New Yorkers rise to the challenge

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  • Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal in 2015. Photo: maisa_nyc, via flickr

The president’s executive order banning refugees and prohibiting travel by nationals of seven Muslim nations signed on Friday represents a profound challenge to our freedom. The very notion of turning our back on those most in need and turning people away on the basis of their religion or country of origin was a cowardly and politically-craven betrayal of our moral responsibilities. And as we saw this weekend, its implementation came about in the most cruel, erratic and illegitimate manner.

And yet, in the face of that and so many other challenges from Washington, we have already seen glimpses of a positive and energetic movement that has the potential to be far more powerful than any president ever could be.

Since Election Day, so many constituents have asked me the same questions: “What can I do? What can I do when the president’s actions run counter to our most basic values?” This past week and half, people from all across the city have answered that question in a diverse set of ways. It has been so inspiring to see New Yorkers of all walks of life meet the moment and defend their values. I want to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to those who are showing us what a way forward looks like.

To the New Yorkers who came out in force to voice your opposition, thank you. There were some who wondered whether the spectacular turnout at the Women’s March was a one-time event, or whether it represented a new momentum. The thousands of New Yorkers who ventured to JFK and to Battery Park answered that question, along with those who made their voices heard by flooding the voicemail boxes of their representatives and senators and donating to those on the frontlines. We must continue to extend our solidarity to all those threatened by the Trump administration.

To the organizers who laid the groundwork, thank you. Although these protests represented the natural and spontaneous reaction of so many New Yorkers, the truth is they were made possible by the tireless efforts of local activists and organizers. Organizations like Make the Road New York, the New York Immigration Coalition, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice and countless others have been organizing and agitating for justice for years and years, and it was through their experience and efforts that they were able to provide a scaffolding for the public’s outrage to build on.

To the attorneys who rushed to defend those in need, thank you. The American Civil Liberties Union and their allies, alongside countless individuals at airports and courthouses across the country, did not hesitate for even a moment in their defense of the rule of law and of our Constitutional rights. Their advocacy provided (and continues to provide) concrete support for hundreds across the country. At the protests, I heard a variation on an old joke: “What do you call 100 lawyers at an airport? A good start.”

To my fellow elected officials who rose to the occasion, thank you. Commissioner for Immigrant Affairs Nisha Agarwal represented Mayor de Blasio and all New Yorkers ably and courageously, and stood strong against Customs and Border Patrol’s attempts to circumvent the court order. Our congressman, Jerry Nadler, joined with Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, Congressman Adriano Espaillat and Congressman Joe Crowley to help get families released from their illegal detention at JFK. In truth, we need more leadership out of our politicians, especially those in Washington, but some great examples were set this weekend.

Here at the City Council, we will do everything we can to resist the Trump agenda. In the face of President Trump’s threats to cut off funding to sanctuary cities that protect their undocumented residents, I committed that I will vote against any budget that relies on federal funding that could put our communities at risk.

This is only the beginning. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke of “the fierce urgency of now,” he spoke not of any one specific crisis but instead of the necessity to challenge injustice in every instance and every day – of the long and challenging work that is required to bend that long moral arc of the universe toward justice. We can be confident that this president will continue to challenge our values. The administration’s reluctance to comply with federal court orders is deeply alarming and indicates the seriousness of the fight ahead. We must not fall into the trap of believing that our triumph is inevitable or assured.

But the outpouring of support, of love, of humanity that I have witnessed in this city over the past week and a half – it represents the best in that American tradition of responding to the urgency of now that King himself represented. If we keep the faith, I know we’ll have a fighting chance.

Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal represents the Upper West Side

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