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Refugee Ban A 'Wake Up Call' For Complacent Chicagoans

By Patty Wetli | January 31, 2017 10:34am | Updated on January 31, 2017 12:03pm
 Suzanne Akhras Sahloul of the Syrian Community Network was among the speakers at a refugee forum that highlighted the need for citizens to mobilize on a variety of fronts.
Suzanne Akhras Sahloul of the Syrian Community Network was among the speakers at a refugee forum that highlighted the need for citizens to mobilize on a variety of fronts.
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DNAinfo/Patty Wetli

NORTH CENTER — If there is a silver lining to be found in President Donald Trump's executive order banning refugees and immigrants from entering the U.S., it's that it spurred previously complacent Chicagoans to become engaged citizens, said attendees at a Monday night forum on the refugee crisis.

"It's a wake-up call," said Jen Grant of Lincoln Park, part of a group of friends who turned out for the forum. "I feel like everyone wants to do something."

Her pal Julia Friedman said the phrase "government by the people" had taken on added significance in recent days.

Weeks ago she wasn't even sure of her legislative district, now she's following congressional votes on Trump's cabinet picks, she said.

The two women were among the hundreds who packed the event at Concordia Place. The discussion had been organized months ago by state Reps. Kelly Cassidy, Sara Feigenholtz and Ann Williams as an information session but gained a sense of urgency as a call to action following the travel ban that went into effect last Friday.

"Every American, or person who understands the U.S. constitution, asked themselves, 'Can the president do this?' We now have to test the strength of our constitution," said Feigenholtz, who, like her counterparts, is a Democrat representing North Side neighborhoods. 

This week it's refugees, next week it could be women, the week after that the LGBTQ community, maintained Cassidy.

"As a Jew, as a lesbian, I know we're in the crosshairs," said Cassidy. "'Never again' is now. It depends on all of us to make sure those words have meaning."

The purpose of the forum — part of a planned series — was to take the anger, fear and dissatisfaction of attendees and channel it into advocacy.

"People have realized their power," said Rivka Garver. "You go to things like this to get the energy to keep going."

Garver's friend Tama Porter said she hoped the show of support for refugees would somehow translate into activism on behalf of Chicagoans struggling with violence and poverty.

"There's so many issues day to day," Porter said. "I love the outpouring. I hope it spills over into all these other things, now that people are mobilized."

The conundrum was one that gave Friedman pause.

The refugee ban "was one clear policy decision you can attack," whereas Chicago's social ills, of which crime is just a symptom, seem too overwhelming, she said.

But the seeds for action have been planted, Friedman said.

How does change begin in Chicago?

"You start by showing up," she said.

RELATED: Where Refugees Who Migrate To Chicago Come From (MAP)