On the afternoon of Saturday, February 11, 2017, around 50 people gathered on the green of Klàrov park across from the Malostranská metro station. In the shadow of the Memorial of the Second Resistance Movement, the massive tricolored Czech flag with the inscription “1938–1945” “Stay a moment in respect for the victims and winners of the Second resistance of the Czech nation for liberty of the homeland” (translated), demonstrators decried US President Donald J. Trump’s self-proclaimed Muslim ban.
Though the Muslim ban had been suspended prior to the march and its suspension upheld, demonstrators and speakers met to raise awareness of its continued impact on the targeted population. The organizers’ opening statement stressed that though the ban might have been suspended, “It’s not over for people all ready affected,” and that population included US citizens and people who had helped US efforts in Iraq. Part of the ban getting less attention suspended the refugee program for 120 days. Gwendolyn, who has roots in both the US and the EU, reminded the demonstrators that the EU also restricts movement to people with visas.
Heartbreakingly, Gwendolyn mentioned that Czech NGOs had declined to participate in this event because they had received such great backlash on social media that they “did not have the strength to participate.”
Linda, a Czech Syrian in a red coat, opened her speech with a verse from the Quran: “Oh, mankind, we made you into nations and tribes so you may know one another.” In both Czech and English, she implored the world to hearken to the words Karel Čapek’s An Ordinary Life: “Each of us is we,” in light of racism as action that kills with instruments such as the freezing refugee camps in Europe—France, for example—and the many people drowning in the Mediterranean Sea in their effort to survive. She said, “Let’s not wait until it gets worse. It’s all ready the worst for thousands of people.”
Hope shined through the speeches and dance performance before the march. This was not an event of unchecked anger or violence. It was a call to action and a reminder not to lose hope—and not to succumb to provocation. Throughout most of the speeches, demonstrators referred to President Trump as “45,” short for 45th president, part of a movement to decrease activist burnout and drop the television star-president’s mentions online. Speakers, like a member of the Czech Young Greens, reiterated time and time again that the frequent bombardment of over-the-top news was a strategy to emotionally wear out caring citizens to the point of inaction. Most chillingly, one speaker reminded us that “If we don’t participate in politics, we deserve the politicians we have.”
Realizing the power of private citizens was a central theme of the demonstration. Throughout the opening statements and each speech, the reminder was clear: governments exist to serve the people, not vice versa, and the people must do more to make politicians fear losing their positions in the face of societal disapproval; politicians should be afraid to push and enact inhumane legislation like the Muslim ban. The massive demonstrations in Romania in the past weeks—the largest since those that toppled Nicolae Ceausescu’s longstanding regime in 1989—and prompted the resignations of several governmental officials, provided inspiration. The sentiment resounded deeply with the demonstrators: if such could be achieved in Romania, certainly it could in the USA.
A heartfelt duet between black-clad dancers, who passed between them a burnt out white flag and pristine US flag, preceded the march to the US embassy. On a warm day in comparison with previous weeks, demonstrators made the 20 minute trek. Greeted with stares from passersby and observers atop balconies and bridges, demonstrators chanted: “Immigrants are under attack! What do we do? Stand up; fight back!” “No ban (hate), no fear! Refugees are welcome here!” “No borders, no nations. Stop deportations!” and “No Trump, no KKK! No fascist USA!”
Once at the US embassy with all its curtains closed, demonstrators continued to chant. Then they sang “This Land is Your Land,” a 1940 American folksong by Woody Guthrie, followed by a song in Czech and English, “Which Side Are You On?” A small poetry reading took place, with one dedicated to President Trump and one challenging the individual to stand up and be heard.
Merely an hour after the demonstration had began back near Malostranská, the group had closing remarks. Non-US citizens were thanked for their contribution and all were commended for doing their civic duty: making themselves visible in a system that allowed free expression. People were implored to speak out when they see violence, and it was noted that an American honeymooner had thanked the group for demonstrating. After one final chant of “Impeach Bannon!” the group gathered for a photo. “Impeach!” replaced “Cheese!” and cheers broke out when a man stated he was taking a photo for his aunt in Syria. Lastly, the group collected its signs and made sure all was clean before disbanding, many people with new friends having formed multilingual groups.
Perhaps part of opening remarks summarized the measure of success of the event: “Collective energy is powerful, regardless of if anyone cares about our protest in Prague.” It happened.
There were no counter-demonstrators present.