'Yinz are welcome here': Crowds at Pittsburgh airport protest Trump's travel ban
January 29, 2017 9:51 PM
People protest President Donald Trump's travel ban at the baggage claim area at Pittsburgh International Airport in Moon on Sunday.
Rounida Shwaish, 24, of Lawrenceville joins people protesting President Donald Trump's travel ban at the baggage claim area at Pittsburgh International Airport.
People chant "No hate, no fear. Everyone is welcome here" as they protest President Donald Trump's refugee ban at the arrival gate at Pittsburgh International Airport in Moon on Sunday.
Mehrgol Tiv, 22, of Wexford was among those who protested President Donald Trump's travel ban at the baggage claim area at Pittsburgh International Airport on Sunday.
By Gary Rotstein and Elizabeth Behrman / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
At least 200 people joined by Mayor Bill Peduto filled the baggage claim area of Pittsburgh International Airport Sunday afternoon — not to retrieve any luggage, but to lay claim to a different attitude toward foreigners from the one espoused by President Donald Trump.
“No hate, no fear, yinz are welcome here!” the circle of sign-carrying protesters chanted near rental car counters as part of weekend anti-Trump demonstrations occurring nationally at airports and in other settings. Airport police watched closely but without interfering, as the normal array of weekend airline passengers passed by uninterrupted, though some paused to offer support to the crowd.
The 2½-hour airport protest, organized quickly by a grassroots Facebook effort rather than formal group, came on the heels of a march of about 1,000 people through Oakland on Saturday. Throngs of everyday citizens joined Democratic elected officials, including Mr. Peduto and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, in denouncing the president’s executive order aimed at restricting the presence in the U.S. of Muslims.
New Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro issued a statement saying he was in agreement with 16 other attorneys general nationally to “use all of the tools of our offices” to fight the restrictions they consider “unconstitutional, un-American and unlawful.”
Mr. Peduto said the president’s harsh stance toward foreigners upon taking office reminded him of another elected official, Joseph Barker, who preceded him as mayor of Pittsburgh. He won office in 1850 as a street preacher who railed against Catholics and other immigrants.
Mr. Peduto also recalled how his own grandfather, an Italian immigrant, was treated as an unwanted newcomer after arriving in Carnegie in 1921 and facing demonstrations by the Ku Klux Klan. Such attitudes can’t be allowed once more to symbolize America, Mr. Peduto urged at the airport, standing beside the vacant-on-Sunday Visit Pittsburgh information desk.
“It’s not a question of what will happen — it’s literally happening again, and we have to stand together to say no,” the mayor said to cheers.
The Pittsburgh airport is not a key entry point for foreign travelers, so it has not had stranded airline passengers caught in limbo like in some other cities; nor were there many foreigners, Muslim or not, passing through to witness the demonstration. The local protesters said that did not negate the need to be visible and forceful in trying to counter the message they said Mr. Trump was sending.
Rachael Wonderlin, a 28-year-old Mount Washington resident who organized the event, was among a number there who likened Mr. Trump’s views on refugees and immigration to those of Americans toward European Jews in the era before and during World War II.
“It strikes me as reminiscent of what happened during the Holocaust, trying to keep out people based on their religion, and that’s not what America is about,” said Ms. Wonderlin, a dementia care consultant who said she is new to organizing a protest of any kind.
In Oakland on Sunday, rather than staging a rally, members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association handed out pamphlets to passersby near the Cathedral of Learning as part of a “Meet a Muslim” campaign. They said they were focused on trying to raise awareness of Islam in a different way from the portrayal coming out of Washington.
Tariq Malik, left, from Columbus, Ohio, joined his brother, Ahmad Malik, a Pitt law school graduate, in taking questions from people about Islam on Sunday near the Cathedral of Learning in Oakland. (Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette)
“This is our small effort to tell Americans that we are just as American as you are,” said Imam Adnan Ahmed of the Al-Nur Mosque in Wilkinsburg.
Separately, members of the Muslim Association of Greater Pittsburgh met with an American Civil Liberties Union attorney Sunday to discuss their constitutional rights as U.S. residents. Local Muslims are worried about the travel ban’s impact on those with visas and green cards, and about more countries potentially being added to the list of seven whose citizens are already affected, said Muhammad Arif, the association’s president.
“It just so happens that since the election, everyone has been on their guard,” he said.
The change of presidential administrations has altered the routines of many people. Ted Koskoff, 35, a Ross resident attending the airport rally due to security policies he considers “way overboard,” noted his participation came just a week after joining the Women’s March on Washington. He’s an attorney unaccustomed — until now — to spending so much time protesting.
“Nowadays it’s like something you just have to build into your weekend schedule,” Mr. Koskoff said.
Gary Rotstein: email@example.com or 412-263-1255. Elizabeth Behrman: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1590.
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