Airport Protests: One Year Later

I took the first of these pictures one year ago tonight, as I first arrived at DFW Airport, for what would become known as the “airport protests.”

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My dear Muslim friends, Alia Salem and Omar Suleiman has urgently texted us just as the Sun was setting on a Saturday night, to let us know that travelers were being detained at the airport, and were likely to be sent back to their home countries.
Could we come to the airport and join them?
There were only perhaps a hundred or so protestors when I first arrived. By the time the evening was over, there would be thousands. By the time the weekend was over, it was perhaps as many as five thousand.

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These stunningly beautiful organic protests of that weekend had led to the release of all those involved….had led to hundreds of lawyers who descended on the terminal to provide their assistance…had led to our Mayor and County Judge bringing flowers to some of the freed detainees, and saying to them, “We’re so sorry…this is not who we are….”

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It was a ridiculous ban to begin with. But it awakened a passion and energy that has not waned.

But now, all of that has led to much more…

The Women’s March and the Airport Protests, early last year, are now morphing into genuine political and social movements of people working to change our country for the better. People of all faiths, races, genders, orientations and religions are finding each other and speaking up.

For me, those amazing hours (and I was at the airport until 2 am that first night) were the spark to what is becoming a powerful fire in our country today.

We chanted “This is what Democracy looks like…”
And even better, “This is what Dallas looks like…”

Yes, dear God, yes….it’s exactly what we look like when we stand up to our full height, overcome our fears, and come together.

And it was a beautiful, beautiful thing…

I will never forget Elnaz, a young PHD student at SMU, who was awaiting her family’s arrival from Iran. I stood next to her for hours that night, while she nervously awaited word. It didn’t come that night, and she left to go home. She and her husband waited for hours for news of their loved ones. Finally, at 2 am, they curled up their little American flag and were told by reporter Robert Wilonksky: Your loved ones will be detained all night. They won’t be released at least until the next day.

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It was her family that our Mayor and County Judge would greet so warmly, with apologies, the following day….trying to make up in some small bits of hospitality for the cruelty Trump’s Travel Ban. (And my brilliant friend, Alia, who helped to bring the reunion together…)

Some months later, I checked on Elnaz, and she sent me this note…which is perhaps the best summary of all of what those protests meant. I’ll close these thoughts with her words to me, since the protests were really about folks like her to begin with. She sums it up well:

“Thank u Eric, my family is enjoying their trip and my father finally got to see his relatives, who migrated to US long time ago, after 30-40 yrs. I appreciate u and all American ppl whom their heart were with ppl like us, the memory of that day is not faded cause I always try to remind myself of all the stories of those two days, Jan 28th and 29th. I remember that so many Americans, whom their lives would never be affected by the travel ban, came to the airport just for humanitarian reasons. I always remember the dignity of this nation. I also remember the humiliation and racism that I felt after I heard abt the travel ban the night before and I understood no matter how much u try, ur still limited by the boundaries that u r born with, nationality is one of them…
That story had deep deep effects on me, I had always considered myself as a caring person but after that experience I try to be more caring abt other ppl everyday.
God bless u too”

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of The Woods United Methodist Church in Grand Prairie, Texas. For seventeen years, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas, Texas. Eric is an avid blogger and published author. Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy.

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