In Newark, a Presidents' Day rally against a president

By Steve Strunsky | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on February 20, 2017

NEWARK -- Akbar Elston was outnumbered 50-1 outside the Essex County Historic Courthouse on Monday.

Elston, a 45-year-old truck driver who lives in Newark, is a fan of the nation's 45th president, Donald Trump.

"Trump is about America," Elston said. "Trump is America. He's going to put America first."

He had just shouted the same argument at a group of about 50 protestors staging a Presidents' Day rally against the sitting president, at the seated statue of Abraham Lincoln in front of the old courthouse at Springfield Avenue and Market Street.

With Honest Abe sitting in, advocates for immigration, labor, environmental, civil and women's rights sang old and new protest songs accompanied by constitutional lawyer and folkie Bennet Zurofsky on his 50-year-old Gibson guitar. 

"Ain't gonna mourn/Gonna organize," sang Zurofsky and his multicultural chorus. "We're down in the muck/We're gonna reach for the skies."

The event was part of a resistance movement opposed to various Trump initiatives begun during his first month in office, including his executive order that would have temporarily banned entry into the United States by refugees and by non-U.S. citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries. While federal courts have blocked the order, Trump has vowed to issue a new one, more narrowly tailored to suit constitutional concerns.

The rally's participants included U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. (D-10th District), a member of the House Homeland Security Committee. While Trump said the order was intended to bolster homeland security, Payne said it was more likely to jeopardize it, as a recruiting tool for ISIS.

"This president has run amuck in 30 days. He is unfit to be commander-in-chief of the United States of America," Payne told the protestors. "He does not understand what it means to be president of the United States. We are going to end up in some type of conflict because of the sloppy manner in which he is handling foreign affairs. We are going to end up in some conflict where our young people are going to be potentially dying for nothing."

"Back at home, we have to stay vigilant," Payne continued. "Those of us who care, those of us who want this nation to stand for what it's always stood for: justice and freedom for all people. Brothers and sisters, the resistance must keep up, the resistance must build."

Groups represented at the rally included the New Jersey Working Families Alliance; the New Jersey Sierra Club; the Communication Workers of America, Amalgamated Transit Union and the Service Employees International Union; the Blue Wave New Jersey voting rights organization; the Alliance for Immigrant Justice; the Imam's Council of Newark; Latinas Unitas En Poder, or LUPE, a Hispanic women's group; the People's Organization for Progress; and New Jersey Citizen Action.

Many of the participants held signs, some of them poking fun at the famously tanned, tweeting president: "Stop Orange Julius Caesar;" "Yuge Mistake;" and "Ignorance is This," with picture of the former real estate mogul and reality television star, whose assertions have sometimes run counter to the factual record.

Several speakers made note of the President Day holiday. Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, noted that in 1864 Lincoln set aside the territory that, eight years later would become the nation's first national park, Yellowstone. Tittel noted that Richard Nixon, remembered for Watergate, had signed the Clean Air Act. 

Meanwhile, Tittel added, Trump had begun reversing his predecessor Barack Obama's initiatives to curb global warming.

"I think he was afraid he would be regulated as the country's biggest source of hot air," Tittel said.

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