By Genevieve Bookwalter, Chicagotribune.com
About 500 people packed the basement of the Muslim Education Center Sunday while hundreds more spilled upstairs and outside the building, during an interfaith demonstration calling for sanctuary and support for Muslims and other minority groups against recent Trump administration actions.
In an event that was planned for 200 to 300 people, an estimated 1,500 people ended up leaving the center and marching about a mile around Morton Grove. The rally came a day after several people were detained at O’Hare International Airport following President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel to the U.S. for some immigrants from predominantly Muslim nations in the Middle East.
On a day when snow flurries swirled and temperatures hovered below freezing, the assorted headwear worn over bulky coats — from Jews in yarmulkes and Muslims wearing hijabs, women in pink “pussy hats” to men wearing Chicago Cubs baseball caps — illustrated the social and religious diversity of protesters as they marched in Morton Grove.
Voices joined together to sing “We Shall Overcome” as the event got underway.
“It really kind of mushroomed right in front of our eyes,” said Lesley Williams of Jewish Voice for Peace, which was one of the event organizers.
During planning, “we had no idea there would be political events affecting this,” Willams said.
The demonstration in the north suburb was billed as a show of interfaith solidarity and announced by the Jewish Voice for Peace organization. Rally organizers called on area residents to support Muslims and for towns to adopt sanctuary ordinances. Protesters carried signs, heart-shaped balloons and cameras and ranged in age from elderly couples with canes and wheelchairs to babies in strollers and all ages in between.
One sign read “Love Trumps Hate” in both English and Arabic. Others advertised the names and support of churches in the near north suburbs.
Still others proclaimed support for the Black Lives Matter movement and the LGBTQ community, among others.
Imam Nazim Mangera with the Muslim Community Center said he was “obviously” surprised with the turnout, which after the march packed the center’s gym to capacity for speakers and a rally.
Sunday’s demonstration came a day after several people were detained at O’Hare Airport, following President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel to the U.S. for some immigrants from predominantly Muslim nations in the Middle East.
Mangera said he wasn’t aware of anyone from the Muslim Community Center congregation being detained or affected by Trump’s order that was signed Friday. But, Mangera said, it’s still early. About 2,500 people attend services between the center’s two campuses each week, in Morton Grove and the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago.
“It’s so sudden and the news is getting out,” Mangera said. “The community is surprised that Donald Trump, our president, went that far. This is not something we expected.”
On stage, leaders of different faiths gave their advice for supporters going forward.
Michael Nabors, senior pastor at Second Baptist Church in Evanston, said after the president’s recent actions, Christians need to start speaking.
“Christians have to allow their churches to be sanctuary churches,” welcoming to those of different backgrounds, citizenship and faiths, Nabors said.
“If they want Muslims to register, every single human being should register,” Nabors said.
Elected officials were among those in attendance.
“As a Jew, how dare we go back to that, locking our doors to immigrants … people who want nothing more than to be safe,” said U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, whose 9th District includes Evanston, Lincolnwood, Skokie and portions of Morton Grove.
Many protesters said they turned out to reinforce diversity and inclusiveness as American values.
“It’s not about being a Muslim or any faith,” said Elyas Mohammed, 34, of the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago.
He said Trump’s recent order reminded him “of dictators.”
“These are not the laws the United States Stands for,” Mohammed said. “You can’t blame the whole religion for the bad doings of a few.”
Sally Ryan said she and her husband Joe Boyle, both 70 of Glenview, marched in the rally because “our guts are churning over what’s going on. It’s overturning our values.”
Boyle carried a large banner reading, “Many voices at St. Nicholas Evanston Call Justice For All.”
Others said current events are bringing together groups that might not otherwise mingle.
“People I thought didn’t like me because of what I wear and my religion are saying they support me,” said Fariha Ahson, 17, of Lincolnwood. She marched wearing a hijab with an American flag print.
Speakers and others encouraged protesters to take their support to O’Hare International Airport later in the evening or in the week.
“This is a movement. It’s not a one-day event,” said co-organizer Dilnaz Waraich.