Trump’s Executive Orders authorizing a travel ban on Muslims from certain countries and initiating the building of the wall on the Mexican border, prompted an emergency rally at Washington Square Park last night organized by CAIR-NY (the Council on American Islamic Relations). There were a few hundred folks already gathering when I arrived at the beginning, so I managed to get near the front. By the time I had to leave for an appointment midway through the program, thousands were behind me, filling the park.
You’ll find increasing coverage of such events on Travalanche for two reasons: 1) I believe in fighting the threatened oppression on every front and in every forum; and 2) from a more distanced perspective, I have always been highly interested in meta-theatrical cultural activity like parades, pageants and protests as well as the behavior of crowds and audiences. Protest assembly is a cultural practice, which incorporates folk art and even high art, and in practically every discipline: the visual arts, movement and dance, often puppetry, music, theatre, and of course speech and rhetoric. I have sometimes even attended protests with which I did not necessarily agree in order to observe (e.g., I went to anti-globalization marches in the ’90s, though I generally approve of free trade). And last night, while I did attend to wholeheartedly support Muslim-Americans, refugees, and the rights of the undocumented, I do not necessarily politically align myself with, say, the people from the “Revolutionary Workers Movement” who were in front of me, other than in the specific purpose for which we gathered that night. This all goes to day that, while I hope you share my anti-authoritarianism and my concern for our targeted fellow Americans, posts like the present one are not nearly as outside the scope of our usual beat (theatre and vaudeville) as they superficially seem, for they are both politics and theatre.
It was fitting, I felt, for us to meet at Washington Square Park last night, near the arch that bears the first President’s name. It was Washington who penned this beautiful letter in 1790 to the Jewish congregation in Newport, Rhode Island. Muslims, too, are “children of the stock of Abraham”, but Washington’s words apply across all faiths:
To the Hebrew Congregation in Newport Rhode Island. Gentlemen,
While I receive, with much satisfaction, your Address replete with expressions of affection and esteem; I rejoice in the opportunity of assuring you, that I shall always retain a grateful remembrance of the cordial welcome I experienced in my visit to Newport, from all classes of Citizens.
The reflection on the days of difficulty and danger which are past is rendered the more sweet, from a consciousness that they are succeeded by days of uncommon prosperity and security. If we have wisdom to make the best use of the advantages with which we are now favored, we cannot fail, under the just administration of a good Government, to become a great and happy people.
The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.
It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of my Administration, and fervent wishes for my felicity. May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and figtree, and there shall be none to make him afraid. May the father of all mercies scatter light and not darkness in our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in his own due time and way everlastingly happy.