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Hundreds of People Converge On Downtown Canton To Protest President Trump's Immigration Order

An interfaith rally in Canton today brought out hundreds of people protesting President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigrants and refugees.

Organizers expected about 50 people at the protest next to the Stark County Courthouse in downtown Canton. Instead, more than 400 showed up for “We the People Welcome All” to hear speakers like Imam Malik Abdul Zahir from the Canton mosque.

“We’re all Americans, so for those who want to talk about Muslims: next time you’re on an operating table, and there’s somebody with a different name operating on you [or] next time you have some problem with your computer, and there’s somebody with a different name that’s taking care of it – realize and understand that Muslims have given a great contribution to this country. We’ll continue to do that and are glad to be standing here with you.”

A call for outreach
Zahir was followed by the Rev. Anissa Glazer-Bacon from New Vision United Church of Christ. She was one of the organizers of the event, and says she sees recent protests as the starting point for outreach on many levels.

“I think people are getting a lot of energy from being themselves. One of the things I learned at the women’s march in Cleveland: everybody had their own sign that was about their own thing that they were interested in. Whether that was Standing Rock, whether that was refugee rights, whether that was environment. Everyone had a different sign and a different focus, and that was all OK.”

Glazer-Bacon also says more people seem to be contacting elected officials lately to voice their opinions. Patricia Lawson from Canton agrees.

“I have on my cell phone: I have [Congressman Jim] Renacci, [Congressman Bob] Gibbs, [Senator Rob] Portman and I have [Senator] Sherrod Brown. So if there’s an issue I think they should hear about it – even though Mr. Gibbs is my congressman – I will go ahead and send it to them.”

Lawson says, in general, people calling their officials seems to be having an impact nationwide "because I’m seeing it online and I’m seeing it on the news. And I just want people to think about this: this is dangerous, what is going on. This is a little step towards something I don’t think we want to have.”

Historical parallels
At many recent protests, parallels have been drawn between the current refugee situation and the one that existed up to and during World War II. Eric Resnick from Canton is Jewish and says he never got to know family members who died in the Holocaust.

“Had people made the statements that we’re trying to make today and had people rallied around the Jews at that time, the effect of the Holocaust might have been lessened. I doubt it would have been prevented, but it would have been lessened. And we as Americans are better off when we are open and when we actually live what we say we stand for.”

Jennifer Mizicko from Canton says what the U.S. should stand for is compassion for all immigrants, regardless of origin.

“I think that people separate into good immigrants and bad immigrants; and an immigrant is an immigrant. Mercy and justice and grace has to go for everybody or it goes for no one.”

Understanding Islam
One of the final speakers was a refugee herself: 20-year-old Zahra Haideri came here last year from Afghanistan. She settled in Akron and works as an interpreter with the Akron Public Schools. During the protest, she pleaded with the crowd to recognize that there are many misconceptions about Islam due to terrorist groups like the Taliban, who her father died fighting against.

“They believe that when they kill people, and when they die, they will go to paradise. And Muhammad supports this. No, it’s wrong! It’s really wrong: it’s not in Koran! Koran says [to] be kind with all people, and we are not allowed to kill people. We are Muslim, but we are not terrorists.”

Haideri plans to apply for college this summer. Even though she still gets questions about why she wears her hijab, or hears of her younger sister being called a terrorist, she is encouraged by the number of people who come to protests like the one in Canton on Sunday.

“It really surprised me and I am so glad. I really appreciated that all people [are] doing this. Even [if] they are not Muslim, but they are supporting Muslim people. It’s a great thing for me, yes.”

A great America
Much of the crowd did not appear to be Muslim, but many of them did bring signs critical of President Trump. Bob Harper of United Steelworkers Local 1123 in Canton says he can understand why the middle-class may have voted for Trump. He does not think the immigration order is a good idea, nor does he think the president will make good on promises to bring back manufacturing jobs.

“Unfortunately, I don’t think he will. In four years, we’re going to wish we had something else. But I’m getting tired of hearing ‘Make America Great Again.’ America is great to start with.”

Eric Resnick said the purpose of the event was two-fold.

“It unites us and defines who we are as Americans. But more importantly, it sends a signal to our Muslim brothers and sisters that not all Americans are like what you see at the White House.”

Rabbi Jon Adland from Temple Israel of Canton says he was inspired to organize the event after seeing the protests last weekend at Cleveland Hopkins Airport.

“I think that some people think that, because Trump won the election, therefore he has the right to do whatever he wants to do because he’s the President. But that’s not democracy. He can release executive orders, but we have the right, as Americans, to protest.”

A recording of the rally can be heard below.

We the People Welcome All in Canton

Kabir Bhatia joined WKSU as a Reporter/Producer and weekend host in 2010. While a Kent State student, Bhatia served as a WKSU student assistant, working in the newsroom and for production.