I was late to therapy because I had superbad diarrhea.* But also because I was trying to get last- minute instructions on how to travel on the cheap to an impromptu protest at JFK airport.
Under executive orders from the new terrorist- in- chief Donald Trump, refugees, American citizens, and many thousands of others coming from blacklisted countries are now being detained en masse at all airports upon arrival, being interrogated and held until so- called authorities figure out when and how to deport most of them. The ones they don’t arrest, anyway. So, organizers organized, and now I’m on my way to Brooklyn to join the peaceful voices of dissent.
I didn’t have much time to really discuss the myriad things running through my mind with my psychologist, since she was away from her office when I finally got there. So I kept it short and simple, explaining how I was able to scream my way to recertifying my medicaid (long story), and the protest I would go to after our very brief mini- session.
She gave me a homework assignment, to write anything I want and bring it to our next session a week from now. Slightly taken aback, and even excited for such a request, I thought about what I might write about, finally settling on the subject of shared psychosis, which had been rattling around my mind for a few days.
“In families. Countries. Seems like it’s everywhere.”
She nodded her head and said our time was up.
After hurriedly scanning over subway and bus maps, and refilling my metrocard with $10 I didn’t have to spare, I started the trip I now find myself on. By all accounts, it should take awhile to get there.
I’ve been to many protests and demonstrations. I’ve marched, I’ve occupied, I’ve petitioned, I’ve fundraised, I’ve lobbied, I’ve phone- banked, canvassed, tabled, testified, interviewed, gotten interviewed, voted, and registered voters.
Under the business-as- usual politics of yesterday, these things have been hit- and- miss, occasionally gaining some kind of traction or support by state agents, often traded among favors and oppositional goals from corporations, special interests, or the politicians themselves. But times have changed at headspinning speed, and so has the game.
Fascism is no longer piecemeal or regional. With Trump’s presidency it is now federal policy. So this begs the question of where to go from here, what is necessary to uphold human rights and what are the boundaries that are acceptable to accomplish the aims of social justice?
No one really seems to know at the moment, which is startling in it’s ramifications and insinuations. Is this the beginning of the end of western civilization as we know it? Well, if it is, given so many forms of oppression, corruption, inequality, and bureaucratic inefficiency over the last century or two, would that really be such a shocking and unwarranted thing? So many questions without any clear answers.
Now on the B15 bus, I am mentally reviewing what I do know. I know fascism – real, undisputed fascism, from the lone extremist to entire armies, is as unacceptable as the most heinous crimes it encourages and allows. Hate speech supporting a victorious fascist regime is as intolerable as open and unprovoked physical assault.
It is, logically and on principle, an attack on innocent people, which in turn is a crime worthy of defense by victims and bystanders, by force if necessary. Needless to say, I’m very much a proud supporter of punching self- proclaimed nazis in the face, and wouldn’t be surprised if I found myself doing so, though odds are slim that there will be one at this particular place and time.
The broader and more pressing question to me is, aside from typical liberal excuses, why don’t we just push aside the law enforcement agents that have been ethically and legally compromised, and simply free these unjustly detained victims of a cruel anti- American coup ourselves?
I’ll have to ask a few of these well- intentioned protesters participating in this so- called resistance, though I’m highly skeptical that they’ll have an honest and satisfactory answer.
I descend the escalator from the Airtrain into Terminal 4 and see a few people carrying protest signs, and more state police than I’ve ever seen in my life, and the usual port authority police I was expecting to be assembled.
As I step out of the exit I stop at a crosswalk and stand still as a gloriously enormous crowd comes marching directly at me. A pasty older traveler in front of me with a white Yosemite Sam mustache panics, turns, and yells out in both disgust and terror, “We need the police!”
“No, they need us.”
My reply falls on deaf ears, but his eyes are fixed on me as I cross over and join the mass of social justice behind their banner while we move toward the gates of the terminal.
He turns and runs back inside.
We continue marching in the relatively small area between the terminal and a building that I assume to be a parking garage, which had been completely overtaken by demonstrators. Grandmotherly Samaritans hand out tuna wraps, coffee, and doughnut holes. We chant and sing the national anthem.
The police look on in full riot gear, silent and still, like statues of an authority that no longer seems legitimate. We, and they, are peaceful. Our voices and their silence merge and fuse together as a universal understanding. Those officers who feel it give directions and assistance to travelers and protesters. Those who do not crack jokes and stay civil.
As the banner in front of me is carried by a proud rabbi, I remember that this detainment and exile of citizens, refugees, students, and innocent immigrants is in accordance with an executive order signed on Holocaust Remembrance Day. After I talk it up with a volunteer from the National Lawyers Guild, we carry on.
Later, upon hearing that the police may have threatened to begin arrests, many leave in fear, but many others stay. A man begins shouting. He, like me, lives in fear everyday, and has witnessed mass deportations and false arrests since 2014 and beyond.
This abandonment by fair- weather allies infuriates and disappoints him. He has come with a small band of committed activists. I join him and his group for the remainder of my stay.
A short while later we’re told that a federal judge has granted an emergency stay on Trump’s immigrant ban. We cheer. But we know this victory is fickle and temporary. Our diligence and vigilance is needed. There will be another protest tomorrow.
Somewhere along my time here, I ask a person or two just what will it take to physically free the detainees ourselves. “I don’t know,” I’m told, sincerely and understandably. Me neither, I quietly admit to myself.
But something tells me we just might find out down the road from now.
Written on January 28th, 2017
* “They” say you should always open with a joke. I’m fairly certain I failed in this regard. But, in the interest of objective truth, I really did have terrible diarrhea.