Despite cold, dirty air, and short notice, a small but determined group of concerned citizens gathered at the Salt Lake City and County Building Sunday afternoon to protest President Trump's ban on Muslims and refugees.
The group started out small, with just a few people. But as the minutes passed, more people gathered on the east side of the building, carrying signs and chanting in unison and unity. Tami Sablan, a U.S Army Veteran and former employee of both Barack Obama's and Hillary Clinton's presidential campaigns said, "We have the wrong person as president.... We're all humans and we all have the right to breathe air," Sablan said of coming to the rally. "Wouldn't it be better if we all got along?"
One woman attending the rally (her first protest) was born in India and adopted by American parents. "In India, [women] don't have the right to do this," she said. Carrying a sign with a quote from a Harry Potter book that said, "We must all face the choice of what is right and what is easy," she commented, "It is easy for me to stay at home and watch, but it's right to come here. Plus, I'm a huge feminist."
The rally began on the east side of the building, but was soon ushered to the sidewalks by building security. Protesters quickly and peacefully moved to the sidewalk and began a loud march around the block, chanting and waving signs as they went. Passing cars honked in approval, with waves and thumbs up from drivers and passengers. Chants included, "No hate! No Fear! Refugees are welcome here!" and "This is what democracy looks like!" among others.
Chelsea Hicken, a co-organizer for the rally, is a member of Utah Women Unite. "Our Muslim brothers and sisters have sanctuary here, and whoever else needs it. There are lots of allies out here," she said of organizing the rally. "We want to declare Utah a Sanctuary State... We're doing what we can to create positive change in a peaceful way."
Upon finishing the march around the block, organizers made comments before opening up the space for attendees to voice their thoughts and feelings about the proposed Muslim ban. Ban Naes, a Muslim woman said, "It is disappointing this country has allowed for this to happen. We all need to stand in solidarity with each other. Not just now, but always. Not just now when they're attacking Muslims, but when they come for our black community and when they come for our undocumented community. We need to stand together and stand strong with each other."
Another woman stood up saying, "I am black, Somali, Muslim, and a female. All of my identity has been attacked in this campaign and in this election, and I stand with everybody here. Thank you so much! This is my home, and I'm not leaving here without a fight!"
On what it has been like during the election and since Trump's inauguration, Alaa Al-Barkawi said, "We've been fearful, even just walking down the street. And especially being in a predominately white state that voted for Trump we are very much afraid of random attacks and things people will say." Al-Barkawi is a Muslim woman with Iraqi national origin. "As women who wear hijab, we're very visible, which makes it very dangerous," she said.
Al-Barkawi went on to say that hate crimes are more targeted to hijabi women because the people committing those crimes know what the hijab indicates. She said that the dynamic for hijab-wearing women is different than that of Muslim men, or Muslim women who choose not to wear it. "We really need to stand with hijabi women because many of them are afraid to wear it now, many have taken it off," she said. "I'm not going to take it off any time soon, but it's definitely something I think about putting it on every day."
Al-Barkawi continues to wear the hijab because of pride in her culture, in her religion, and in her national origin. "As a woman, I'm proud to wear it. It's my own feminist icon... It represents my own personal choice."
During the 2016 Presidential campaign, and since the Inauguration, many non-Muslim Americans have wondered how to support Muslims in their communities. Al-Barkawi and Naes offered solid guidance. "Amplify our voices," Al-Barkawi said. "Don't speak for us. Be there when we need you to be. Don't take up space, let us speak."
Many non-Muslim women have wondered if wearing a hijab in solidarity with Muslim women would be a good way to show support. "If a Muslim woman is inviting you to wear it in solidarity, I think that's great," said Al-Barkawi. "But I also think it's problematic because there are hijabi women who have been wearing it every day for years. If you wear it temporarily, it's not going to give you the perspective of what we have... so instead of wearing it I would say, why don't you just listen to what we have to say and believe us... It's more [solidarity] if you're going to stand up with us consistently."
Naes said, "I've been wearing the hijab since I was twelve and have been attacked repeatedly for wearing it. I don't need a white woman to wear it and validate that experience just because she has worn it. Just listen to us."
The rally concluded with voices from PANDOS (Peaceful Advocates for Native Dialogue and Organizing Support), other concerned citizens, and a march to Salt Lake's Temple Square before returning to the City/County Building and dispersing.