SCAD Alum Chel Howard on Atlanta Airport Protest 1/29

Hi I’m Chel Howard. I’m an alumnus from Savannah College of Art and Design and Her Campus in Atlanta. Recent developments with the Trump administration, his making good on campaign promises of a wall along the southern border and banning people from seven majority-Muslim countries, has made many people nervous.  The fear and anger at recent xenophobic rhetoric and attacks has caused many people to start speaking out and to stepping up.  This was evident when on Inauguration weekend in Atlanta alone the women’s march was reported to have had 60,000 people in attendance.

Image courtesy of Chel Howard. Atlanta Airport Atlanta, GA 01.29.17.

As well as attending the women’s march on January 21,2017, I also participated in the protest at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson Airport January 29,2017 that was one of many across the nation that were in reaction to the ban of immigrants and refugees from Iraq, Iran, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen.

Image courtesy of Chel Howard. Atlanta Airport Atlanta, GA 01.29.17.

January 28, 2017

I contacted several friends about the protest. I found two friends who were going. One I would be meeting there and the other I would pick up from her home along with four of her kids. From her home we would be going to a MARTA station and taking the train to the airport.

My feelings about all of this can best be chalked up to frustration. I have traveled to 14 countries and lived in 4. I also attended a school where getting to know international students broadened my views exponentially.  Personally, getting to know people from Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle East, all I can see are people like me who want a job, a good life and a chance to make a better future. This is not the age of isolationism and closing boarders is not the answer.

January 29, 2017

On the way to pick up my friend and her kids I called my mom. My mom is one of the biggest people to influence me into being socially active. She expressed concern about possible border patrol activity at this protest and reminded me that they operate differently than police. Keeping this in mind I reassured her that I would text after we left (and I did!). I picked up my friend and her four boys. Prior planning prevents piss poor performance:  This is a mantra I grew up hearing and for how slap dash my friend and I made our plans I feel we did well. If you’ve never tried to get hyperactive kids into coats and hats and be on time for something you don’t know what you’re missing! Somehow we got into the car and reached Marta only modestly late.

Once we arrived at the airport Marta we waited till the crowd died down a bit to go down the stairs. Loud screaming and chanting could be heard from the platform. The chants that were yelled out included:  “No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA”, “Love, not hate, makes America great” and “Let them in” were repeated over and over.

The excitement was building. We had a plan my friend would have her oldest and youngest boys and I would be paired up with the two middle boys. Exiting the station we saw a crowd leaving. I texted my other friend who was already there and he said the protest was still going on so we went in.

Image courtesy of Chel Howard. Atlanta Airport Atlanta, GA 01.29.17.

The protest was in full swing once we exited the airport. Walking around the south terminal to the park and ride all that could be seen were people. Before we made our way to the thick of things I jumped up on to a cylinder on the sidewalk to see as far as I could. The sight was awesome; the protest stretched all down the pick up line of the south terminal.

Image courtesy of Chel Howard. Atlanta Airport Atlanta, GA 01.29.17.

Pushing our way through the protestors we made our way to the front. From here we could see the opposite side of the drive to where even more protestors were crowded. In the middle of both groups cars filled with passengers drove past. Some looking freaked out at all the commotion, but they were in the minority. Most beeped their horns in solidarity to which everyone yelled and screamed happily in the recognition. A few of the cars driving by had chalked messages showing support for refugees and Muslims on windows. Many people hung out of windows throwing peace signs or V for victory. A few people stood on passenger seats and stood up through sunroofs holding signs of their own. One little girl, probably around 8 or 9 years old was waving and holding a sign, grinning ear to ear.

Image courtesy of Chel Howard. Atlanta Airport Atlanta, GA 01.29.17.

Nearly everyone had signs. These signs ranged from printer paper and sharpies to full printed out banners and flags. The hashtags of never again and no ban no wall were everywhere. The signs had a mixture of messages from: No one chooses to be a refugee, stop saying it’s not my problem, no Muslim ban, perfect love casts out all fear, % of terrorists attacks by refugees since 9/11 = 0, women’s rights = human rights, don’t normalize fascism, we’re human so treat us like humans and the messages go on! One sign that I strongly agreed with was a simple sign. The message was 2017 does not equal 1939 #never again, written in sharpie on a piece of cardboard.

Image courtesy of Chel Howard. Atlanta Airport Atlanta, GA 01.29.17.

Image courtesy of Chel Howard. Atlanta Airport Atlanta, GA 01.29.17.

The protest was supposed to start at 4pm and go to 6pm. Slowly the crowd began to tickle out.  At 6:30 we decided it would be a good time to head out. Walking back through the airport to get back to the Marta station my friend saw something further in the airport she wanted to show her kids, so they walked a little bit away. I stood by the wall and watched the protest going on by the baggage claim. I saw an older man wearing a yellow star. Instead of saying Jew this star said Muslim. He stood out from the crowd. Not just because he was standing a bit apart from the crowd but in that he was standing very calmly, hands clasped in front of him. He was just watching, not joining in the chanting or yelling, just watching the younger participants.

Image courtesy of Chel Howard. Atlanta Airport Atlanta, GA 01.29.17.

I then saw two teens in black pull bandannas over their faces. A K-9 officer approached them. At that point I called my friend to tell her we were leaving now. Protests are one thing, but once anarchists get involved, previous history is proof — things can get ugly very quickly. My friend came back with all four kids in tow. We left immediately and the train ride back was thankfully uneventful.

Image courtesy of Chel Howard. Atlanta Airport Atlanta, GA 01.29.17.

I have spoken to different friends who are from countries affected by the ban and a general since of terror grips the conversations. Some of them would be leaving years of studies incomplete if deported.  Families would be ripped apart. And for what? The ego of one man? The pure ignorance of a few? Ignorance, fear and hate are the down fall of many. Hate stems from fear; fear comes from what you don’t know. To beat ignorance, you educate.  Once you learn about what you fear it is no longer scary and then you learn to accept instead of hate. The future might look a bit bleak at the moment. No matter how scary it might seem, if we all band together as we have been the past few weeks we can persevere.  E Pluribus Unum.

Image courtesy of Chel Howard. Atlanta Airport Atlanta, GA 01.29.17.

For the latest information on the current state of the immigration ban executive order being handled in courts, check out the Associated Press or NPR News.  Federal and State lawyers are set to argue their cases for and against the ban this evening.  If you are an international student at SCAD, please consult your ISSO for more specific information.