Local activists vow vigilance following Dulles protests

by Christopher Miller

When President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning travelers from  seven predominantly Muslim countries on January 27, many residents of Takoma Park and Silver Spring responded by hastily making a sign and driving to Dulles International Airport.

“I was surprised by how many people showed up,” said Patrick Siewe a community organizer with CASA of Maryland. He said that he figured that only immigrant advocacy groups like CASA would show up.

“I was amazed how people from different countries and races were coming together to fight for something that wasn’t about them,” he said.

Siewe and other organizers helped lead chants, such as “Say it clear, say it loud, refugees are welcome here.”

In addition, they channeled lawyers to family members of the travelers detained under the ban. The lawyers provided legal advice and took on clients pro bono.

Fernanda Durand, CASA’s communications manager, said CASA dropped all the other events they were working on to attend the protest rallies.

It was very “spur of the moment,” she said.

Takoma Park resident Lorig Charkoudian and her two children, Rafayel and Aline, went to the airport Saturday Jan. 28, the day after Trump ordered the ban.

Charkoudian was inspired when she saw on Facebook how many people planned on going.

Charkoudian and her children arrived at the airport at 9:30 p.m. and stayed past midnight.

When she first got there she realized that “there was a wall of protesters” inside the airport.

“It was packed,” Charkoudian said, noting there were probably a few hundred people that showed up.

“We were the welcoming party,” she said.

Charkoudian and her children were chanting along with the rest of the crowd, “Let them out,” “Let them see their lawyers,” and “No ban, no wall.”

“It was awesome but very tiring” said Rafayel, who took a quick power nap on the baggage carousel.

“The whole experience of everything coming out of the Trump White House is so surreal and nightmarish,” Charkoudian said. “But when you’re standing in the airport and there’s people who can’t come home to their family members, it’s much more visceral and physically overwhelming.”

Charkoudian went back to Dulles to protest a few weeks later. But this time, there was a different feeling.

The Seattle federal district judge James Robart had just blocked Trump’s travel ban, allowing immigrants and refugees to come to the United States.

“There was an element of celebration because our court system worked and then there was the reunification of families,” Charkoudian said.

Still the fight—and protests—must not stop, she said.

“The challenge now is for us to be vigilant and to step up. It’s time to be the person who stood up.”