Politics and protests come to Super Bowl LI

By Eric Burgher
Reporting from Houston

“No ban, no wall, Houston is for all.”

Those chants echoed in the streets of downtown Houston Saturday as hundreds of anti-Trump protesters hoped to steal a momentary spotlight at one of the biggest events in professional sports, Super Bowl LI.

The protest began at City Hall and made its way to the outer edge of NFL Live, an interactive football fan experience. It was a show of combined effort from several different Houston-area groups Saturday, including “Resist Trump, Resist Hate,” “Standing Rock,” “Black Moms,” “Houston Area Progressives,” and “Socialist Alternative,” all marching together as #ResistHouston.

“We are here today to stand together and unify against the divisive politics of Donald Trump,” said Brian Harrison, a lawyer and one of the organizers for Socialist Alternative. “During his campaign, he attacked virtually every kind of human being there is. With his policies, he has now attacked Muslims and immigrants and women. We must stand united in opposition.”

Super Bowl LI

His sentiments are no surprise in Harris County, home of NRG stadium where the Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons will be played Sunday. It is a purple county deep in the heart of a bright red state. The county voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 after voting for George W. Bush in 2004. But Obama won by such small margins (1.63 percent in ’08 and .08 percent in ’12), that Hillary Clinton’s 12.38 percent victory over Donald Trump in 2016 was the largest presidential margin of victory in Harris in more than a decade.

And that dramatic shift was reflected in all the issues Houston residents came to protest, from the Keystone XL Pipeline to women’s rights.

“They don’t make signs big enough to fit them all,” said Mike Hart, a magazine publisher from Houston whose biggest concern is the Trump administration’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act.

But most notably, 64 percent of Houston area residents agree that refugees who are in danger in their home countries should always be welcome in Houston, according to the most recent Kinder Houston Area Survey, a multi-disciplinary “think-and-do tank” housed on the Rice University campus in central Houston.

“My parents are immigrants so they came here for the American dream,” said Sophia Pajwa, a protester whose parents came to the United States from Pakistan. “They built something for themselves and I think it goes completely against what this country stands for to push people who need our help out of here without any basis for it.”

According to the 2010 U.S. Religious Census, cited in the Texas Almanac, Texas has the largest Muslim population in the nation, most of whom live in Houston, where there are about 80 mosques.

Pajwa and her mother Saima attended their first march Saturday. Saima emigrated to the United States in 1988 and has been a Houston resident for the last 20 years.

“I am marching because I came here to make a better life,” Saima said. “And I don’t want it to stop for anyone else.”

Photo at top: Anti-Trump protests take over the streets of Houston on Super Bowl weekend (Eric Burgher/MEDILL)