By Nicole Verduin
Proclaiming “No Hate, No Fear,” hundreds marched in Morristown on a wintry Saturday afternoon to oppose President Trump’s immigration policies and make their case for “fair and welcoming” communities.
Activists outside St. Margaret’s Church cheered when Mayor Tim Dougherty welcomed them to this “free and welcoming town,” which he said soon will offer municipal I.D.s to residents who lack other identification.
“So today as you march for freedom, for peace, for understanding, and for your rights…as a human being, I want you to take a moment…to make sure you shake a hand, or thank a Morristown police officer,” said the Mayor, adding:
“We will let Morris County and the rest of the world know that here in Morristown, everyone is treated equally.”
Police estimated the crowd at 400 people when it reached town hall.
In the church parking lot, children and adults of all ages held signs saying, “No Ban, No Wall,” “America has room: Immigrants welcome,” and “No human being is illegal.”
The march began with the blowing of a conch, and members of the Wind of the Spirit Immigration Resource Center led chants of “This is what democracy looks like!” and “No hate, no fear! Immigrants are welcome here!”
Guided by several Morristown police officers, the march made its way down South Street, and through the Morristown Green.
As the march progressed, pedestrians joined in the chanting. From apartment windows and storefronts, onlookers applauded and cheered. Drivers of passing cars rolled down their windows, honking and giving the marchers thumbs-up signs.
‘EVEN WHEN THE STRUGGLE ISN’T YOURS’
On the steps of the town hall, several immigrants shared their experiences.
A Wharton resident named Shahina has worked at Staples for more than 20 years. She spoke of an encounter with a customer who was unhappy with her service, and angrily made racist remarks to her manager.
“More likely than not, the anger was generated from fear,” Shahina said. “And that is something we can all understand.”
Shahina said she and her family encountered similar prejudices when they came to America seeking better financial and educational opportunities.
“While there is no denying that we are better off for moving here, in that sense, what no one can make you understand is the opportunity to rub shoulders with different backgrounds, and that is the true miracle of America,” she said.
“It is something that should not just be cherished, but be protected.”
Citing depression exacerbated by discrimination, a Latina immigrant named Daniela said she attempted suicide. She urged Morristown officially to declare itself a fair and welcoming community. The town council so far has not adopted such a resolution, as Madison and Maplewood have done.
“I should not worry I will be hated, attacked or subjected to an immigration raid simply for who I am and how I look. I should feel welcome wherever it is I decide to call home. We are only here to love each other,” she said.
A fair and welcoming community is where residents feel protected by officials and police, without profiling or discrimination, where privacy is respected, and nobody fears seeking help from police, said Brian Lozano of Wind of the Spirit.
He praised Morristown police, but said “that’s not the case in every municipality in Morris County or even in the state of New Jersey.”
A gay woman named Theresa said she emigrated from Canada to start a family with her partner.
“I worry daily that the current government will decide to nullify my relationship and break up my family,” she said. “And I worry daily about all of you, knowing that my struggles are small in comparison to the very real dangers that threaten so many people here.”
Government protections are important, Theresa acknowledged, as thick, wet snowflakes fell.
“But more importantly, it is all of you who are reaching out and standing up and demanding fairness and justice. Everything you’re doing can and will make a difference. It’s you who make this a fair and welcoming community,” she said, thanking marchers for standing up “even when the struggle isn’t yours.”
Thirteen organizations co-sponsored the march with Wind of the Spirit. They included Black Lives Matter Morristown, the Islamic Center of Morris County, Action Together New Jersey, New Jersey Peace Action and NJ 11th for Change, which on Friday continued its “Fridays with Frelinghuysen” gatherings attempting to meet with Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.) at his Morristown office.
Councilwoman Michelle Duprée Harris, who is running for mayor against Dougherty, also attended Saturday’s march.
Not all passerby agreed with the rally’s message. One counter-demonstrator refuted marchers’ chants with his own.
“Go back to your country!” he yelled during an immigrant’s speech.
Correspondent Nicole Verduin is a junior at Drew University. Bill Lescohier contributed to this report.