An array of local celebrities, public officials, religious leaders, attorneys, prominent activists and others touched the hearts of around 1,000 people who packed into Beth Am Synagogue in Reservoir Hill on Monday for an evening of solidarity with immigrants.
Renowned writer and “The Wire” creator David Simon organized the event, called “City of Immigrants: A Night of Support,” as a combined fundraiser and protest against President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, which have attempted to bar people from seven predominantly Muslim nations from entering the United States and escalated deportations across the country.
Attendees were obligated to donate money to a coalition of four civil rights and humanitarian groups that aid immigrants, but as part of the deal, Simon pledged to match up to $100,000 in donations through his company, Blown Deadline Productions. The funds will be split between the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, the National Immigration Law Center, the Tahirih Justice Center and the International Rescue Committee.
Simon playfully chided as the fundraising total hit $40,000, then $50,000 midway through the evening, that the event wasn’t living up to its potential. But by and large, the rally was a huge success for supporters of immigrant rights, raising tens of thousands of dollars for the quartet of recipient groups and achieving a touching blend of compassion, outrage, and empowerment inside the synagogue.
Each speaker offered a personal tale of how tightened immigration policies had affected their families, friends or communities. Beth Am Synagogue Rabbi Daniel Burg told of the messages of support he and his Christian and Muslim colleagues shared after the election of Donald Trump in November. He said Monday evening was about “celebrating a better America,” and that this moment in America’s history “demands of us courageous leadership.”
Simon, who is Jewish, took the podium intermittently, at one point displaying images of his ancestors who perished in Europe before and during World War II after being unable to escape. Several of them died in the Auschwitz, he said.
“For these people, their otherness, their politics, their faith, was sufficient to close borders and deny their passage to America and elsewhere,” he said, comparing the environment then to the world today.
Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen told of how her family left Shanghai for the United States when she was a child and settled in Utah. She said they endured countless hardships, suffering evictions twice in one year after being unable to pay their rent. At one point when they were without shelter, a single mother — a stranger — opened her home to them, she said.
“She didn’t even know our names. We looked different from everyone else, we spoke a different language, and we had a different religion,” Wen said. “But she told us that it was her duty to help those who needed help. ‘This is America,’ she told us.”
Sonia Kumar, an Iranian-American staff attorney at the ACLU of Maryland, said she was grateful to see so many people standing up for immigrants. She choked back tears while sharing her family’s history and her path to becoming a civil rights attorney.
Maciej Ceglowski, the founder of tech activist group Tech Solidarity, which co-organized the event with Simon, said it was the duty of Americans working in tech today to prevent racists and white supremacists from using modern technology to target immigrants.
Black Lives Matter leader DeRay Mckesson reminded the audience that violence targeting protesters in Ferguson, Mo., and the Charleston, S.C., mass church shooting occurred only within the last several years. Civil rights historian Taylor Branch elaborated on this point, citing America’s “disgraceful” history of racism dating back centuries.
Toward the end of the night, “House of Cards” creator Beau Willimon led the audience in a round of “rabble-rousing,” eliciting shouting, clapping and stomping from the packed synagogue. When the cacophony ended, he asked attendees to “pledge our honor…our fortunes…and our lives” and “resist” to keep others safe.
— Ethan McLeod (@ethanfmcleod) February 14, 2017
Actor and musician Steve Earle concluded the event in song, playing “This is Land is Your Land” and his own “City of Immigrants” to a packed house. “All of us are immigrants,” he and the crowd chanted in unison. “Every daughter, every son/Everyone is everyone/All of us are immigrants.”
Update, Feb. 16, 2017: As of Wednesday afternoon, the event had raised nearly $75,000, equaling almost $150,000 with Blown Deadline Productions’ matching donations.
“City of Immigrants” rally raised $74,564 to fight travel ban & assist refugees. Matched by sponsors, $149,128 to be donated. Thx Baltimore.
— David Simon (@AoDespair) February 15, 2017