Demonstrators Rally for Unity at Bergen County Courthouse

They came despite a winter assault of rain, snow and sleet, toting signs and chanting boisterously on the steps of the Bergen County Courthouse in support of a myriad of causes they believe have come under attack in the first weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.

 

 They came despite a winter assault of rain, snow and sleet, toting signs and chanting boisterously on the steps of the Bergen County Courthouse in support of a myriad of causes they believe have come under attack in the first weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.

Some of the protesters’ signs carried simple messages: “Dump Trump” written in multicolored letters, or “Disarm Hate” printed on a rainbow background. Others, like the “Nevertheless, she persisted!” sign written in flowing script, were more symbolic — the phrase, used by Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell last week to explain why he silenced Sen. Elizabeth Warren during a speech, has become a battle cry of the women’s rights movement.

The Sunday rain did not dampen protesters’ spirits. The cold appeared to only temper their resolve.

“They are very hardened souls,” state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, a Teaneck Democrat, said of the 150 or so demonstrators. “And they’re not going away.”

Closter residents Isabella D’Agostino and her husband, David Garfunkel, might agree. D’Agostino said that it was the couple’s first demonstration and that joining the burgeoning anti-Trump movement was important because people need to see others publicly protest. “It empowers each person,” she said.

Garfunkel said he wanted to show Trump he could not fool everyone with his “blatant lies.”

“I keep reading polls that say there are people who accept what Trump and his people are saying, no matter how false it is,” Garfunkel said. “It can only go so far before I feel like I have to do something.”

Organizer Phil Swibinski, a member of the new grassroots organization Bergen County Concerned Citizens, said the demonstration was part of the rising backlash against both the president and his congressional allies after several unpopular policy proposals, including the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Raucous town halls packed with furious citizens have greeted GOP representatives across the nation as they return to their home districts, and Swibinski sees the Bergen demonstration as part of that.

“I think it’s all related," Swibinski said. "And it’s all happening organically, which is great. If these Republican members of Congress see that there’s a groundswell of opposition, they’re going to think twice before doing this stuff.”

Weinberg, the state senator, anchored the demonstration, introducing each of the 15 or so political and religious leaders who spoke on a litany of issues.

Freshman Congressman Josh Gottheimer, a Wyckoff Democrat, said he supported a federal court’s decision to lift Trump’s January executive order that put a three-month ban on allowing into the country the residents of seven mostly Muslim countries.

“We can protect our homeland without ever abandoning our core values,” Gottheimer said. “A blanket ban on any person, on anybody, on any country, and any people — undermines our national character.”

The order also indefinitely banned refugees from war-savaged Syria, and suspended the entrance of any refugees into the United States for four months.

Teaneck Mayor Mohammed Hameeduddin, the first Muslim mayor in Bergen County, also railed against the immigration ban, while Estina Baker of the Communication Workers of America demanded equal rights for women, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community. She begged protesters to “stay woke.”

Representatives from the offices of Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez and Democratic Congressman Bill Pascrell also spoke, as did Bergen County Executive James Tedesco III.

Tedesco, also a Democrat, said afterward that the march’s intent to promote unity among citizens resonated with him.

“It’s about people caring about people, it’s about people doing the right thing,” he said. “You have to start small — that’s how grassroots organizations blossom. And that’s what we did here today.”

Demonstration organizer David Parano said persistent protests, even smallish ones, encouraged others to turn out in the future.

“People really do react to this,” said Parano, a community organizer from Ho-Ho-Kus. “They want to see other people out there.”

Parano, an LGBT business owner, said he hoped the countrywide demonstrations show Trump there were citizens who didn't support his initiatives and refused to accept his agenda.

“Maybe he’d have some pause, and try to figure out what would serve all the country, instead of just the few,” Parano said.

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