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Standing for Refugees, Immigrants and Muslims: Protest Defies Airport by not complying with designated “Free Speech” area

January 30, 2017

On Sunday, hundreds of people from West Michigan converged on the Gerald R. Ford International Airport to protest the recent Executive Order from the Trump administration which attacks the travel rights of individuals from more than a half-dozen Muslim-majority countries – Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

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This latest Executive Order has resulted in protests at airports all across the country and in some cases, shutting down business as usual, in places like JFK and O’Hare. 

The call was put out on Facebook on Saturday afternoon and people quickly responded that they would attend. However, there was some push back from a few people around the question of whether or not this would be a permitted action or not. Without checking in with the organizers of the action, someone who has strong ties to the local Democratic Party decided to contact the airport themselves and “work out an agreement about where to protest.”

This person sent the following to the main organizer, who shared it with us:

We will be protesting OUTSIDE on the north east corner of the airport entrance off of Patterson and 44th St. It is the airport exit lane. We can park in the economy lot or in the empty business lots across the street. We will be able to protest in the area as cars are exiting. We will also be able to extend a march from the protest area to the economy lot. This is a pretty good distance. We need to remind people that the focus is bringing attention to the cause, We are not there to disrupt or in impede those traveling  in our community who are at the airport for travel. There will be security that will assist us in this process. In addition to that folks should be cautioned that should they try to enter the terminal area it is not only counterproductive but they will be reminded that we agreed upon to these terms. WE WILL NOT BE ENTERING THE TERMINAL BUILDING. Anybody who is doing any action in violation of federal law which includes encounters with TSA check points will be arrested and subject to federal prosecution. This is extremely serious.

You can see from the picture above where this designed protest area was set up, which would have made it difficult for people to interact with those coming and going from the airport. In addition, this designated protest area would have undermined people’s ability to stop business as usual, which is exactly what was happening at airport protests across the country.dsc00217

Undeterred by the effort to undermine the action, several people began to let folks know that there would be a march, but not in the limited space that the airport authorities were allowing. After most people had arrived for the demonstration, the march began, but then crossed the road and took over one of the entrance lanes into the airport. Most of the several hundred people who came out joined the march and people began to walk and chant towards the airport. There were several attempts by the few police officer that were present, to get people off the road and to turn around. The crowd was not having it.

Then, the same person who on their own contacted the airport to set up the “designated protest area,” took the bullhorn and attempted to tell people to get out of the road, doing the very same thing that the cops had asked the crowd to do. Again, people were not having it.

Eventually the crowd made it to the main terminal and again refused to get out of the road, taking over both lanes, chanting and holding signs.

In addition to the chant from this video, other prominent chants were, No Ban, No Ban, no Ban on Stolen Land; and Fuck White Supremacy.

After about 30 minutes, the crowd then extended the protest the other two lanes, closest to the parking area with the intention of trying to stop business as usual. By this time more cops had showed up and were forming a line to prevent both lanes by the parking ramp from being shut down.dsc00226

There was also an attempt to enter the terminal itself, but the airport security had locked most of the doors and were only allowing those traveling to come and go.

However, most of the airport workers that this writer talked to were very supportive of the action that was being taken. In fact, there was virtually no opposition from those who were at the airport. The only opposition was from the police, which was outnumbered the entire time the action took place.

What the action signaled in many ways was that enough people were not going to make nice and follow the rules established by those in power. It was very encouraging to see people defy the pleas from cops to stay off the street or away from the terminal. What this kind of defiance can result in, is to give people a sense that they have power by participating in direct action and that in the future they might be willing to take bolder actions against policies that brutalize people, particularly those who are already vulnerable in this society.

Eventually, people marched back to down the road they had taken to the terminal. The protest lasted just shy of three hours.

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