Solidarity Rally Addresses National Concerns

The Pantagraph

Josh Knight of Normal said he brought his 8-year-old son to a Not In Our Town Bloomington-Normal rally Wednesday night in Bloomington to show him how to be an American.

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner joining hands with Bloomington's Imam Abu-Emad Al-Talla and Mayor Chris Koos of Normal. (Photo by Cristian Jaramillo/WGLT)

Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner joining hands with Bloomington's Imam Abu-Emad Al-Talla and Mayor Chris Koos of Normal. (Photo by Cristian Jaramillo/WGLT)

"I wanted to show him that we treat all people equally and that we instill in him the values of American culture that we believe in and that is freedom for all people and to be an open and welcoming person," said Knight.

Nadia Khusro, a Normal Community High School senior, said she was born in the United States but has Muslim relatives living in South Asia. 

"They might not be able to visit us because they are not Christian and they are not white," she said. "It makes me scared and it also makes me a little angry.

"They are my family, and they should have as much of a right to visit this country as anybody else."

They were among about 1,200 people who filled the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts auditorium to capacity in a show of support for their immigrant neighbors and to protest President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration, making the rally one of the largest in recent memory in the Twin Cities.

Imam Sheikh Abu Emad Al-Talla of Masjid Ibrahim, a Bloomington mosque, was the first of many speakers who brought the crowd to their feet when he said, "On behalf of all Muslims all over the world: We love you guys. We are part of the United States of America."

NIOT organized the event following Trump's order on Friday banning entry to the United States citizens of seven predominantly Muslim nations for 90 days, all refugees for 120 days and people from Syria indefinitely.

On its Facebook page, NIOT asked the public to come “stand with our Muslim and other neighbors.” It also asked elected officials to attend, affirm the First Amendment's protection of freedom of religion stand against a registry of people based on their faith.

Five people stood outside the BCPA to show support for Trump's immigration policy, including Ward 3 aldermanic candidate Gary Lambert.

Julia Reinthaler said the group was "demonstrating our support of President Trump in his efforts to improve our national security by putting together a system that will fully, thoroughly vet any immigrants coming into this country.

"We believe in immigration and we're pro-immigrant, but we are very much supportive of this administration's efforts to overhaul our system and better serve the national interest," she said.

In the event, Bloomington Mayor Tari Renner said he had mixed emotions about the event.

"I am so thrilled to see this room packed," he said. "I am saddened that we have to be here to try to defend the idea that all people are created equal."

Speaking of the United States as a nation of immigrants, Normal Mayor Chris Koos spoke of his family's Irish and German roots.

"They came here because they left a hellish environment where they could no longer thrive," he said. "So they traveled halfway around the world to find a place where they could better their lives and their family's lives and the lives of their descendants.  

"So today if you come to our community from South Asia, from Mexico, Central America, from Sudan, from Libya and the five other now-named countries, and you come here to find a better way for you and your family we welcome you.

"If you choose us, we choose you. Welcome home," he added, drawing a standing ovation.

The crowd continued to applaud and stand as the two mayors and Al-Talla clasped raised hands in a show of solidarity.

Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe of the Moses Montefiore Temple in Bloomington urged residents not to live as strangers.

"During the past several generations many of my people have lived as strangers in lands not ours," she said. "On occasion we were treated well. Most of the time not.

"There was a time when our nation closed its doors on Jews escaping persecution. While some found safety in other countries, many were refused and ultimately perished in the Holocaust," said Dubowe, adding, "We cannot make this mistake again."

Mandava Rao of the Hindu Temple Bloomington-Normal read some Hindu mantras, and the Rev. Molly Ward, an Episcopal priest, closed with a prayer.

"This meant a lot to us — such tremendous support and tremendous energy from the whole community regardless of their faith, regardless of their ethnicity," said Mohammed Zaman, president of Masjid Ibrahim, at the conclusion of the  90-minute event.

"This shows that when a community gets together they can fight any evil, whether it's national, international or on any level."