WEST ORANGE, NJ — While millions of people joined Women’s Marches around the globe Saturday, Jan. 21, a small group gathered in West Orange to hold a rally of its own.
Dozens of residents marched around the front of Town Hall chanting refrains such as “West Orange for diversity” and “West Orange for justice.” Some made speeches decrying President Donald Trump’s views while urging those gathered to make their voices heard during the next four years. Afterward, many held up signs by the roadside emblazoned with messages including “Love Trumps Hate” and “With Liberty and Justice For All,” receiving honks of support from passing vehicles.
Though not have been as massive as the demonstrations in New York City and Washington, D.C., the West Orange rally certainly sent a message of solidarity. And that is exactly what organizer Ethan Blake wanted to accomplish. Blake, a college student and West Orange native, said local action is more important now than ever to combat Trump’s exclusionary ideas such as a Mexican border wall and a ban on Muslim immigration. He said he knew his hometown’s unique diversity and inclusivity would make it an ideal location to begin a grassroots movement.
Now that the rally is over, Blake hopes those who participated will remember the power of unity the next time the president says something with which they disagree.
“It’s easy to become disillusioned and to feel that there’s not much you can do because so much of it is happening in D.C.,” Blake told the Chronicle prior to the event. “But what we can do is start at the local level and take little actions in our day-to-day (lives). And through these organized political actions that everyone partakes in, hopefully in the long run it will create a greater, gradual change.”
Gary Van Wyk is no stranger to political action, having participated in the anti-apartheid movement in his native South Africa. So Van Wyk was more than happy to join the West Orange rally, telling the Chronicle that he was glad to show democracy in action to the young people in attendance. Additionally, he said he wanted to take a stand against Trump, who he feels is trying to reverse much of what makes the United States great.
“Everything that the man has said is, as far as I’m concerned, contradictory to American ideals of liberty and equality and fraternity,” Van Wyk said. “I came to America partially because I agreed with those ideas as an immigrant. And I fight for them not only for myself and my children, but for all Americans and for other immigrants who might want to come here and participate in our democracy.”
Van Wyk intends to continue fighting beyond the rally alongside Essex Rising and NJ 11th for Change, two local groups dedicated to political accountability. The West Orange resident hopes others will get involved as well, pointing out that local action is often the ripple that brings about major change.
Jonathan Redwine, a founder of Essex Rising, knows the power of a united community. Despite the group being little more than a week old, Redwine said the group already has more than 100 people on its email list, and a spur-of-the-moment meeting even attracted roughly 50 people. Right now he said the coalition is thinking about ways to ensure that people’s civil rights are protected while making sure elected officials are listening to their constituents. On Jan. 24, representatives attended a “Stop Trump’s Swamp Cabinet” rally at the offices of Senators Cory Booker and Bob Menendez.
Redwine said organizing people through groups such as Essex Rising or events like the West Orange rally is crucial for energizing people and making their voices — including his own — heard. Prior to marching, he told the Chronicle that he disapproves of the president’s eagerness to repeal the Affordable Care Act, leaving millions without health care. And that is just the tip of the iceberg for him.
“I think he’s inconsistent in his views,” Redwine said. “I think he uses language that’s inappropriate for the leader of our country to use. I think he acts in inappropriate ways and is a terrible role model for kids. I think his policies will denigrate the country. I think he’s going to harm us economically and politically.”
The Essex Rising leader was not alone in his dislike of Trump. Fellow marcher Arlene Silikovitz told the Chronicle she disagrees with much of what the president and his cabinet stand for, including the president’s disbelief in climate change and his opposition to abortion. She said it seems like Trump and his appointees want to get rid of all of the United States’ core values.
Amy Hains, too, was compelled to march by her disapproval of the president. Hains told the Chronicle she does not believe Trump is taking the nation in the right direction.
“I think he ran a really divisive campaign and hasn’t really shown an interest in unifying the country since he’s been elected,” Hains said. “I think we need to make a statement that it’s time now for him to address our concerns since more than half of the people in this country did not vote for him.”
Of course, not everyone in West Orange is opposed to the president. Mark Meyerowitz, chairman of the West Orange Republican Club, said he believes Trump’s business expertise will serve him well in building a strong middle class by supporting small business owners. His call for even regulations will help major American companies as well, Meyerowitz said, since they would make it easier for corporations to establish themselves in restrictive countries such as China and Japan.
And while Trump has come under fire for his immigration beliefs, Meyerowitz pointed out that the United States must be protected from the threat of radical Islam. The chairman himself doubts that a ban on Muslims will ever happen, but he said screening should continue in order to ensure no one with nefarious intentions is allowed to enter the country. The most important thing the president must do is keep his nation safe, he said.
Overall, Meyerowitz said he just wishes people would give Trump a chance. Every president deserves at least the benefit of the doubt, he said, but the nation’s newest leader has instead been “vilified.”
“It just seems unfair,” Meyerowitz told the Chronicle in a Jan. 23 phone interview. “It seems they’re trying to undermine him before he’s even started.”
But for Dana Maloney, a West Orange resident who helped lead the rally, Trump has already proved himself to be a leader she cannot get behind. And she hopes like-minded people will continue to make their opinions known as they did at the march. Maloney told the Chronicle that West Orange in particular has the potential to make a difference.
“We have a wonderfully diverse community whose collective voice can speak to others about equality, love, justice and truth,” Maloney said. “I think this is only the beginning.”
Photos by Sean Quinn