Trump’s hate isn’t welcome here

November 2, 2018

Nicole Colson and Robert Schrameyer report on the outpouring of solidarity in Pittsburgh and around the country after the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue.

SOLIDARITY HAS become the watchword in Pittsburgh since the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue, as community leaders and activists, families of the victims and many more stand together against those who spread hate and capitalize off of it.

On Tuesday night, thousands of people had a message for the hatemonger-in-chief when he came to Pittsburgh as the funerals of the victims were still taking place: Take your hate and go away.

Some 2,000 protesters gathered near the Tree of Life as Trump arrived in the city. They held banners and signs that read: “President Hate is not welcome in our state” and “Your words have consequences.” At one point, Trump’s motorcade had to take a different route because the streets were clogged with so many protesters.

Protesters oppose Trump in Pittsburgh after the synagogue massacre
Protesters oppose Trump in Pittsburgh after the synagogue massacre (Mark Dixon | flickr)

This rightfully angry response was the most prominent among the many mobilizations to stand up against the right — from the white supremacists who commit acts of violence around the country to Trump and the Republicans who carry out hateful policies at the top.

THE CALLS for solidarity with the victims began immediately after the massacre in Pittsburgh. They not only rejected the violence of one individual murderer, but denounced the nationalism, anti-immigrant hate and thinly veiled anti-Semitism of Trump and other Republicans.

Two vigils for the victims were held in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood on Sunday evening, the day after the attack, blocks away from the Tree of Life. Among Jewish prayers and songs came speakers making powerful and emotional pleas.

At one point, a call-and-response chant began, with the crowd responding with “Safety in solidarity.” A speaker from the Muslim community in Pittsburgh noted that during the Islamophobia that followed the September 11 attacks, the Jewish community stood with them in solidarity — and that Muslims would return that solidarity now.

One speaker said, “It was not a matter of if something like this would happen. It was when it would happen.”

The outrage and resolve of people in Pittsburgh was only sharpened when Trump tried to turn a community’s grief into a photo op by traveling there on Tuesday.

In a widely circulated letter, local Jewish leaders of the progressive group Bend the Arc told Trump to stay away. The massacre, they said, was the “direct culmination” of his hatemongering and scapegoating.

The letter told Trump that he wouldn’t be welcome in Pittsburgh until “you fully denounce white nationalism,” “stop targeting and endangering all minorities” and “cease your assault on immigrants and refugees.” Over 84,000 people had signed on to the letter as this article was being written.

The mobilization that evening had a powerful effect. Though anti-Trump protesters weren’t allowed close to the synagogue, their chants could be heard at the site.

Rev. Susan Rothenberg, a Presbyterian minister who lives a block away from the Tree of Life, shouted as Trump’s motorcade passed her home: “Let the families grieve. This is our neighborhood. You are not welcome here!”

The Jewish group IfNotNow stated in a series of tweets: “As we’re grieving, we recognize that the murder of 11 Jews on Shabbat did not happen in a vacuum — this violence is part of white nationalism.”

IfNotNow not only supported the call from Bend the Arc, but also held a second action against Trump, in which protesters dressed in black and turned their backs on the president, pausing to sing the Mourner’s Kaddish, a Jewish prayer commemorating the dead.

“Today, President Trump is in Pittsburgh,” IfNotNow tweeted. “We do not need him. We stand with each other and mourn for our dead, and show up to protect each other.”

The group added:

White nationalism targets a rotating cast of scapegoats with violence. Nationalism, anti-Semitism and white nationalism cannot be allowed to exist in our city. We have seen this before — here, and in countries our ancestors fled. For many of us, our families came to this country to escape brutal leaders like Trump. Standing up to white supremacy and antisemitism requires solidarity for each other. Our safety will come through solidarity.

MANY ALSO sought to show their solidarity beyond protests and vigils. The hashtag #ShowUpForShabbat, started by the American Jewish Committee, went viral, inviting those who wanted to show their grief and support to attend services at synagogues on Friday or Saturday.

“We want to send a powerful message to anti-Semites that Americans are outraged, whether these Americans are Jewish or non-Jewish,” David Harris of the American Jewish Committee, told the New York Times. “It was not only an assault on the Jewish community, it was an assault on American values.”

