by Sue Ann Rybak
There was barely room to breathe in the auditorium at Greene Street Friends School in Germantown on Sunday, Feb. 5, as more than 250 people attended the first Indivisible Northwest Philly meeting. Organizers were caught off guard by the massive turnout and had to turn people away.
The grassroots advocacy group was officially launched in December and has roughly 900 members on its Facebook page.
Leona Goldshaw, a spokeswoman for Indivisible Northwest Philly, said the group, which is currently looking for a bigger venue, plans to meet on the first Sunday of each month from 3 to 5 p.m.
“Indivisible Northwest Philly is one of the hundreds of groups across the country mobilizing under the name ‘Indivisible,’” she said. “Our strategies are built around the Indivisible Guide, an online resource written by former Congressional staffers outlining the most effective way to mobilize Congress to resist Trump’s agenda. The guide draws from the successful approach of the Tea Party, whose resistance led to the effective takeover of the Republican Party and the election of Donald Trump.
“We believe that Trump’s agenda is racist, authoritarian and corrupt, and it must be stopped,” Goldshaw told the packed auditorium. The audience responded by cheering and clapping.
State Senator Art Haywood was just one of the many people crammed into the auditorium. He told the Local he came to the meeting to encourage people “to defend the values and ideals of the constitution” and “resist taking a direction that is bad for the country.”
Ayodele Gansallo, a staff attorney at HIAS Pennsylvania, and Rebecca Kirzner, campaign director and community engagement expert for HIAS National, discussed President Trump’s executive order on immigration.
Gansallo said the executive order, which was signed on Jan.27, suspended the entire U.S. refugee admissions system for 120 days, suspended the Syrian refugee program indefinitely and banned immigrants from seven majority-Muslim countries – Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen – for 90 days. It also prioritized refugee claims based on religious persecution and reduced the number of refugees accepted from any country to 50,000, down from 110,000.
She said under the ban the government “would be sifting through the people who come in on the basis of their religion. This is antithetical to the very founding of America.”
An attendee asked Gansallo what she thought the true objective of the ban was.
“Clearly, it’s not about security,” the woman said. “Why in your view are they doing this so quickly and so abruptly?”
Gansallo responded by saying, “I think it’s about messaging. Mr. Trump is all about the visuals and talking to his base. About presenting a message that this is a government that means business, all of which is fine, except that you want to be able to do it while demonstrating you are competent. The number of changes and the number of statements we have had over the past week have been dizzying.”
Kirzer, of Mt. Airy, called the signing of the ban “one of the darkest moments in the history of immigration in the United States.”
“Now more than ever, it is critical that we stand up and support refugees,” she said.
She encouraged attendees to reach out to their elected officials and introduced Haywood who discussed current legislation regarding sanctuary cities.
“Senate Bill 10 would punish sanctuary cities that will not turn over individuals because ICE made a request,” Haywood said. “The legislation will cost counties and cities across the Commonwealth about $1.3 billion. The legislation would punish cities and counties that refuse to turn over individuals because ICE made a request to hold someone. It’s only a request from ICE. There is no warrant to support taking people in. If ICE makes a mistake and illegally detains someone, the city or the county has to pay for their mistake. The reason for the legislation is fear of crime, but all the studies I have seen show that American citizens have a higher propensity for crime than immigrants and the undocumented. If we are concerned about national origin being the source of crime, we have to start picking up Americans not immigrants.”
Mt. Airy resident Martha Millison, a counselor at Green Woods Charter School in Roxborough, said she attended the meeting to help change the administration’s current policies on immigration.
“Facing our political reality can be very isolating, so it’s really important to come together with community and see how many people want to work to make a difference,” Millison said. “That’s where you can get the energy that it’s going to take to sustain.”
Sue Ann Rybak can reached at 215-248-8804 or firstname.lastname@example.org