'Families Belong Together' protest 1 of 750 across U.S.
A song, a chant — or a prayer?
The low thrum emanated from the throat of Kayse Jama, who fled Somalia almost two decades before an executive order put up a roadblock to travelers from his homeland and six other countries seeking to come to America.
The sound was his call to action.
By the end of his speech, the executive director of Unite Oregon was leading the crowd in repetitions of "Vote November!" He encouraged the audience to beat back Initiative Petition 22, which he said would legalize racial profiling and end Oregon's sanctuary state law.
"We need to make sure that people who are seeking asylum have the opportunity to have their day in court and due process," Jama said in an interview before he took the stage, adding that he is the father of twin two-year-olds.
"I can't imagine the heartbreak these families are feeling," he said.
Thousands gathered for the protest organized as "Families Belong Together" starting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 30 at the North Park Blocks in downtown Portland. The family friendly event was one of 750 demonstrations across the country, according to a press handout.
After two hours of oratory, hundreds of people carrying signs joined a march along Northwest Couch Street to Naito Parkway, where the chanting reverberated across the waterfront. The column eventually reached an Immigration and Customs Enforcement building in southwest Portland.
The Rev. Dr. Amanda Zentz-Alo let the mic go silent as she approached the stage.
It was 10 seconds of breathing, she said, one for "each day since a promise was made" by President Donald Trump to stop separating family members caught illegally crossing the border.
"Jesus was about inclusion, not exclusion," she noted. "Everytime you draw a line, Jesus is on the other side of it."
Two of the speakers said they were the daughters of immigrants who crossed a border in order to give them a better life: U.S. Marine Corps veteran and Wilsonville mother Josielyn Kremm and Nadia Dahab, a prominent lawyer volunteering with the American Civil Liberties Union to aid immigrants detained in a federal prison in Sheridan, Oregon.
"Children do not belong in jail, even with their parents, under any circumstances," Dahab said.
"No other city in the country can stop this — Portland can," cheered Jo Ann Hardesty, who is in the running for a City Council seat in the November election. "We all have a role in creating the Portland that our bumper sticker says we are."
"What do we do when our immigrant communities are under attack?" asked Maria Garcia, an immigrant from Mexico City and president of Don't Shoot PDX.
"Stand up and fight!" cried the crowd.
The Tribune also interviewed members of the crowd. Here's what they said:
• A baby inside a cage was strapped to Tom Tilton's white overalls. He flipped down the visor of a firefighter's helmet, and there was Donald Trump's face with the eye holes poked out. Sure, the baby was a doll, but it got the point across.
"Yes, I'm a terrible progressive," the 66-year-old admitted. "My family has been here for almost 400 years. We stole our land from the original owners."
• Tydus Nix carried a poster reading "Families Rule, Trump Drools" to the protest on Saturday. His dad, Jason, might have been the brainchild behind that slogan, but Tydus helped.
"I wanted to participate because I think that Donald Trump is being mean, and say that he should stop," the boy said.
"We're all immigrants. Those from hispanic cultures were here long before our so called America was established," added his dad.
• Jessie McGrath went through a "refugee simulation" while she attended Sunnyside Environmental School years ago. She said it helped her understand what's happening today.
"I'm seeing people treating other people unfairly, one, because they're racist, and others because they feel superior," the 23-year-old commented.