More than 1,000 students march down College Avenue for #NoBanNoWall protest
On Tuesday afternoon, a crowd of nearly 1,000 students formed a circle around a giant tarp on which Muslim students conducted their sunset prayer. The prayer marked the beginning of a four-hour long protest and march, which concluded in front of Old Queens.
As the sun set, a series of speeches commenced, the first of which was given by University President Robert L. Barchi on the steps of Brower Commons.
“I commend the leaders of our Muslim student groups who have organized this demonstration and those at all of our Rutgers locations who are protesting the recent executive order on immigration, which, among its major flaws, failed to take into account the impact that it would have on American higher education and its communities,” Barchi said.
The #NoBanNoWall protest marks the first time that Barchi has spoken at a major Rutgers protest. The protest was organized in response to President Donald J. Trump’s recent executive order, banning individuals from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the country.
In his speech, Barchi further assured the University’s support and dedication to protecting its students. He said academia is international by nature, and demonstrations of solidarity have the power to impact national conversations about refugee rights and immigration.
“Nothing about the recent executive order changes Rutgers’ policy affirming our students’ right to privacy and safety,” Barchi said to the crowd. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to protect the privacy of our student records and to provide a safe place for our entire community.”
For the entirety of the march, the weather remained below freezing, but students did not disperse until around 8:30 p.m. They carried signs with phrases such as, “Syrian but not a terrorist,” “This is what democracy looks like” and “Refugees welcome.”
Adeel Ahmed, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore and a primary organizer of the protest, said he did not originally expect the event to draw such a large portion of the student body. When he mentioned the idea to some of the Muslim organizations on campus, they had in mind a small gathering of 100 to 200 students.
“Planning for this protest didn’t happen until over the weekend when Trump announced his executive order,” Ahmed said. “A lot of Muslims and people from the seven countries that he banned weren’t allowed to come home and the protest gained traction quickly because the American people are frustrated. They had this fire inside of them to speak up.”
Ahmed said he was in disbelief when thousands of Rutgers students and people outside of the Rutgers community expressed interest in the event through Facebook. What had begun as a simple idea, a single sentence to his friends had grown into something more influential than anyone could have hoped for, he said.
The popularity of this protest was not an outlier, he said. The minority communities united have become the new majority.
“As you can see, what Trump supporters and the alternative right think is that people are just being frustrated and they will give up over time. But this is something bigger,” Ahmed said. “I have not seen this many protests and marches in my life. This is a movement.”
Ahmed, alongside the leaders of other Muslim organizations, met with Barchi the day before the march to outline their demands, he said.
Among these were requests for administrators to personally call on Trump to repeal the Muslim ban, to publically condemn the executive order and to clearly designate Rutgers as a "sanctuary campus."
“We don’t want another message from Barchi saying that the University cares about all of its students,” Ahmed said. “We want one that specifically targets the issues of Muslims and students who are oppressed. You know Rutgers is one of the nine colonial colleges, it has one of the biggest voices in the country. Our funds go towards the school so it can use that voice.”
Amid the events of the protest, about 10 counter-protesters held pro-Trump signs and American flags. Periodically throughout the speeches, they initiated chants of “build a wall.”
James Guinge, a School of Engineering senior, attended the rally to defend President Trump.
“What inspired us to come out is the false notion that they are out here with. There is no Muslim ban. The ban is from seven countries, people entering here are non-citizens,” Guinge said. “I’m sure it is affecting a lot of people who want to come who are part of the visa waiver program, but I don’t think it is a big deal.”
Guinge said he was impressed that Trump fulfilled so many of his campaign promises during his first week in office.
“The Obamacare, the ban and its only been a week. He’s getting a lot done,” he said. “And he ordered the wall already."
Students on both sides remained peaceful throughout the duration of the march.
Hina Walajahi, a School of Arts and Sciences senior, volunteered as a marshall for the protest. This meant it was her duty to ensure that everyone at the event stayed safe.
“I believe everyone should have a voice and (the counter protesters) are allowed to have their own protest. They were respectful about it and it was good that they didn’t get violent and weren’t speaking over everyone,” she said.
When asked why she attended, Walajahi said the subject of the protest hit very close to home for her because her family is Muslim. She wore a sign around her neck with the phrase, “no human being is illegal.”
“This movement is about solidarity and we want to keep it that way,” she said.
Walajahi attended the Sanctuary protest at Voorhees Mall in November and said the #NoBanNoWall protest felt as though it were a more unified continuation of the Rutgers movement that began there.
“I hope this is just the beginning,” Walajahi said. “I hope all these people and all this energy will be channeled into something sustainable because a march can only do so much and now the next step is to call our senators, call our congressmen, go to meetings — don’t just let it end here."
Kira Herzog is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science and journalism and media studies. She is a correspondent for The Daily Targum. Follow her on Twitter @kiraherzog1 for more.