PITTSBURGH — A mismatched collective of purple-headed punks, white-haired elderly and everyone in between marched and sang psalms in Mr. Roger’s neighborhood Tuesday to protest the arrival of US President Donald Trump following the mass shooting in a Squirrel Hill synagogue three days prior.
Sponsored by self-stated “Jewish resistance” organization Bend the Arc, the march drew hundreds, if not the thousands counted by the organizers, on a chilly but sunny afternoon, following the first three funerals of the shooting’s 11 victims that morning.
The theme of the march was “Pittsburgh Loves All Our Neighbors” as a nod to its most famous neighbor, the children’s program genius Fred Rogers. Speakers came from Bend the Arc and other left-leaning organizations including the Pittsburgh chapters of the Women’s March on Washington, grassroots anti-occupation movement IfNotNow, LGBTW organization the Delta Foundation, and fellow Jewish resistance group, Torah Trumps Hate.
Ahead of the march through Mr. Rogers’s neighborhood, Bend the Arc organizers read an open letter to Trump, delineating, to rounds of enthusiastic applause, the many reasons why he is not wanted in Pittsburgh by the group and its supporters.
“President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you fully denounce white nationalism… President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you stop targeting and endangering all minorities,” the letter read.
“President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you cease your assault on immigrants and refugees… President Trump, you are not welcome in Pittsburgh until you commit yourself to compassionate, democratic policies that recognize the dignity of all of us,” it said.
A similar list of demands written by Bend the Arc has been shared widely on social media in the past few days and has reached over 80,000 signatures at publication time.
Some donned yarmulkes — both men and women — and many wore Steelers’ paraphernalia — the “real” religion of Pittsburgh, as one woman explained. The crowd was interfaith and diverse racially, but definitely and defiantly skewed anti-Trump.
Marchers held aloft signs with slogans ranging from “Love Trumps Hate,” to “Chief enabler of hate,” and “Give us your tired your poor.”
Most signs were hand-inked, some on the backs of pizza or Cheerios boxes. Others professionally printed, such as those illustrated with 11 candles representing the shooting victims. Many simply proclaimed, “Vote.”
Incongruously dressed in a suit and tie, civil rights lawyer Stephen Pincus and his family were at the protest, having just attended the funeral of his physician Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz that morning.
“I generally try to activate my beliefs through work,” said Pincus, who grew up in Pittsburgh but now lives in Cleveland, where he works for an independent federal agency. He told The Times of Israel that he felt moved to go to the protest because “Trump contributes to the atmosphere that divides us.”
A desire to show solidarity with their Jewish neighbors that also drew long-time Pittsburgh residents Ian Price and Will Wenger. Price said he was propelled to the march because of the pain generated by the shooting of his Jewish neighbors in such an integrated city as Pittsburgh.
“It hurts so deeply, the gun violence in America,” Price said. Because of his and his family’s close ties with the Jewish community for generations, he said that it was as if the community holds a piece of his heart.
His companion Wenger said he was deeply affected by the death of 97-year-old Rose Mallinger, who lived through the era of Nazi Germany, only to lose her life at the hands of “an American Nazi,” alleged gunman Robert Bowers.
“Our president is encouraging nationalism through using words that he doesn’t know what they mean,” said Wenger. “He has emboldened the neo-Nazis.”
An Israeli family, a mother, father and two young daughters, took to the streets together. According to the father, an academic, he only hits the pavement over “exceptional cases.” Trump, he said, is one such case.
His was not the only family, and there were dozens who pushed strollers — and even walkers — on the almost two-hour march. At one point, when a cavalcade sounded its sirens as it passed, dozens of protesters near the busy intersection began spinning around, chanting, “Turn you back, turn your back,” upon the assumption that Trump was at the heart of the well-guarded line-up.
To further symbolically express their emotional distress at the shooting and what is perceived as Trump’s incitement of the gunman through anti-refugee and intolerant language, the protesters performed the Jewish ritual of “kriah” or tearing.
Protesters tore into ribbons black squares of paper and held them aloft to express their grief and anger. According to the Bend the Arc distributed literature, “Kriah is always performed standing. The act of standing shows strength at a time of grief.”
“It breaks our hearts to know we are only on the first of four excruciating days of funerals,” said a Bend the Arc speaker. “We are here to model the kind of community we can be when at its best… A community that reaches out when there is tragedy,” she said. “Today we are devastated and heartbroken, but we still lift each other up when we rebuild.”
Passing by a firehouse, protesters spontaneously began to applaud and chant, “Thank you, thank you.”
At the end of the march came a series of speeches from a diverse series of presenters, which all promoted mutual respect and understanding. One Bend the Arc organizer told the crowd that for the families who buried their dead on Tuesday, the shiva, the seven initial ritual days of mourning, comes to an end on election day. He spurred all there to make their votes count.
“This is the most respectful march I’ve ever seen,” said one protester. And it was, aside from the many expletive-laden banners, some of which compared the US president with Nazis.
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