Last week I attended a rally in Flemington, NJ to protest the president’s un-American and un-Constitutional Muslim ban. The county I live in largely voted for the Republican candidate, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was delighted to see a few hundred people gathered on the steps of the old Historic Courthouse. That seems like a good turnout to me in a town with a population of only 4,500-ish.
When I arrived I found an open spot in the crowd and held up my sign, which said “WE ARE ALL IMMIGRANTS.” This statement is 100% true. Unless someone is Native American, at one point in time all of our ancestors immigrated to the United States. I heard a woman behind me say to her friend about my sign, in a very snarky tone, “We are not immigrants.” These two women were the sole counter-protesters at this rally. They wore Trump t-shirts, had Trump pins stuck to their hats, and they held signs that said “Trump is president.” They had every right to be there. But what was super uncool was the way they were harassing and berating the guy (let’s call him “Guy”) in the photo with me.
Guy was standing by himself peacefully holding his sign. It turns out he is Muslim, has three kids, and he’s been in the U.S. for 20 years, at some point becoming a U.S. citizen. Guy voted for the Republican candidate, but he now really regrets it. But that’s not the reason this man made such an impression on me.
The two women were up in Guy’s face angrily challenging him on his positions on everything from a Muslim’s right to be in this country, to the facts surrounding the executive order, to the foundations of Islam, to the number of terrorist attacks that have been made by Muslims from the seven named countries in the ban (uh, none!). Throughout it all, Guy was soft spoken, respectful and calm. He countered all their statements with solid facts and statistics. While these women were hurling insults at him, he didn’t insult them back. He was kind. He asked them questions and listened to their answers, and paused before he thoughtfully responded as to why they should reconsider their positions. This went on for almost 30 minutes. Eventually the women became less agitated. At one point I heard the three of them laughing together. And by the end of the rally, the three of them were standing side by side facing the street, calmly holding up their signs so the passing traffic could see. Their body language had changed so much that you could have sworn they were friends. The only inkling that they weren’t was the messages on their signs.
I can’t say that Guy changed the opinion of the two women. And that’s okay. What was so moving to me was watching our First Amendment right of free speech so beautifully play out. The right to peacefully assemble and express a diversity of opinions is one of our most cherished rights as Americans.
I don’t know his name, and I don’t know much about him, but I’ll likely never forget him.