Thousands gathered in Denver’s Civic Center Saturday afternoon to express support for the city’s Muslim community in response to President Donald Trump’s recent ban on refugees and on immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim nations.
Holding signs with messages such as “We’re all immigrants,” “DO all lives matter?” “Where is Senator Cory Gardner?” and, in the case of a two-year-old-girl, “I like everybody,” the crowd was energetic and buoyed by the rally’s lineup of speakers, which included a student, a poet, leaders of various faiths and a high school student who is a refugee.
The event, billed as a “Protect Our Muslim Neighbors Rally,” drew large numbers of non-Muslims looking to show their solidarity. “How many of you here are not Muslims?” one event organizer asked the crowd. The majority of hands went up. The follow-up, “How many of you are here to offer a safe space to our Muslim neighbors?” brought nearly every hand in the air.
The rally was the latest in a string of demonstrations and protests nationwide following Trump’s executive order to temporarily halt entry into the U.S. of refugees, as well as of visa-holders from seven majority-Muslim nations: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Critics say the order amounts to the much-touted “Muslim ban” of the president’s campaign. The order also bars entry of refugees from Syria.
A local high schooler and Iraqi refugee named Zhara told those gathered that when her family first arrived, “We were welcomed with open arms and respect — by Americans,” she said. “However, now I fear that that will change. The media is inundated with so much hate towards Muslims, making me question whether or not my family and I will soon lose the life of security we sacrificed so much to attain. I find it utterly cruel that Trump is depriving people of the same dreams my family and I had.”
A bilingual Iranian poet, who immigrated to the U.S. as a teenager in the 1970’s, read a poem describing the experience of being a young, poor immigrant in Denver decades ago. Now, he said, he isn’t asking for wealth or fame, but simply for the protection of the U.S. Bill of Rights.
Justin Norman, the Texas man in a cowboy hat who recently made headlines for holding a sign outside of his local mosque welcoming Muslims, spoke of his realization that the bigotry he had grown up with as a child was “nothing more than bullying.”
Denver Mayor Michael Hancock took to the stage to offer support for the city’s Muslim community, to much applause. “You look good,” he jovially told the crowd. He repeated a sentiment he has emphasized in recent days: that Denver is a city of diversity, tolerance and respect, and one that will protect the rights of Muslims, immigrants and refugees.
The rally capped off a week of community meetings with members of the immigrant and refugee community. On Thursday night, more than 600 people filled the cafeteria of North High School to ask community leaders, local and state officials how they plan to respond to the president’s orders targeting undocumented immigrants and sanctuary cities. The answer, repeated time and again: We will protect Denver’s residents. Protect their civil rights. Run state legislation to ensure those rights stay protected.
“If they’re going to come to our airports, force our hand, we’re not going to hand them a bouquet of roses welcoming them,” said City Council member Paul Lopez, who represents the largely Latino Westside Denver. “We’re going to hand them a lawsuit to go back to D.C. with. Let them try, and we will sue them.”
Hancock also met with refugee students from South High School earlier in the week to discuss their concerns moving forward. At today’s rally, the mayor called several students to the stage with him, and spoke of one comment, in particular, that has stayed with him. When he asked the students what they would most like to tell President Trump, he said, one answer stood out.
The young woman who had made the comment, herself a refugee, stepped forward to repeat what she’d said then: “I’d ask that he acknowledge our humanity.”
Sarah Carpenter contributed to this story.
Photos by Sarah Blume.