Liberation News photo: Chris Garaffa
On November 28, over 400 people rallied at the Connecticut State Capitol to proclaim “Refugees are welcome here!” Though the state of Connecticut and Governor Malloy had already announced that the state would accept refugees fleeing ISIS terror from Syria, word spread around the state that a “Say no to refugees” rally was being planned. The pro-refugee rally was initially called as a counter-demonstration, but the 400 people there far overshadowed the 18 racist anti-refugee protesters on the other side.
Carrying signs that read, “Fight racism, Islamophobia and imperialism,” “When you have enough you build a bigger table NOT a bigger fence!” and “Welcome Syrian brothers and sisters,” the crowd gathered and grew throughout the morning despite rain. The people who came out came from every area of the state and represented nearly every sector of society: Black, white, Latina, East Asian, LGBTQ, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, young and old, labor and students.
A broad coalition came together for the demonstration, united by a strong desire to stand up against racist and fascist fear-mongering and hate. Speakers representing an immense spectrum of political, religious and community organizations declared the need to both fight racism and Islamophobia and end the root causes of the Syrian refugee crisis. Organizations included the ANSWER Coalition, Moral Monday Ct., Council on American Islamic Relations of Connecticut, Unitarian Universalist Society of Manchester, Activate Ct., Middle East Crisis Committee, National Lawyer’s Guild CT, and IRIS (Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services), which is helping refugees who are being resettled in the New Haven area. Chris George, director of IRIS, explain the long and difficult process for refugees coming into the United States. The demonstration also collected dozens of bags of items needed for incoming families, including sweaters, coats, hats, gloves and other winter items.
Mongi Dhaouadi, director of CAIR Ct., told the rally, “This is a true coalition! … We must help the Syrian people find a solution. Not through war, not through intervention, not through funding extremist organizations.”
Norman Clement, an organizer with the ANSWER Coalition and a Native activist, told the crowd, “First Nations people could never turn away people in need, people who through no fault of their own now have no home, no food, no connection to their friends and families, no connection to their lands they were stripped of everything. Our teachings would never allow us to turn our backs to people in need. We didn’t do it in 1620 when the settlers arrived and we won’t do it now. Hatred, racism, homophobia, misogyny and Islamophobia are not native to these lands and we reject them. Syrians we welcome you.”
Though the state government has said they will accept Syrian refugees – and has been accepting them since 2011 – Islamophobia and racism are surging in the state. The night of the terror attacks in Paris, the Baitul Aman mosque in Meriden, Ct. was shot at multiple times, with bullets piercing the walls. Across the country, attacks against Muslim people are on the rise. The demonstration in Hartford was a significant and public step for the movement, which promises to continue to build and grow in defense of refugees, Arab and Muslim residents and all whose civil rights are at risk.
It is imperative that we continue to spread the demonstrations of today beyond this moment. The terror of racist, fascist and islamophobic bigotry is growing daily as it is encouraged through many avenues, including, but not limited to, the rise of Donald Trump’s popularization. His blatantly fascist commentary is not only evil, but extraordinarily dangerous because he is a voice for the most horrific bigotry this country has seen in a long time and an instigator of terror. Without the open encouragements of a person like this, closet-racists would not feel emboldened to step out as the supporters of oppressors and participate in acts of violence and hate crimes. The terror these fear-mongering cowards try to attach to Muslim people is actually being enacted by right-wing Americans every single week. It is for this reason that everywhere we go we must be proud and we must be vocal about our convictions. Let us encourage those who are fearful and give them the confidence that we truly are stronger together. This rally today proved that we can do that. This rally today proved that for every racist out there, there are at least 20 of us who will defend justice and stand up for real change. We must continue to stand together with our Syrian brothers and sisters during this trying time, just as we should whenever people’s rights are under attack.
The message was loud and clear: refugees are welcome here!