Barbershop: Protests And Donald Trump
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now it's time for the Barbershop, where we bring together interesting folks to talk about what's in the news and what's on our minds. Joining us in the chair for a shapeup this weekend are Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Shalom, The National Synagogue. That's a modern Orthodox Jewish congregation here in Washington, D.C., and if you've ever studied the farm workers movement, a name you probably know, Dolores Huerta, one of the earliest members of what became the United Farm Workers. She was honored for her lifelong activism with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012, and she continues to support a new generation of organizers through her Dolores Huerta Foundation. One thing we wanted to mention - we taped this conversation on Friday afternoon so that Rabbi Herzfeld could join us, since today is the Jewish Sabbath. And we called him and Dolores Huerta because we wanted to talk about their role in an American tradition of protest. This political season has seen a wave of individual activism in a way we have not seen for some time. And often, the participants are people who say they've never thought of themselves as protesters until now. One of those people is Rabbi Herzfeld, who told us that as the leader of a congregation he generally avoids partisan politics. But he made news in Washington, D.C., earlier this week when he disrupted Donald Trump's speech at the AIPAC convention here in D.C. on Monday. Rabbi Herzfeld stood up, put on his prayer shawl and shouted this man is wicked, he inspires racists and bigots, don't listen to him. And he shouted that until he was escorted out by security. So I started our conversation by asking him how he made the decision to do that.
SHMUEL HERZFELD: It was a very difficult thing for me to do, and I knew that not everybody would be pleased. Even some of my closest friends would be very disappointed with me and upset with me, but I felt a religious imperative to stand up.
MARTIN: What went into your kind of thinking about this? I mean, was it kind of a moment that came to you and said this is - this is the thing that I must do? I can't - because, you know, you could write a letter, for example. You could've written something. You could've...
HERZFELD: I could've stood outside in protest. But I felt that it wouldn't have any power and it wouldn't be heard. There would be so many people from, you know, across the spectrum. I wanted to make an impact. I wanted to show my children and for anybody who cares about what I think that I would put everything I believe in on the line and stand up in front of him, in front of 19,000 people and say to everybody there do not listen to Trump. He is against what we are about.
MARTIN: Dolores Huerta, what do you think about the protests that have been going on lately? What are your thoughts about this as a person who has done a lot of activism yourself in the course of your life? And you have been beaten in doing - in doing so.
DOLORES HUERTA: When you do a protest at an event like the rabbi did, it's a way that you can really send your message directly to the people that you are protesting so they can physically see that yes, we have individuals here who are using their person, their bodies basically to send this message that we are not in agreement with what you are saying or what you are doing. And this is the way that we change things.
MARTIN: Were you ever scared or are you ever scared when you do things like this?
HUERTA: I think there's always fear. And what I like to say to people is that when we take that step that - you know, first of all, just take a deep breath and kind of quell the anxieties and the butterflies that you feel because you know that you're doing the right thing. Have a faith in yourself; have faith in the cause that you're protesting about. And in spite of all of those fears, we have to do this. And I think this is what makes the personal protest so powerful. It's almost - I call it like a prayer in action when we are protesting, when we are marching. You know, this is - we're putting our energy in - focusing our energy on the issue that we really care deeply about. And we of course feel that it's a righteous issue that we are asking for people to pay attention to or to correct the injustice that we're protesting about.
MARTIN: Rabbi, talk a little bit more if you would about the fact that you said you're a congregational rabbi, which means that people in your congregation belong to all different political parties. You try not to talk - get involved in partisan stuff. So how did you kind of decide this particular thing is the thing that I have to stand up and speak to?
HERZFELD: I felt like this is something I've never seen in my lifetime. I was born in 1974. I felt that this is different, that there's - everybody else running is basically politics as usual. And inside one paradigm, I just felt that he was so different and inspiring so many people to come out from the shadows. And so when he came to Washington - and I thought it'd be an opportunity to speak truth to power. And that's why I wore my prayer shawl, the talit, to demonstrate that this is something that I'm doing coming from deep inside my soul, that - every teaching I've incorporated about the Torah into my being. Every prayer that I've said is represented by what I'm doing, and that's what the talit represented to me.
