefer, we should probably just institute a ban against right-wing white Christians, since they’re the ones who murder the most people. Dylan Roof? The guy who killed those people in a Quebec?
White Christian nationalists are much more dangerous to US citizens than anyone from the no-longer-banned seven countries, but I guess it doesn’t count since Trump doesn’t tweet about it.
posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 6, 2017 10:21am
Thank you to the marchers and thank you to the Independent for the story and the photos of peaceful crowds and creative artwork and posters. The two little girls with the simple, clear, and age-appropriate messages on their pink signs say it all.
posted by: accountability on February 6, 2017 12:39pm
Gee thanks Christopher Schaefer.
Please explain the actual problem with the current vetting process for refugees, which takes 12-18 months, involves multiple interviews and background checks, and has yielded exactly zero attacks on US soil by refugees from these countries. Except, of course, for the hellish inferno of the Bowling Green massacre. What, specifically, aren’t the agencies responsible for screening refugees doing that they should be doing?
Please desist with the big fat lie that Obama banned Christian refuges. It just ain’t true. Looking at all refugees, the Obama Administration admitted more Christian refugees than any other religious affiliation over the past 8 years. It’s true that last year was the first year that the US admitted more Mulsim refugees than Christians—but just barely. 44% of all refugees to the US last year were still self-identified Christians, compared to 46% who were Mulsims.
It’s true that 99% of refugees admitted from Syria were Muslim, and only 1% Christian, while Christians make up 5% of the country’s population. It’s also true that Christians in Syria have faced persecution for their religious beliefs—but that persecution has been primarily at the hands of extremist non-state actors. You, know, like our good “moderate” friends from al-Qaeda.
It’s an explicit part of the political strategy of the Assad regime to position itself as secular and tolerant, so in government-controlled areas, Christians are afforded at least some measure of protection against persecution on the basis of their religious beliefs, although individuals face the same extreme repression for their political beliefs as those of other faiths.
You haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about.
posted by: Bill Saunders on February 6, 2017 1:23pm
Disparage Christopher Schaefer’s opinion all you want—love it or hate it, he at least has the balls to use his own name when posting.
posted by: Kevin McCarthy on February 6, 2017 3:08pm
Chrstopher Schaefer, I’m not going to dispute your initial point. But many of the refugees in New Haven, particularly those from Congo, are Christian.
posted by: THREEFIFTHS on February 6, 2017 7:51pm
posted by: Bill Saunders on February 6, 2017 12:23pm
Disparage Christopher Schaefer’s opinion all you want—love it or hate it, he at least has the balls to use his own name when posting.
Next time I see you in the edge of the woods.I will show you my name on my drivers-license.
posted by: 17-25 on February 6, 2017 8:44pm
Thank you Chrstopher Schaefer for your voice of reason. The informed, overwhelming majority of this country share our views. The ban will stand, the protesters will stomp and Trump will still be our president.
Thank you, Bill Saunders. I’ve found that using my real name requires me to pause before hitting that submit button. It also tends to keep me more civil & from resorting to ad hominem attacks against other commenters, such as those directed towards me (“Stop lying”, “You haven’t the faintest idea what you’re talking about”). It’s not always successful, mind you. If I’m going to include statistics, I at least try to give the link that they came from. Admittedly, this doesn’t always prove anything, because one can support virtually any opinion with a link. Even a site called FactChecker has had its “facts” debunked at times. @ robn: I am not a “Trump supporter”; I disagree with many of his ideas, e.g. I think The Wall is ridiculous. I even mocked it in my political campaign spoof; see number 24: https://christopherschaefer4congress.com/ . Nevertheless, I simply don’t have a problem with a 90-day suspension of refugee admissions. This is a new administration & it’s reasonable to expect a new President, from a different party than his predecessor, to want to re-assess the refugee program—and to start that re-assessment with those countries identified as threats by the previous administration. I don’t’ “hate” DeLauro, but I certainly dislike her and what, for me, she represents: a careerist politician who deliberately and stridently works to increase the polarization of voters along ideological lines. DeLauro is a master of this. Such techniques—engaged in by both Dems & GOP—ensures an incumbent’s perpetual re-election & the growing dysfunction of Congress, so that such careerists can abuse their elected office for personal gain. Go to http://www.legistorm.com and look up the financial disclosure of ANY Senator or Representative, Dem or GOP, who has been in office for more than 2 terms. You’ll soon discover that getting elected to Congress is like winning the lottery. DeLauro is the poster child for Term Limits. I hate no one.
posted by: robn on February 7, 2017 8:20am
You wrote that Obama instated a ban on Christian refugees. That’s a lie.
