16-year-old Muslim American girl who frequently gets taunted for her religious beliefs. A son of Mexican immigrants who’s been discriminated against all his life. A father of two who has never attended a protest before but wanted to introduce his kids to the political process.
These were some of the diverse faces of the several hundred protestors who demonstrated outside GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump’s rally at Grumman Studios in Bethpage Wednesday night.
Standing for several hours just beyond the entrance to Trump’s much-ballyhooed campaign stop, incensed protesters waved signs amid bone-chilling temperatures, decrying what many perceive to be Islamophobic, racist and misogynistic comments from the delegate-leading Republican hopeful.
“No more room for hate, America is great!” protesters chanted from where they were sequestered, as pro-Trump Long Islanders made their way to the rally one day after their top pick for the White House suffered a brutal defeat to U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tx) in Wisconsin.
“Trump’s a fascist!” they screamed in a rhythm that mimicked a “Let’s Go Yankees!” chant.
“Hey-hey, ho-ho, hateful Trump has got to go!” the bundled bodies billowed as the evening sky melted to black.
Protesters began huddling around 4 p.m., occupying a space across the street from Grumman Studios’ entrance dubbed the “Free Speech Zone” by local law enforcement authorities, which attracted an odd mix of pro-Trump followers and his many detractors. Some business savvy supporters sold Trump apparel—hats, shirts, and buttons—beside a food truck vendor advertising Halal meat.
Busloads of Trump supporters responded to some of the jeers with a flash of their middle finger—a greeting even some children riding on board took part in.
The protest was mostly peaceful until a large group of Trump fans who had failed to enter the Grumman Studios because the venue was at full capacity started a counter-protest that prompted an hours-long standoff under the watchful eye of Nassau County police officers in riot gear and cops mounted on horseback.
In order to maintain the peace, officers separated the rival groups, prompting chants of “Build that wall!” from Trump supporters, who ironically were the ones being blocked off.
The Trump group yelled “White Lives Matter,!” recommended that protesters “Get a job,” and chanted, “Leave this country!”
They also took on the two Democrats vying for their party’s nomination. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), a self-proclaimed Democratic socialist, was dubbed a “Communist,” and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic frontrunner, was chided for perceived lies she supposedly spewed.
“We do our jobs, we come home, we want to watch some Netflix and binge on some brownies.”
When a Trump supporter condemned Clinton for her untruths, someone on the other side of the rally responded, “Fuck you, we don’t like her, either.”
At one point, both sides engaged in dueling “U-S-A” chants, as if to demonstrate one side was more patriotic than the other.
So went the first anti-Trump demonstration on Long Island in 2016: High school insults were traded, bravado did not manifest into much of substance, and demonstrators chanted until their vocal chords gave out.
Aside from the broadsides exchanged by both sides, protester after protester said they had deep misgivings with the GOP favorite and were uncomfortable with some of his remarks he’s made on the campaign trail about Muslims, Mexicans and women.
Mahira Siddiqi, a mother of three from Hicksville, felt compelled to attend Wednesday’s rally because of rampant Islamophobia careening through the media.
“I think a lot of the people who are out here don’t really know any Muslims that closely, and I think if they took the time to talk to some of us they would realize that we’re just like them,” Siddiqi told the Press.
“We do our jobs, we come home, we want to watch some Netflix and binge on some brownies,” she added. “And we want to raise our kids in a peaceful society, and we want our kids to have the same opportunities that we did. And for most of us, we were born here, so this is home. This is it.”
Siddiqi lamented that both her 11- and 8-year-old are old enough to understand to some degree that anti-Islam sentiment is roiling America today.
She said she tries to shield them from the rhetoric because “it just hurts my heart for them to have to feel that.” But she felt compelled to take her place in Bethpage.
“Because the level of hate has just gotten so much, it’s become necessary for people who maybe normally would not go out and be activists to do so,” she said.
As if on cue, Jeff Zilberstein, 42, of East Islip was sauntering around the barricaded area with his 7-year-old daughter perched atop his shoulders.
It was the first time Zilberstein ever attended a protest. He decided to make it a family affair, bringing along his wife and two kids.
“I think that they need to understand what the political process is all about. I’ve never done this before,” Zilberstein said. “You can agree to disagree about a lot of things, but I have a hard time agreeing to disagree about Trump.”
To him, the bombastic reality TV star and businessman’s being in the race “was a joke to begin with—and he’s not a joke anymore,” he said.
Benjetta Miller of Bay Shore was standing under a tree holding a “Stand Against Islamophobia” sign.
Miller, a Sanders supporter who is not eligible to vote in the state’s April 19 primary because New York’s closed primary rules don’t allow registered Independents to cast a ballot, said she’d vote for Clinton in the general election if it came down to it.
“There’s just no room in our country, in our government, for a Donald Trump,” she said.
The Ahmed family from Woodmere would agree.
Sarfaraz Ahmed, his wife and daughter, Yursa, decided to attend the rally to protest what they consider racist remarks espoused by Trump, and because their family has been the victim of Islamophobic comments.
“Our kids go to school, and they’ve been harassed. They’ve been called names because we wear different clothes,” said Sarafarz, adding that his children have been branded “terrorists” by bullies.
“We are here for 40 years—my brother came [in] 1973,” added the Pakistani immigrant. “All the kids were born here. Grew up here. Went to school here.”
His 16-year-old daughter Yursa, who attends private school, expressed her disappointment that people would judge an entire religion based on the acts of a select few.
“It’s like a classroom. When one kid messes up, the whole class doesn’t have recess,” said Yursa, who has been taunted by people when she goes into New York City. “Why do we have to suffer if someone else messed up?”
Muslims aren’t the only ones who felt compelled to speak out.
“The reason I feel like joining is because a lot of people of my skin complexion would rather hold their silence than stand up and let their voices be heard,” said 22-year-old Key Martinez of North Bellmore. “I’m not an illegal immigrant, but my family are, so I’m here for them.”
Martinez has specifically objected to Trump’s proposal to have Mexico build a wall to prevent people crossing America’s southern border.
If his family hadn’t come more than 25 years ago, he’d never have the opportunities now offered to him.
“I’ve been discriminated all of my life,” said Martinez, who attends Nassau Community College where he also works. “This is the first time I get to stand up for that.”
Martinez summed up what many other people in the crowd said they have been feeling as they’ve watched Trump tour the country while promising to make America great by banning Muslims, putting the Muslims that are here in databases, keeping Mexicans out, punishing women for abortions if they’re deemed illegal (before he backtracked), and lessening America’s role militarily by suggesting countries like Japan and South Korea should develop nuclear bombs to defend themselves.
“He is prejudice,” Martinez said, “and there’s no way of denying that.”