Protesting on Presidents Day: Activists rally against border wall

  • Above and below, a crowd gathered in front of City Hall in Northampton on Monday to rally against President Trump’s proposed border wall and declaration of a national emergency. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Andrea Schmidt of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center speaks at a protest in front of City Hall in Northampton, where attendees gathered on Monday to rally against President Trump’s proposed border wall and declaration of a national emergency. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Mary Jo Johnson participates in a protest in front of City Hall in Northampton, where attendees gathered on Monday to rally against President Trump’s proposed border wall and declaration of a national emergency. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Valerie Clark of Chicopee speaks during state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa's speech at a protest in front of City Hall in Northampton on Monday. The crowd was there in protest of President Trump’s proposed border wall and declaration of a national emergency. Clark yelled, "You’re preaching to the converted, what can we do." —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Phyllis Woolf, left, Karen Foster and, back middle, Jacob Demling hold signs at a protest Monday in front of City Hall in Northampton. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Andrea Schmidt of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center speaks at a protest in front of City Hall in Northampton, where attendees gathered on Monday to rally against President Trump’s proposed border wall and declaration of a national emergency. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A crowd gathered in front of City Hall in Northampton on Monday to rally against President Trump’s proposed border wall and declaration of a national emergency. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Valerie Clark of Chicopee speaks during state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa's speech at a protest in front of City Hall in Northampton on Monday. The crowd was there in protest of President Trump’s proposed border wall and declaration of a national emergency. Clark yelled, "You’re preaching to the converted, what can we do." —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 2/18/2019 4:26:43 PM

NORTHAMPTON — It originated as a celebration of George Washington, our nation’s first president. This Presidents Day, a crowd of around 200 gathered on the steps of City Hall to protest the current president and his proposed border wall.

On Friday, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on the U.S.-Mexico border after Congress passed a spending bill that did not include full funding for a border wall. 

The bill included almost $1.4 billion allocated for a 55-mile steel fence at the border, but Trump had called for $5.7 billion to build a 234-mile wall. 

During the protest, which was hosted by Pioneer Valley Women’s March and Indivisible Noho, speakers stood before the crowd amid snow and freezing temperatures and criticized Trump for overstepping his power — a stark contrast from what should constitute a real national emergency, they said.

“An actual emergency is Flint, Michigan,” state Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa said to the crowd. “There are people who don’t have clean drinking water in our country who are being poisoned. That’s an emergency.”

Sabadosa added that “the dehumanization and criminalization” of people of color, “the inability of our state and federal government to fully fund our schools,” and the climate crisis are some of the real emergencies in the United States.

Other speakers included state Rep. Mindy Domb, Northampton City Councilor Alisa Klein, former Springfield City Councilor Amaad Rivera, Andrea Schmidt of the Pioneer Valley Workers Center, and local activist Alla Estuary. State Sen. Jo Comerford did not attend due to illness but sent a statement of support for the rally.

Domb described Trump’s declaration as “the first step that fascist dictators do.”

The money he’s demanding should be used for “human need in the United States,” Domb said, “and he’s redirecting it to what he decided was a military purpose. That’s a national emergency.”

Domb proceeded to recite a full alphabetical list of what she considers national emergencies, including income inequality, racism, structural poverty and attacks on LGBTQ rights.

A proclamation issued by the Office of the Press Secretary on Friday called the border “a major entry point for criminals, gang members and illicit narcotics."

The declaration drew prompt backlash and legal challenges, with multiple sources pointing out that illegal border crossings have gone down. While several Republicans have voiced opposition to the declaration, others remain supportive.

Schmidt also criticized Democrats as “just as responsible for what’s happening right now” for compromising with Trump on the border wall.

“We can’t get distracted from the fact that this is a moral issue and this is a values issue that isn’t just coming from the Trump White House,” Schmidt said. “It’s coming from our entire government right now.” 

Schmidt also spoke of Northampton activist and undocumented immigrant Eduardo Samaniego, who was recently deported to Mexico after being taken into ICE custody in Georgia, telling the crowd that the same injustice present at the border exists throughout the country.

“We have to remind ourselves the border isn’t in Texas,” Schmidt said. “The border is here.”

Throughout the crowd, people held signs bearing messages such as “We stand with immigrants and asylum seekers,” “Absolute power absolutely corrupts,” “Reject Trump’s Fake Crisis and Racist Deportation Force” and “Someone who defends the Constitution 2020.”

Kitty De Melker of Leeds called the declaration “a continuation of the leader of our country grabbing power he shouldn’t be.”

“It’s really time that (Congress) start questioning all these decisions made by the president,” De Melker said. “It’s Congress’ job to check that.”

“If we’re silent, we’re complacent,” said Karen Foster of Northampton. “And all I can think about is those billions of dollars and what they could do if they were put into schools and infrastructure and other ways to improve this country.”

Foster said that she has also been influenced by traveling to places such as Berlin in the late 1990s and Belfast, where walls once stood or continue to stand to separate communities. 

“It was a legacy that people were working so hard to undo,” Foster said, “and I’d hate to recreate that mistake.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com. 


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