By Gina Martinez
Hundreds gathered in Astoria Sunday afternoon to speak out against President Trump’s decision to close the nation’s doors to Muslims from certain countries..
City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Jackson Heights) held a rally outside of the anti-Trump exhibit “He will not divide us” at the Museum of Moving Image to denounce the president’s Muslim ban and the recent presence of neo-Nazis and white supremacists at the exhibit.
The art project was started by actor and activist Shia LaBeouf and two collaborators. It is a 24-hour live stream that began the day of Trump’s inauguration and will run for the next four years, or as long as Trump is president. LaBeouf invites anyone to repeat the phrase “He will not divide us” into a camera to protest Trump’s presidency. The exhibit has recently attracted individuals who identify themselves as neo-Nazis and white supremacists on camera and want to disrupt the project.
LaBeouf was arrested Jan. 26 and charged with misdemeanor assault after an altercation with another man. It was not known what provoked the altercation.
At the rally Van Bramer spoke against Trump’s recent executive order restricting travel for immigrants from Iran, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Sudan, predominantly Muslim countries. The executive order, signed on Friday, banned entry of U.S. nationals for 90 days and suspended the refugee program for four months. Hundreds of travelers were stranded at airports across the nation, sparking major demonstrations at Kennedy International and other airports, such as LAX is Los Angeles and O’Hare in Chicago. The Trump administration pulled back on the order, allowing permanent residents with green cards to enter.
“The president has mistaken fear mongering and scapegoating of Mexicans and Muslims as foreign policy — that is wrong,” Van Bramer said. “Maybe that’s being generous because it’s no mistake, after all, is it? He is stoking fear and bigotry on purpose. It’s reckless, it’s dangerous and it’s wrong. We reject this hatred in all of its forms. We are better than this, New York City is better than this, this country is better than this. Together we gather again to say clearly to the world and to our neighbors that we reject hatred, we stand against bigotry and we embrace diversity in all of its forms.”
The crowd was fired up and chanted “Loud and clear refugees are welcome here!”
On Sunday night Trump released a statement denying the ban targeted Muslims and defending the order.
“To be clear, this is not a Muslim ban, as the media is falsely reporting,” he said. “This is not about religion – this is about terror and keeping our country safe. We will again be issuing visas to all countries once we are sure we have reviewed and implemented the most secure policies over the next 90 days.”
Van Bramer said the order flew in the face of Queens’ kaleidscope of colors.
“This is Queens, this is Astoria, this is New York City, we love our diversity,” Van Bramer continued. “We are all in one way or another immigrants. We are all the children, the sons the daughters of immigrants,”
Astoria resident, Emma Deweesa, attended the rally after hearing racist chants from the white supremacists the night before.
“I live in Astoria and it’s absolutely surprising,” she said. “Queens is the most diverse place on earth, filled with immigrants who make Queens what it is today. It’s amazing seeing New York and around the country come together, I hope these rallies bring to light that people are angry and that we will not normalize a Trump presidency because it’s not normal.””
Also at the demonstration was Public Advocate Letitia James, who urged the younger generation to resist Trump.
“We have to take a page from history,” she said. “Remember it was the young people who stood up for women’s rights, it was the young people who participated in the civil rights movement, it was the young people who took to the streets and demanded that Mandela be freed. It was the young people who stood in the way of tanks in Tiananmen Square. It was the young people who elected Barack Obama. It’s the young people that have to resist this attempt from an illegitimate president.”