A wide range of civil rights, community and religious leaders in metro Detroit announced today they will work to defend the rights of immigrants and minorities under the presidency of Donald Trump through a series of programs and efforts that include legal action, sanctuary houses of worship and possibly civil disobedience.
Speaking in one of Detroit's oldest Protestant congregations, Central United Methodist Church, the groups also gathered to express solidarity with Latino students at Royal Oak Middle School who were taunted last week by chants of "Build the Wall," which Trump often used during the campaign.
Alicia Ramon, the mother of the Latina student who recorded the chants, called for an end to racism, saying that Latino, African-American and Asian-American students at Royal Oak Middle School have been subjected to repeated hate incidents over the past year. Minority students have had to deal with racist insults against them, including one once made over the intercom system, she said.
"Racism, bigotry is unacceptable in our country, in our state, in our schools" said Ryan Bates, who leads Michigan United, an advocacy group. "This country is beautiful because we are a multicultural democracy. No one should come first. No one should come last because of what color they are, when your family came here, or how they pray."
Bates also called for resistance to Trump's plans to deport millions of undocumented immigrants.
"Mass deportations and roundups that can break apart families are inhumane, un-American, a moral monstrosity and an economic calamity," Bates said. "And we are going to fight it every inch of the way."
"We are going to resist the deportations. We are going to fight for our communities."
About 100 people joined Bates on stage at the Detroit church near Comerica Park, which is known for its history of activism. They included advocates with the ACLU, National Lawyers Guild, ACCESS (formerly the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services), the UAW, and the Michigan branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The gathering came amid an upswing in hate crimes since Trump's election victory. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there have been more than 200 hate incidents since then. In Michigan, there are reports on social media and from advocates of Muslim Americans and Indian Americans being attacked, including a Muslim woman in Ann Arbor last week police said was threatened by a man who said he would set her on fire unless she took off her hijab. On Monday, the FBI released statistics that showed that hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S. jumped 67%, to their highest amount since 2001, when the Sept. 11 attacks happened.
Cindy Estrada, a vice president with the UAW, called for fighting bias, and also fighting for economic justice, saying the election results are a sign many are unhappy with the economic status quo. She said she's heard about some students getting excited that Trump's win will lead to deportation of immigrants.
"There is so much fear among children," said Estrada.
Estrada said labor and other organizers need to transform the fear into action.
"How do we take that anger and sadness and fear and really turn it into action," Estrada said. "This is an opportunity for us to engage again, and to make sure we change this country so that all children have a home ... are welcome."
At the same time, Estrada expressed sympathy for Trump voters.
"There are so many people out there that voted for Donald Trump because they're tired of the status quo," Estrada said. "And we just got to talk to those people, and educate them and help them understand ... focus on the real issues and not turn against each other."
"We have to hold our leaders accountable," Estrada said, praising Bernie Sanders. "The system we live in right now, it doesn't work for our country. .. When 1% owns 50% of our cumulative wealth, we need to take our country back."
But, she added, "we don't have to fight hate with hate ... it's about fighting hate with love."
Ramon, the mother of the student who recorded the "Build the wall" chants, said "hate and racism should not be tolerated and should not be accepted."
Ramon said the chants last week were the latest in a string of racist incidents at the Royal Oak school targeting minority students.
"Our kids deserve to feel safe, and it's our responsibility and our obligation to make sure that they are," she said.
Ramon said she wants to work with "the school in helping to create a dialogue and a change, so that this message can go to communities across America ... we can make a change and be that change we need to see in our communities."
In an e-mail sent late Friday to the Free Press about the chants, Royal Oak District Superintendent Shawn Lewis-Lakin said that "staff responded when the incident occurred. Adults not pictured in the video directed the group of students, who were saying 'Build the wall,' to stop."
The Rev. Ed Rowe, previous pastor at Central United, and current cochair of Methodist Federation for Social Action, called upon houses of worship to be sanctuaries that can accept undocumented immigrants who need protection from deportation.
"Open up the sanctuary," Rowe said, for those "whose very lives are in danger."
"Resist evil and oppression," Rowe said of Trump's proposals.
Sergio Martinez, an undocumented immigrant who spoke in the church, said he was initially nervous about Trump's win, but is heartened by the support of many in Detroit.
Nadia Tonova, the director of the National Network for Arab American Communities (NNAAC), a project of ACCESS, said that Arab Americans will not "hide in the shadows" under a Trump presidency.
"This is our country, too. ... We are fully Americans."
Bates also spoke up for those who might get their health insurance benefits cut under plans to rescind the Affordable Care Act, often known as Obamacare. He said his newborn baby was born premature, which many times used to lead to health insurance companies cutting health benefits.
"We fought like hell for him for four months in the hospital," said Bates, his baby on stage held by his wife. "We're going to fight like hell for years in the halls of Congress."
Imam Mohammad Elahi, religious leader of the Islamic House of Wisdom of Dearborn Heights, called for an end to extremism, ending the program with a prayer.
(2016 © Detroit Free Press)