MARTIN: What do you say to those, rabbi, who say look, I don't - I just wanted to hear what he had to say and, you know, you're interfering with my ability just to hear what he had to say? What do you say to that?
HERZFELD: What I say is he's already said so much to inspire so much damage that this a person who we should not be listening to. That's what I said - don't listen to him. We know who he is.
MARTIN: And the whole question of grandstanding 'cause inevitably at times like this people will say oh, you just want attention.
HERZFELD: Well, I do want attention. If I would've been outside, it would not have - the message would not have gotten out. I needed to be right there in front of him. And I know that his voice changed. I know the he looked at me and his voice changed. And I know that I made my point. Whether or not it will impact him, probably - it'll be maybe one small thing, but I know that I made the point - that I needed to be there to make that point.
MARTIN: Dolores Huerta, what about you? I want to go back to what you're talking about here that - what is it that causes you to say this is the moment that I have to put my own body on the line to do something?
HUERTA: Well, we know that if we do not do the protest, then nothing changes. This is basically the way that you get the attention. And of course, other types of protests are, like, fasts, like what we did a lot in the farm workers movement. Of course, Cesar Chavez who did three 25-day water-only fasts - in fact, the last one was 36-day water-only fast to bring attention to the country about the danger of pesticides, which is the same issue that I was beaten by the police in San Francisco in 1988. And so...
MARTIN: Yeah, I wanted to mention that because I think many people may have forgotten that in September of 1988 - this is in front of the St. Francis Hotel in Union Square, you were badly beaten by San Francisco police during a protest of - then it was candidate President George H.W. Bush. I don't think many people kind of associate his candidacy with that kind of, you know, street protest and something that escalated to that degree. And you were beaten so badly as I recall that you had several broken ribs and that your spleen had to be removed. How did it get to that point? What happened?
HUERTA: Well, it was interesting because there was no type of violence at all in the protest until the police moved in and started beating people up. And - but one of the good things that came out of that particular protest is that they had a change at their practices of the San Francisco Police Department to make sure that future protesters wouldn't get the same type of treatment that we did. So, you know, something very good came out of that. And again, many times we know - we go back to the Vietnam War, we go to, you know, women getting the right to vote, the civil rights movement - it was these protests that were able to eventually change laws. And even when violence is bestowed upon us, you know, by the authorities, do not respond with violence. And I think that that's of course the way that we have to continue with that type of a mindset, like with Gandhi and Dr. King and Cesar Chavez that we do our protests - we do them peacefully because that way, I believe that we have a spiritual energy that is then invoked and that the people who are the perpetrators of violence that they will be reached by that spiritual energy of gun violence.
MARTIN: One more thing I wanted to mention is that - and I hope you don't my mentioning it in this way - is that neither of you, Dolores Huerta, Rabbi Herzfeld - neither of you is a kid, a child, right? Because I think many people think that the people who engage in these kinds of protests are very young. One of the things that Donald Trump in particular says, go home to mommy to sort of imply that the only reason you're doing this is because you're immature or you don't - you know, you don't get it or something like that. So I just - I was curious about that. And Dolores Huerta, you are continuing to engage in these kinds of protests in your seasoned years - shall I put it that way? I just wanted to ask you about that. Does it ever get to be too much, or is there any other final thought you wanted to give us about that?
HUERTA: Well, I just hope that those types of criticisms never keep anybody from protesting. Yes, I'm going to be 86 years old on April the 10 in just a few more days. So no, I will never stop protesting as long as I have the energy and the health to be able to do it - si, se puede.
MARTIN: That was activist Dolores Huerta, joining us from Bakersfield, Calif., Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld here in Washington, D.C. We want to say again that we recorded this conversation on Friday in advance of the Jewish Sabbath. We also want to let you know that this network has an ongoing request in to the Trump campaign to talk about this and a number of other issues. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.