Date of rally sparks a debate in Cranbury

A rally that was focused on demanding Congress to cut funding to the Department of Homeland Security brought forth a debate in Cranbury.

Not about the issue itself, but the date of the rally. The rally, which earned itself the name – Defund Hate rally – was held at the office of Congressman Chris Smith (R- Mercer, Monmouth and Ocean) in Freehold on Sept. 11.

The date of the Defund Hate rally prompted comments from local officials in town concerned about the timing and connection to Cranbury from an organization called Indivisible.

“I understand there are many Cranbury residents that are upset that a group from Cranbury would organize a protest on 9/11, given how impacted our community was by those tragic events,” Cranbury Township Mayor James Taylor said. “I share that concern, and while this is a protest of a national issue, having nothing to do with Cranbury, because of the sensitivity of this date, I need to respond. It is true, I am a Democrat, but I fully and whole heartedly oppose any protest on 9/11 for any cause, no matter who is organizing it.”

Mayor Taylor said he considers Sept. 11, like his grandparents consider Pearl Harbor Day, as a day for unity and reflection.

“I fully support their right to protest, but I agree with many residents that their choosing 9/11 was opportunistic and shameful knowing the impact 9/11 had on thousands of families including those in Cranbury. September has wonderful weather 29 other days of the month,” he said.

The rally is part of a September Week of Action from Sept. 9-13, by the national movement in protest of inhumane conditions at the southern border. The group, Indivisible, is a nationwide movement of local volunteer groups who engage in progressive advocacy and electoral work.

“I am absolutely fine with the rally being on Sept. 11. I think it is the most patriotic thing we can do to expect our country to do what is right,” Laura Zurfluh, founder of the Indivisible’s Cranbury group and rally organizer. “The goal of the rally is to encourage our congressional legislators to take the money that has already been appropriated in Congress for immigration concerns and direct it to humanitarian aid for the immigrants; rather than building new detention facilities and hiring new ICE and border patrol agents.”

For the September Week of Action, the national movement asked the local groups to do a variety of things that included calling legislators, educating fellow citizens and potentially having some sort of rally.

Indivisible Cranbury organized the Defund Hate rally with a coalition of New Jersey progressive activist groups.

“I think there are people who do not agree with what we are trying to do and masking that by saying this date is not appropriate. I will point out that Cranbury Day was held on Sept. 11 in 2004 and 2010,” Zurfluh said. “There was not a big discussion about that then. I think anyone who is against this date would not have attended anyway if it was on another day.”

Taylor said the town did have Cranbury Day previously on Sept. 11, but in holding the community day then, it focused on unity rather than separation.

“That is a blessed unity and togetherness of community. That is what I was asking of those organizing this protest. Think of your neighbors and friends,” he said. “Think of those you can help right here and then go to Chris Smith’s office the next day.”

He said Sept.11 should not be a day of division.

“Life goes on, we will go to work and we will do what we need to do that day, but we can use 9/11 for unity and remembrance, we do not need to protest,” he said.

Zurfluh said that she had a moment of silence and addressed the significance of the day at the beginning and end of the event.

“We addressed the significance of the day and I do not think there is anything more patriotic than expecting our country to be the best that it can be. We should not be having people kept in such poor conditions,” she said. “I do not think that is what America is about and I think the date is more than appropriate for the rally. I think a lot of people want to close their eyes to what’s happening and continue to do so.”

During the week, there had been speculation about the planned rally as being endorsed or associated with the Cranbury Democratic Committee, due to Zurfluh being an elected member of the committee. The rally though was separate from the committee.

Susan Goetz, chairwoman of the Cranbury Democratic Committee, confirmed that an endorsement was not asked for and that the rally is not part of an activity planned by the committee.

“I personally do not find it offensive. I am speaking as an individual, not as chairwoman of the Cranbury Democratic party,” she said. “I felt it was important because there was a criticism of the Cranbury Democratic Committee and in some way felt it was important to explain the relationship between the two organizations. Personally though I do not find it offensive.”

She said no one will ever forget the day of Sept. 11 and that people have their different ways of honoring the day. Goetz explained she felt she did not need to condemn the groups actions.

“I do not see that if an individual is asking our country to be a better country, that they cannot do that on Sept. 11,” Goetz said.