If you’ve been looking for decency amid the indecent acts of President Trump, Copley Square on Sunday afternoon was an ideal place to find it. Thousands upon thousands of people gathered to protest the president’s policies aimed at keeping immigrants and refugees out of the country. And notwithstanding the occasional sign with an F-bomb or with a swastika imposed over Trump’s face, they were just so nice.
Among the decent people I met was Oke Metitin, a young Nigerian-American woman who lives in Boston. She was holding a large sign proclaiming Emma Lazarus’s poem that’s inscribed on the Statue of Liberty (“Give me your tired, your poor …”) followed by “No Ban. No Wall.” I asked her why she had come to Copley Square. “My parents were immigrants, so I felt obligated to protest,” she said. “Hopefully President Trump will get the message that this isn’t constitutional.”
I also met Robin Herman of Waltham, who was wearing a pink pussy hat from last week’s women’s march in Washington. She was carrying a handmade sign with the words “Send Them to Me” next to a drawing of — again — the Statue of Liberty. “My grandparents fled tyranny in Eastern Europe, as did my husband’s,” she told me. “And we can’t close the door behind us.”
I had come to Copley Square looking for reasons to be hopeful after a dark and disturbing week. From Trump’s bizarre obsession with the size of the Inauguration Day crowd to the partial dismantling of Obamacare, from his insistence on building a wall on the Mexican border to his stranding of Muslims at American airports, the president’s behavior was, by turns, disconnected from reality, authoritarian, and frightening.
Of all those actions, though, it was clearly Trump’s executive order stranding people from a number of predominantly Muslim countries that set off a second weekend of massive protests.
The Copley Square rally had been called by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR. As with the previous weekend’s women’s marches, the crowd was so large that it mainly became an expression of mobilization. They chanted: "No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here!" "No Muslim ban!" "This is what democracy looks like!"
Click here to see more photos from the rally.
It was deafening. I could not hear any of the speakers, who included U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Ed Markey as well as Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Congressman Joe Kennedy. There was supposed to be a Muslim prayer at 2:30 p.m. I was gone by then, but it’s hard to imagine anyone could have heard it. The message, essentially, was that thousands of people could turn out on short notice to express their outrage at a president who lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million and who was now betraying some of the most basic of American principles.
With the exception of Native Americans and the descendants of African slaves, all of us are immigrants or come from immigrant families. There were a number of signs Sunday that drew parallels between Trump’s attempt to close the door on Muslims and the United States’ earlier, shameful refusal to allow many Jewish refugees to immigrate from Nazi Germany. I was struck in particular by one hand-drawn sign on brown cardboard that said “Never Again.” In between the two words was a Star of David containing the word “Jude.” And let’s not forget that Trump gratuitously insulted the Jewish community over the weekend by issuing a statement commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day without making a single mention of the Holocaust's Jewish victims.
There was some humor alongside the earnestness in Copley Square. Adam Strich, a native of the New York area who now lives in Cambridge, stood dressed like a 1950s-era college professor — tweed jacket, V-neck sweater, tie, fedora — holding a sign in Arabic. I asked him what it meant. “The people want to bring down the regime,” he replied, reminding me that it was one of the most popular slogans of the Arab Spring. I asked Strich why he had come to the demonstration. “I had a clever idea for a sign,” he said.
But what is to come of this? Can the anti-Trump movement keep this up for four years? Even if they can, will it lead to any change?
For now, the media are enthralled with the protests. I don’t see how that can last. The message of the demonstrations — We are appalled at what Trump is doing — is important, but it doesn’t lead anywhere unless you think Trump and Republican members of Congress are going to be swayed.
One week into the Trump administration, though, it felt good to be surrounded by decent people. If nothing else, it should remind Trump and the congressional Republicans of how limited the public's support for their radical agenda really is.