Nearly 2,000 people piled into the International Arrivals gate of Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on Sunday night as part of a solidarity gathering in protest of Donald Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban,” which restricts entry into the U.S. for citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries.
As seasoned activists, protest newbies, and those somewhere in between gathered, Payam of Baltimore Bloc invited anybody personally affected by Trump’s executive order to come up and speak. He clarified that the action was mostly in support of detainees elsewhere, and noted that the organizers figured there was not much of a chance that anyone was being detained at BWI, but that the rally was important and “in solidarity” nonetheless.
“This is amazing,” musician and activist Ryan Harvey, who had organized the rally with Baltimore Bloc and others—a photo of Harvey was being passed among airport security before his arrival—told the group. He added that “the majority of these countries [on the banned list] are countries our government has bombed...and if we’re not bombing them, we’re providing the weapons [to bomb them].”
“Thank you for coming, I love you all. I love my Muslim brothers, I love my Muslim sisters, I love my Muslim friends,” Sultana of Baltimore Bloc and co-founder of Strvnge Encounters told the group. Then she repeated, “This is for my mother” over and over, louder and more determined each time.
On the second floor, soldiers about to be deployed looked down at the crowd from the balcony, some with disdain, most with curiosity, and took photos of the signs, which read, among others things: “Fuck the System” (in English and Arabic); “Resist! #NoBan #NoWall”; “Ban Trump and fascists, not Muslims and immigrants”; “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here!”; and “From Palestine to Mexico, all the walls have got to go!”
At one point the group even chanted to the soldiers, “Thank you for your service!”
It was that kind of protest—fervent but joyful and unafraid to be “patriotic,” though certainly not nationalistic. And there were remnants of past protests, shirts and signs from the Women’s March on D.C. from the previous weekend, a few from the previous day’s downtown Baltimore march against Trump, and here and there, pleas for peace and understanding scrawled on cardboard that seemed to date back to the Baltimore Uprising.
As more people arrived—mostly via the light rail—the group stretched further into the airport and onto the second floor, leaving airport employees to extend the barriers over and over again. At one point a young child sporting a Colin Kaepernick jersey shuffled and danced, his mother gripping a camera, wearing a hijab. And early on a banner dropped from the second floor reading, “This home is your home.”
As has been their wont lately, Baltimore Bloc made room for bursts of partying amid protest, including a clap-and-dance session set to a rewrite of Ludacris’ ‘Move Bitch’ switched to “Move Trump, get out the way”—an absurdist chant heard at other Muslim ban airport protests across the country this week.
A few Maryland political insiders appeared, including Reps. Elijah Cummings, C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger, and John Sarbanes, to a mix of applause and pointed chants of “Where have you been?”—essentially asking what took them and the rest of the Democrats, seen as shockingly ineffectual among even some of the mostly moderate crowd, so long to show up. For some, it was a question of something larger: Internationally, years of middling Democratic policy (it was not a coincidence that some who yelled “Where have you been?” gripped a Palestinian flag) has not exactly been kind to refugees and immigrants, and locally, support of policy such as “zero tolerance” policing has been disastrous for communities of color.
Former Maryland governor, Baltimore mayor, perpetual ham, and failed presidential candidate Martin O'Malley got the business the most. He showed up, smiled, and posed for photos. Poet and activist (and City Paper contributor) Tariq Touré told O'Malley, “You locked up half my ZIP code,” and another frequent face at protests, Shai Crawley, told him to “leave.”
“You don’t know me,” O'Malley said back in a tone that was somehow jolly and condescending. Some admonished those challenging O'Malley.
“I don't wanna know you,” Shai shot back.
On his way out, Cummings shook more hands, received thanks, and posed for selfies, including one with a guy draped in the American flag.
Just before he left, Cummings said once more, “Keep fighting.”
Additional reporting by J.M. Giordano.