Others organized donations for the victims’ families to help with funeral bills and medical costs. The Muslim Groups CelebrateMercy and MPower Change, with the support of the Islamic Society of Pittsburgh and other groups, raised over $220,000 by early Thursday morning for “Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue.”

Already dispersing funds to the victims’ families, organizers pledged that any funds above the $150,000 mark would be spent on “projects that help foster Muslim-Jewish collaboration, dialogue, and solidarity.” Another fundraising campaign on GoFundMe had raised over $1 million for the Tree of Life victims by Thursday morning.

Organizers of the “Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue” campaign also created a link for “Muslims United for Kentucky Hate Victims” — so that people could make donations to the families of the two African American victims of a white supremacist murderer at a Kroger grocery store outside of Louisville, Kentucky.

This isn’t the first time that Tarek El-Messidi, who helped create the “Muslims Unite for Pittsburgh Synagogue” campaign, has raised funds to combat anti-Semitic hate. Last year, he launched a campaign that raised $136,000 to repair Jewish headstones vandalized in both St. Louis and Philadelphia

In this moment of tragedy, the community of Pittsburgh is uniting. Anger, sadness, and grief all run deep at vigils remembering those lost to the senseless hatred. But there is also resolve and determination to stand up against hatred, against anti-Semitism, against racism and against those who perpetuate the hate.

“Putting our religious differences or even your political differences aside, the core of all of us is that we have a shared humanity,” El-Messidi told the Times. “We really wanted to reach out as human beings to help.”

SOME PEOPLE, of course, had a difficult time finding their humanity — like Trump, who still ranted, even after the massacre, that the media were the “true enemy of the people” — just days after CNN and other outlets were targeted for mail bombings by a Trump supporter. Incredibly, he also complained that the protests in Pittsburgh against his visit were “make-believe” and “fake.”

But Pittsburgh wasn’t the only city were people came together to mourn the victims of hate — and send a message that we’ll stand together against the likes of Trump.

In Baltimore, some 1,000 people rallied at the city’s Holocaust Memorial on Sunday for a rally against hate.

The demonstration, quickly organized by local Jewish and non-Jewish activists and clergy, bridged the gap between being a vigil and a rally. ISO member and rally organizer Jonah ben Avraham evoked the memories of the Jews who fought and resisted during the Holocaust: “We are a mourning people, and we are a fighting people.”

Noting Trump’s role in fueling anti-Semitic hate and bigotry, Vincent Masi told the Baltimore Sun, “The current president — he gives license, he gives voice himself to these [racist] feelings.”

“White supremacy is a dangerous force and it is threatening so many of us,” ben Avraham added. “Muslims. People of color. Queers, Jews, people with disabilities, trans folks, immigrants — the list is a long one, which means our potential allies are many...Each of our liberation is bound up with the other’s; the only way to beat them is solidarity.”

In Athens, Ohio, some 200 people gathered Monday evening for a vigil to mourn the victims organized by members of the Ohio University Hillel organization and the university’s Jewish fraternity.

The crowd gathered in front of the Hillel house in uptown Athens, holding candles, singing and listening to speeches by Jewish leaders and campus administrators.

“As an Eastern European Jewish immigrant, it was moving to see the number of people that turned out to our vigil,” said Ilya Kogan, a member of the Athens branch of the International Socialist Organization. “Chanting the Mourner’s Kaddish, surrounded by my comrades and my community of predominantly non-Jews, demonstrated a solidarity that affected me deeply. I was only able to move my lips as my voice was too broken to make the sounds.”

The vigil itself was largely apolitical. When Zachary Reizes, one of the organizers of the event, spoke briefly about the importance of voting, he was interrupted by participants who told him his remarks were “inappropriate.”

“As a socialist,” said Kogan, “I found myself feeling angry. Even the one meager (expected) call to action to go vote was attacked by fellow Jews as ‘inappropriate’ during such an event. Inappropriate? If there is one thing I took away from all of the time at Hebrew School preaching about Hashoah (the Holocaust), it is that to be Jewish is to be political.”

Jonah ben Avraham and Katherine King contributed to this article.

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