Several activists and citizens outlined their support for a pro-Syrian refugee resolution at the Takoma Park City Council meeting on Monday night. For their part, councilmembers said that their resolution will go beyond words to action in encouraging refugee settlement and support — but shared little more than that about a resolution they have already been crafting.
The meeting was tinged with sadness about the death of Anita Datar, the Takoma Park public and reproductive health expert and activist who was among 27 victims murdered by terrorists in Mali last week. Mayor Kate Stewart began the meeting with brief comments about the tragedy and a public remembrance this weekend, followed by a moment of silence for her and all victims of terrorism.
Public comment period was dominated by speakers advocating a Syrian refugee resolution. Lois Wessel told the story of a teenage Jewish girl who escaped Nazi Germany with her parents to find a new home in Scattergood, Iowa and then Eureka, Illinois. That teenager was Ms. Wessel’s mother, who never forgot the kindness shown to her by those American communities. Ms. Wessel closed by urging that Takoma Park join other cities like New Haven, Connecticut in welcoming new immigrants and
“…offering them what others offered my mother so long ago. This is truly the American and the Takoma Park way.”
Thomas Nephew of the Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition followed. He described the draft resolution developed by MCCRC and Peace Action Montgomery — based on a Chicago City Council resolution of 11/18/15 — as a statement of facts about the city, the refugee crisis, and the U.S. screening process, followed by reaffirming the city’s status as a sanctuary city, and urging diplomatic efforts, streamlining the vetting process, and encouraging refugee relocation. He concluded:
I see this as a civil rights issue because of the blatantly xenophobic, Islamophobic rationale for suddenly excluding Syrian refugees; this wouldn’t be an issue if, say, a stream of Ukrainian immigrants suddenly materialized. We should be honest with ourselves that this debate about “refugees” is really a debate about some people’s discomfort with American Muslims. Such sentiments must not go unchallenged. A pro-refugee resolution would be taking a stand both for fellow human beings across the globe, and for our fellow citizens here at home.
Liana Smith of Jewish Voice for Peace spoke as well, noting that her daughter knows people who have died in Syria, and repeating the request that council take a stand for refugees and against xenophobia and Islamophobia. (Video of some speaker remarks may be available later.)
Comments by nearly all councilmembers after the comment period were encouraging, if circumspect. (Before the meeting, Councilman Tim Male let me know he’d probably recuse himself from the vote next week, because he works at the White House.) The common theme was that Takoma Park City Council seems to be readying itself not just to issue a statement, but to take action as well; the precise form that action will take remains unclear. At any rate, the published agenda for next week’s council meeting confirms that a resolution of some kind will come to a vote next Monday.
Whatever form the resolution takes next week, we urge Takoma Park residents and neighbors to join us again next Monday evening to attend and — we hope — applaud a historic vote for really supporting human rights, Takoma Park style.
Here’s a Facebook event page to use to invite friends and inform yourself about and discuss the refugee issue and what Takoma Park can and should do about it. See you on the 30th!