Rally Aims to Turn Protest into Legislative Change

Senator Eldridge, lead sponsor of the Safe Communities Act, speaks to the crowd outside of the Massachusetts State House during a rally in support of immigrants and Muslims. "This is an issue about civil rights about every single resident in Massachusetts," Eldrige said. February 1, 2017. Photo by Brynne Quinlan/BU News Service.

By Wm. Campbell Rawlins
BU News Service

Hundreds of sign-wielding protesters gathered together in the snowy Boston Common Wednesday for the Safe Communities Act Rally to demand that state legislators fight back against federal immigration policy.

While the disgruntled masses have snowballed in size over the past two months and fueled historical marches along the way, the calculated rally yesterday demonstrated how this same enthusiasm and commitment could be used to instigate practical legislative change.

Sponsors state Sen. Jamie Eldridge and state Rep. Juana Matias filed the Safe Communities Act to protect the civil rights of all state residents by ensuring that state taxes not be used to help the Trump administration deport immigrant families or create a Muslim registry.

“I see this as the next stage in rallies where we’re focused on a very specific piece of legislation,” Sen. Eldridge said in an interview after his speech. “It’s one thing to have a rally to express a general concern about the direction of the country, but at the end of the day its about passing very specific pieces of legislation to either advance expanding freedoms or to protect the freedoms we have.”

The rally came five days after President Trump signed a series of executive orders that temporarily halted the nation’s refugee programs and blocked travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, capping off a controversial first week in the White House.

Hype-man Daniel Hoffer, a political Director at SEIU Local 888, kicked off the event as he bounced around animatedly in front of a sea of signs with the golden Statehouse dome as a stage. Leading the crowd through a series of chants he yelled, “what do we do when Trump attacks?”

“Stand up fight back!” the crowd responded.

While the rally certainly promoted a tangible agenda with the Safe Communities Act, the anti-Trump rhetoric was loud and clear. A sign depicted an orange Trump face with a painted Hitler-mustache. Another read, “My Muslim family pays more taxes than Trump.”

Early in the nine-speaker lineup, Sen. Eldridge set the tone for an uplifting afternoon rooted in community, inclusion, and safety. He spoke of Massachusetts’ long-standing history in shaping national consciousness on civil rights, citing the Boston Tea Party and Marriage Equality.

“Fighting back against tyranny is an integral part of our history,” he said to the cheering crowd. “And we will lead the battle against any attempt to destroy our social fabric or our Massachusetts values.”

State Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry from Dorchester, and Rep. Juana Matias from Lawrence, followed Sen. Eldridge to outline the importance of the bill and to share what they would need from citizens to succeed in its passage, mainly to call state politicians and support the passage of the bill. Volunteers handed out flyers in the crowd with instructions on calling Gov. Charlie Baker and state legislators, as “Where’s Charlie?” chants echoed through the park.

The rally then shifted away from politicians, as members of the Massachusetts immigrant and activist community spoke, urging the crowd to embrace interconnectivity by educating themselves on policies in place that target minorities and immigrants.  

Rebeca Alfaro, professed her status as an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador. She told her story of immigrating to the United States seven years ago after gang violence took her mother and husband’s lives.

“With all these changes from Mr. Trump we are scared,” she said through tears. “But we also need help … together we can do it. We need your help.”

Members of the Muslim Justice League were also at the protest. The group describes itself as an organization that educates, organizes and advocates for human and civil rights that are unfairly discriminated against under national security pretexts.

“It is a really important opportunity to build intersectional solidarity and support, and help one another become more aware about the struggles our communities sometimes face in isolation,” Shannon Al-Wakeel, executive director of the Muslim Justice League, said after her speech. “We really need to stick together and advocate as one unit.”

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