The “We Stand with Immigrants! No Ban, No Wall” event on Saturday brought together an estimated 300 people at De la Guerra Plaza in a peaceful protest of Trump’s latest executive order, the Muslim travel ban. Organizer Aida Jaan put the event together in just one week’s time, by simply creating a Facebook page, highlighting the influence of social media. The gathering took place immediately following the news that Trump’s ban was indefinitely delayed by a Seattle judge. Although speakers took note of the news, they emphasized that this was still only the beginning of the fight against discriminatory orders.
Jaan scheduled several speakers, most notably Congressmember Salud Carbajal, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, and several other elected officials and religious leaders. When asked how she got Carbajal and others to speak, especially on such short notice, Jaan said Jackson’s office had contacted her upon hearing about the event, to offer their support. Once she confirmed Jackson’s attendance, Jaan contacted Carbajal and the other officials, and they enthusiastically agreed to join.
Jaan thanked the cheering crowd for showing up to support the Muslim community. Her husband, Imam Yama Niazi, initiated and closed the two-hour-long protest with words of hope and encouragement. Together they run The Blessed Tree Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at educating and correcting prominent, often negative, misconceptions about Islam and the Muslim faith.
What made this protest particularly effective and noteworthy was seeing powerful elected officials stand in front of their community and vow to offer their support. They promised to fight any questionable, discriminatory, and devastating orders President Trump may attempt to enact. Their words were received with overwhelming support and gratification by the crowd, one inevitably filled with individuals who struggling to find hope or direction during this time.
Carbajal was particularly well-received by the crowd, giving his own history of immigration and dedication to fighting for California’s immigrants. He offered his support to those affected, asking them to contact him for assistance. Jackson’s passionate, empowering words also received constant applause as she spoke about California being a beacon of hope and diversity to the world. She reflected on the increasing rate of hate crimes since Trump’s election, insisting that this cannot become the new normal. Imitating Trump’s words, she emphasized, to the crowd’s delight, “The fact is Mr. Trump, you’re a loser, and we did not vote for you!” She closed by reminding the community of the importance of taking this newly created unity everywhere they go.
Jaan ensured perspective would come from all, asking Pastor Mark Richardson and Rabbi Arthur Gross-Schaefer to speak and represent for the other two major religions. Gross-Schaefer explained why it was so important that he, a Jewish man, stood in solidarity with Muslims: “If not us, then whom?” Niazi thanked Trump for “the one positive thing” of his presidency, uniting Jews and Muslims like never before. Both Richardson and County Supervisor Das Williams spoke of the true values of Christianity, reinforcing the importance of supporting their Muslim fellows.
It was her own history as an immigrant, that inspired Jaan to act, a theme expressed by the majority of the speakers and crowd members. She knew first-hand what it was like to seek refuge, first in Canada, adding that she would not have the opportunities she has today if it wasn’t for Canadians’ support of her and her family. Now, if a ban is enforced, refugees, just like her family before her, will be denied that chance, she continued. To “shut the doors on people is unacceptable,” she stated.
Although Jaan noted that Santa Barbara seems unchanged since the ban and Trump’s election, in general, she said, walking down the street wearing a hijab is not the same. She is increasingly disturbed by the stories of women and students being attacked and harassed. She is especially worried for her three daughters if this continues. When Niazi addressed the crowd, he emphasized the importance of raising Muslim youth to be proud of themselves, for everyone to be able to grow up feeling accepted.
The speakers addressed the ban’s infringement on constitutional rights and American values, encouraging the power of the people. Councilmember Cathy Murillo encouraged residents to remember to be kind when out and about, that people are scared right now and need support. One thing was made clear throughout the demonstration, that uniting as a community was more important than ever. The people that attended this demonstration certainly embodied that unity. As Niazi stated when he looked out on the crowd, noting its vast diversity, “This is what America is about.”