While many in Buffalo were making last-minute beer runs, turning their Tom Brady voodoo dolls into pincushions, and nostalgizing about the days when Buffalo made it to the Showcase Showdown, many others were defying the cold, and defying the president.
When I first heard about the “No Ban, No Wall” protest against Trump’s immigration policies, in a tweet, I had no idea how big it would be. I began to get an inkling Sunday morning when, on my way home from Mass, I saw posters for the event in many of the storefronts on Allen Street. But it really hit me when, walking down Connecticut Street to Prospect Park, I could hear cheering from as far away as Horsefeathers. I also noticed parking along the street was unusually heavy for a Sunday afternoon. The size of the crowd was clear as I got closer to Niagara Street. YUGE! Numbers were easily in the four figures.
As I crossed the street, I saw a couple of familiar faces greeting arrivals — Rev. Kirk Laubenstein of the Coalition for Economic Justice, and Nate Buckley of Burning Books. I also saw The Public publisher Geoff Kelly and others I know. But I was especially impressed that participation wasn’t limited to the folks I know in the Progressive, activist community. It was an extraordinarily diverse crowd, reflected not just in skin color, but also accents, clothing, and languages used on protest signs.
I think that diversity was a reflection of the protest being held on the west side, rather than a more typical location like Niagara Square or Bidwell Parkway. Over decades, the center of gravity for Buffalo’s newest arrivals has shifted from Cold Spring and the Fruit Belt to the Old First Ward to Polonia to The Hooks. Even though we find immigrant and refugee families all over the city, the west side, with dozens of languages spoken, is now the center of gravity.
Although there were elected officials speaking, including Mayor Brown, Assemblyman Ryan, Senator Kennedy, and Congressman Higgins, it was also refreshing to hear from speakers I’d neither heard of, nor heard from, before. One very well-spoken man is a Burmese refugee of Karen ethnicity, who is working on a Ph.D. at UB and helping other Karen refugees get acclimated to life in America. Another well-spoken and highly educated man is one of the “Buffalo 25,” arrested in the Don Tequila immigration raids last year.
It was a very lively and boisterous scene, but completely peaceful. I saw at least a dozen police officers, but they stood back from the crowd and many of them were chatting with the protesters. A group was offering free food, which smelled delicious and tempting, but I had lunch waiting for me at home. I did succumb to an offer of an Oreo from a couple handing them out. I believe their sign said something about eating Oreos together promoting peace and understanding between people, and who can argue with that? Although it was frustrating that, due to the cold, I couldn’t twist the Oreo open to eat the filling first — you know, the only proper method.
I mentioned that Congressman Higgins was present, but Western New York’s other congressman was not. I did run across a couple of protesters with signs calling him out. They told me that they call his office daily, asking for the congressman to hold a town hall meeting, but so far haven’t had any luck.
So far, 2017 is looking like it will be a year of protest. If your nostalgia goes beyond the days of the Buffalo Bills going to the Super Bowl, to the 1960s, this may be your year. Buffalo’s civic gathering places may be hearing more defiant voices raised than at any time since that turbulent decade.
For more coverage of the protest, check your favorite news outlet, and social media. On Twitter, check these hashtags: #NoBanNoWall, #KeepBuffaloOpen, and #OurNY