Last Tuesday (January 31st) I had the privilege of attending a rally with my friends, colleagues, and students at Lehigh University. The purpose of the rally was to protest President Trump’s recent executive order banning immigration from specific nations and from my perspective, more importantly, to stand in solidarity with all immigrants in our community.
I had never attended a political rally before; my anxiety disorder makes it difficult for me to be in large crowds of strangers. But I figured there would not be a body-crushing number of people and since many of my colleagues/friends from the English Department were attending I decided to give it a try.
I was curious as to what the experience would be like: would Trump supporters show up to heckle us? Would law enforcement officials appear? Would we all break out into song quoting lyrics from Hamilton?
As you can probably guess, none of these things happened (at least to my knowledge). So what did happen? I was not present for very long but I can tell you what I did see and hear:
I saw students, faculty, and staff hugging each other speaking words of comfort and support.
I saw student leaders handing out worksheets on how to help those affected by the executive order.
I saw signs declaring that inclusivity is the foundation of our nation.
I heard students openly and bravely express their fear and anger in an honest, mature way.
I heard students and staff arguing for compassion and understanding across the political spectrum.
I heard students and staff express their hopes of continued action on the part of the Lehigh community and the American nation.
Talking to my colleagues afterwards what seemed to strike all of us was the articulate way that students (some of our own!) responded to a highly emotional and politically complex issue. I think it’s important to emphasize that the people who spoke acknowledged their anger and fear: in today’s political climate we cannot afford to hide the emotional context of our political views.
But at the end of the rally what came through, what each speaker emphasized, was not anger and fear, but hope and love for the community that stood with them and for the concept of universal compassion that this executive order undermines.
I already know that some will look at reports of the rally and say it was just a moment of privileged liberal youth who had nothing better to do than complain.
But looking back at the passion, courage, and eloquence I observed last week I can tell you – this was not a moment, it is a movement.