You wrote that Trumps ban is to increase security. That’s a lie. (The current vetting process is immensely complex and besides, The biggest recent terrorist acts in this country were perpetrated by US born (mostly white male) citizens. Dylann Roof, Adam Lanza,etc)
posted by: 1644 on February 7, 2017 9:53am
Pat from Westville: The Boston bombers were admitted as refugees. Yes, as children, but their mother was supportive of terror. They themselves appear to have become “radicalized” after overseas travel. The same seems true of others, including many of the European terrorists and the San Bernadino killer. So, while DHS has said that Trumps’s order was not meant to apply to green card holders or US citizens, perhaps it should have. Many immigrants, even in the first generation, seem to not fully embrace this country, but maintain ties, and even citizenship in another country. Several acts of terror, here and in Europe, have been committed by naturalized or first generation native citizens after they traveled overseas.
posted by: JPArete on February 7, 2017 10:55am
Pat from Westville, you are SO right! You just need to take your reasoning to the logically consistent conclusions it requires. Let’s recall those nine innocent Americans gunned down in a Charleston, South Carolina church in June 2015. The refugee responsible — oh wait, no, it was a native-born American white male citizen who killed nine people gathered for prayer! Well, yeah, but what about the truck bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City in April 1995? After all, that horrific event, which took 169 American lives (and injured 675) — the worst terrorist toll in US history prior to 9/11 — was the work of people with exotic, Muslim-sounding names: Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. Hmmm…nope, white native-born American citizens. So how about, Pat? Will you join me in calling for refusing re-entry to the U.S. to any native-born, white American males? After all, we have to be safe! (And I haven’t event mentioned all the cases of white males carrying out mass shootings in US schools.) Be bold in the name of fear, Pat!
posted by: robn on February 7, 2017 1:56pm
After typing out this list, nothing will ever fill me with as much terror as being in a room full of middle aged white guys.
Sept. 15, 1999 - 7 killed, 7 injured: Fort Worth Larry Gene Ashbrook – 40-something white guy
July 29, 1999 - 9 killed, 12 injured: Atlanta Mark Orrin Barton – 40-something white guy
April 20, 1999 - 13 killed, 24 injured: Columbine, Colo. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold – teenage white guys
March 24, 1998 - 5 killed, 10 injured: Jonesboro, Ark. Mitchell Johnson and Andrew Golden – middle school white guys
posted by: robn on February 7, 2017 2:01pm
(cont) Dec. 7, 1993 - 6 killed, 19 injured: Garden City, N.Y. Colin Ferguson – 30-something african american
July 1, 1993 - 8 killed, 6 injured: San Francisco Gian Luigi Ferri – 50-something white guy
May 1, 1992 - 4 killed, 10 wounded: Olivehurst, Calif. Eric Houston – 20-something white guy
Nov. 1, 1991 - 4 killed, 2 injured: Iowa City, Iowa Gang Lu – 20-something resident chinese
Oct. 16, 1991 – 22 killed, 20 wounded: Killeen, Texas George Jo Hennard – 30-something white guy
June 18, 1990 - 10 killed, 4 wounded: Jacksonville, Fla. James E. Pough – 40-something african american guy
Jan. 17, 1989 - 5 killed, 29 injured; Stockton, Calif. Patrick Edward Purdy – 30-something white guy
Aug. 20, 1986 - 14 killed, 6 wounded: Edmond, Okla. Patrick H. Sherrill – 40-something white guy
July 18, 1984 - 21 killed, 19 wounded: San Ysidro, Calif. James Oliver Huberty – 40-something white guy
posted by: 1644 on February 7, 2017 3:23pm
Robn. Well, if we had a points based system like Oz & Canada, where immigrants are given points for needed skills lacking in the native population, it is clear zero points would be given for mass murderers. Wehave no shortage of that skill among the native population.
posted by: Pat from Westville on February 8, 2017 3:30pm
Thank you, Robn. After reading the list only once, I definitely see your point and being in that kind of company would make me VERY nervous too.