By Tom Holmes
Joy Aaronson, an Oak Park resident said she braved the heat index last Saturday with dozens of others from the near western suburbs for the Families Belong Together Rally in Daley Plaza because, "I was brought up to 'Do unto others as you would have them do onto you' by my family, and my Jewish faith. My grandparents came to this country looking for a better life, and I believe others should have the same opportunity."
Erika Bachner, who lives in River Forest, had a similar motivation. Her father grew up in Columbia, and her mother emigrated from the violence in El Salvador when she was just 16. Starting out with only a tourist visa, she went through regular channels to become a U.S. citizen.
What bothers Bachner is not only what she calls the "cruelty" of separating children from their parents but also what she believes is the incompetent way it has been carried out.
"Many of these children," she said, "don't know how to contact their parents now that the administration has changed its policy. Some are babies who can't even say their parents' names. None of this was thought out — so many unintended or intended consequences. And it's the children who are being destroyed."
Oak Parker Peter Neuman's forebears came from Poland, but his motivation for joining a crowd that numbered, in the estimation of the Chicago Tribune, over 50,000 was about human rights.
"I felt a need," he explained, "to participate in the Families Belong Together rally to make a statement about a policy toward asylum seekers that I view as cruel and immoral. Taking part for me was to send a message to our leaders in Washington that I and my fellow protesters expect that all people are to be treated with dignity, respect and compassion, especially innocent children."
Participating in the rally was not just a one-off protest for Bachner. The 39-year-old, who works in marketing, is co-leader of a local iteration of a national movement called Indivisible, whose website states, "Our mission is to fuel a progressive grassroots network of local groups to resist the Trump Agenda."
Bachner said Indivisible Oak Park Area emphasizes "area" because its members come from River Forest, Elmwood Park, Berwyn, Galewood and Forest Park as well as Oak Park (their email address is email@example.com).
The "organic" group meets regularly, Bachner said. A typical meeting begins with writing post cards to government officials and ends with a talk by a speaker or a candidate for public office on a critical issue. Indivisible Oak Park has met regularly with Illinois senators Richard Durbin and Tammy Duckworth to talk about issues important to the community and with Rep. Danny Davis to discuss affordable housing.
She is also a board member of PASO — Proyecto de Accion de los Suburios del Oeste or West Suburban Action Project — an advocacy organization, headquartered in Melrose Park, that works on immigrant rights issues among others.
The depth of Bachner's involvement in advocacy, and the credibility she has earned, is evident in the fact that she was chosen to be one of the dozen or so speakers addressing the throng at Daley Plaza.
Aaronson said she attended the rally "to be an ally to the families who are seeking asylum, and speak out against how they are being treated," but she received as much as she gave. "It was exciting being together with so many people who care about this situation," she said. "Seeing the signs and standing together gave me energy, and helped me feel less isolated."
For Bachner, the day became an affirmation of the advocacy work she has been doing for the past two years. "It was a really emotional day for me," she recalled, "because I saw hundreds of people arriving early as marshals or voter registrars who last year were just part of the crowd. It was gratifying to see them taking the next step and becoming more active in supporting these migrants who have left everything in their pursuit of a better life."
When asked if the rally will have any effect on changing public policy, Neuman replied, "I do believe protests can make a difference by showing that citizens in opposition to the actions of our government have solidarity and resolve. Nothing, however, can change policy more than getting out to vote in November."
Aaronson said, "I don't think one event, or this event, will make a drastic change immediately, but I do think that showing up, standing together, and speaking out, instead of being an outraged or numb observer, is a positive direction."
This story has been changed to correct the spelling of Joy Aaronson's last name. The Journal regrets the error.
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