Over 5000 demonstrators gathered in Washington, D.C., on Saturday to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order prohibiting individuals from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States.
Peace for Iran, a worldwide organization dedicated to promoting Iranian voices, organized the protest of Trump’s Jan. 28 order, which bans individuals from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen from coming into the country for 90 days.
The organization’s founder, Negar Mortazavi, said it was important to the group to organize the demonstration because they did not feel previous protests were large enough to send a message to the Trump administration.
“I went to a couple of protests after the executive order was signed, and I thought they just weren’t big enough. There were only a few hundred people, and there’s a lot more people affected, especially in the D.C. area,” Mortazavi said.
The rally began in front of the White House, and protesters then marched to the Supreme Court, stopping along the way to chant in front of Trump International Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue.
According to the National Iranian American Council, a D.C.-based nonprofit, in 2003 there were about 28,000 Iranian Americans in Maryland and Virginia. The organization published these numbers in an Iran Census Report entitled “Strength in Numbers;” however, they did not include the District’s population of Iranian Americans and have not conducted a census since.
Mortazavi said now the District has one of the largest Iranian-American populations in the country.
“We just needed to mobilize more people, especially Iranian Americans. We need to communicate how we feel this is unfair,” Mortazavi said.
Mortazavi also said it was important for the group to hold the protest because they wanted to bring together the various groups that have reached out in support since the signing of the executive order. Mortazavi listed the Jewish community, the LGBTQ community and Black Lives Matter protesters among his group’s supporters.
“This is unjust and unfair and discriminatory, but we as Iranians and Iranian Americans are directly affected by the travel ban — the Muslim ban,” Mortazavi said. “Obviously, we feel that it’s our responsibility more than anybody else to come together and organize, but we’ve had the support of not only those from the other six countries affected by the ban, but also many Muslims of other countries and other Americans who were not even Muslim.”
Bella Stenvall, a speaker at the event who called for young people to stand up for vulnerable communities, said in an interview with The Hoya that she was motivated to speak to demonstrators because of the time she spent in refugee camps in Greece.
“It was the impact on so many families because of this executive order. It really felt like it was a personal attack on so many of my friends, as well as the people I have worked with,” Stenvall said. “The ability to say that in front of thousands of protesters was really rewarding.”
During her speech, Stenvall urged listeners to protest the executive order, no matter their background.
“I send a message to every adult that is here and that is living here. It does not matter what your age is or what religion you identify with. This is a call to action right now,” Stenvall said. “We cannot afford to be apathetic. We cannot afford to be complacent. We cannot afford to sit behind our cell phones and sit behind our computer screens and think that is enough.”
Tony Hack, a photographer who attended Saturday’s demonstration, said he was inspired to protest because he feels it is necessary for everyone to support diversity and inclusiveness in response to Trump’s order.
“In this country, if one isn’t white, male, affluent and Christian, one is under assault, and it’s only a matter of time before a person finds themselves in the crosshairs of this administration,” Hack said. “I’m not inspired by blind resistance, and there’s an opportunity to come together and find common ground. But, on these kinds of issues, we all have to resist this administration.”
Seema Shaw-Nelson, who came from Baltimore,Md., to attend the protest with her children, ages six and nine, and said she was inspired by the energetic, hopeful nature of the event.
“The tone of the protest wasn’t angry at all. It was a very positive, fun and energetic environment,” Shaw-Nelson said. “It felt like were all on the same side participating in something big, participating in democracy. It was a very safe environment where even my kids felt included.”
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