Less than an hour before it began, I posted a last-minute announcement on Facebook to alert my local friends about a rally to support immigrant rights and religious freedom in opposition to Donald Trump’s recent orders. No big deal, right?
Well, maybe it was a big deal after all, here’s why:
My Facebook announcement about this spontaneous rally in a medium-sized town located on the Midwestern prairie, generated dozens of “likes” from friends and family across the country (and the world!). I was surprised to see all the interest from outside the local community. Clearly people care about what’s going on in our new political climate and are eager to act — even if it’s just clicking an emoji. I never would have guessed that a wave of Facebook “likes” would inspire me to write, but here you have it, another illustration of the power of social media.
The group that organized the rally — Not in Our Town — did not hatch the idea until Sunday, only three days prior to the event. Yet despite the very short notice and almost no publicity, more than 1,100 people from a community of about 100,000 residents filled the auditorium beyond its capacity.
The size, the diversity and the energy of the crowd moved many to tears (including me). I may never have been in a room more diverse than the room last night. It was uplifting to see all the people — black, brown and white, immigrants and citizens, the religious and non-believers — supporting our relatively tiny Muslim and immigrant populations. The love and support in the air was palpable — the type of experience we all should have more often.
And there was a surprising amount of support from people who might have shied away from such an event — representatives of each of our U.S. Senators read statements of support, both of our local Mayors spoke passionately about the need to uphold our values, and even our State Representative, a Republican no less, was in the house, standing up to applaud several speakers. The police were there too, on duty and in uniform, and at least one of them openly clapped his support throughout the event (see photo).
I am reporting all of this because it felt good to be there and, especially in these times, it is important to share such moments with others who may be feeling discouraged and helpless. The rally was a powerful display of solidarity, it was spontaneous, and happened in a pretty conservative community. It was particularly inspiring because of these qualities. It wasn’t well-organized like a march on Washington, it did not take place in a major city with a huge media market or in a progressive enclave, and it wasn’t held on a weekend.
It was simply a (huge) group of citizens, answering a call on short notice to show up on a cold Wednesday evening to support their fellow humans and to reaffirm the values they share. It was a powerful demonstration of real citizenship, the kind of vocal, active and vigilant citizenship that our times require. We’ve seen a lot of this kind of direct action over the last week or so. Maybe it’s a sign of a renewed and re-energized democracy. Or maybe it’s just the people making America great again.
Photos thanks to Gabriel Jiménez Glez