Standing in Solidarity with Worcester’s Immigrants and Refugees: Reflections from the Holy Cross Community

February 2nd, 2017 by 

Holy Cross students stand with posters in protest at the Worcester solidarity rally
Members of the Holy Cross community join those of the Worcester community in front of City Hall for Worcester's solidarity rally.

More than 200 members of the Holy Cross community joined protesters Tuesday night at Worcester City Hall, a gathering that was intended to show support for the city’s immigrants and refugees. The solidarity rally of 1,300 — one of many that have unfolded across the country since President Donald Trump signed an executive order restricting immigration from seven Muslim countries and temporarily suspending refugee admission — was a direct response to a resolution posed to City Council, which requested clarification as to whether Worcester is a “sanctuary city.”

Two members of the Holy Cross community attended the demonstration and shared their thoughts in the reflections below:

Mary Cunningham ’17, religious studies and French major

Yesterday evening I joined students, faculty and staff from the Holy Cross community at the solidarity rally for Worcester’s immigrants and refugees. We arrived early, taking our place close to the steps of City Hall. Several of my Holy Cross classmates carried signs with them expressing their support for refugees and immigrants and their discontent for the new immigration ban. Popular slogans included “Love Trumps Hate,” “No Ban, No Wall” and “Love Has No Borders.” Upon arrival, a small group of people were chanting, “Say it loud, say it clear, refugees are welcome here.” We joined in, our voices clear yet still fairly quiet as we stood in front of City Hall under a light and gentle snow.

As more people arrived, individuals mounted the steps towards City Hall, proudly holding their signs high in the air. I felt myself slowly becoming surrounded by members of the Worcester community of all different ages, races and backgrounds. The chants gradually became louder as individuals began yelling, “No ban, no wall, America will welcome all.” As the voices around me swirled and became one, the courage and conviction behind my own words grew. I turned around to witness the large gathering of people that had amassed; they were carrying an assortment of signs, all huddled in the cold with looks of determination and empowerment.

At approximately 6:15 p.m., several speakers took to the podium to share their thoughts and reaction to the recent resolution proposed by City Councilor Michael Gaffney questioning Worcester’s status as a “sanctuary city.” We heard from various members of the community including Mayor Petty, members of Worcester Standing Up for Racial Justice, a representative from the Massachusetts Women of Color Coalition, the NAACP and leaders from the Muslim, Christian and Jewish faith communities.

Although these individuals were all from diverse backgrounds, I was amazed at how seamlessly their speeches fit together. They all showed their unwavering support for immigrants and refugees in the Worcester community while challenging the barriers put in place that threaten human dignity. Mayor Petty showed his support for the 40,000 immigrants who currently reside in Worcester and for others affected by the recent immigration ban. He also reiterated his commitment to maintaining an inclusive city, which refuses to fall prey to hatred and division. Another speaker from the Massachusetts Women of Color Coalition, Marianna Islam, stated that by standing together in solidarity we were all in some way “reclaiming our souls.”

As I stood listening to these speakers, I felt a renewed sense of passion. I was proud to be amongst people who stand up for what they believe in and who were determined to give a voice to the voiceless. In a country so polarized by political issues, it was refreshing to stand in solidarity with those are working to better our community. As the speeches winded down, the crowd moved into City Hall to hear the final decision on the resolution. I felt a great sense of unity as I turned towards the hundreds of people mobilizing around me, all in hopes of protecting and welcoming Worcester’s immigrants and refugees.

Members of the Holy Cross community join those of the Worcester community in front of City Hall in solidarity

Virginia Ryan, visiting lecturer of religious studies

I thought my marching and rally days were over. As a student in the late 60s, I had been one of those who felt compelled to resist in a tangible way the Viet Nam war. But like many Americans, I have awoken to a renewed sense of civic responsibility since November 8th. Like many, I have experienced strong emotional responses, mostly in the angry, sad and frightened range to the new administration. I marched in the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. and felt cautiously hopeful that there is a committed “we” who are voicing our concerns and yes, our outrage about the new administration’s threats, policies and actions that are in opposition to the values of Catholic Social Teaching that have been the mainstay of my vocation as an academic in the field of Catholic social ethics.

But last night at the solidarity rally at Worcester City Hall, I was part of a “we” that was local and thus truly personal and that had the potential to send a strong message about who we, the Worcester community, are called to be. I was standing amid a group that, by all appearances, represented every community, every sector of a city that is known for its diversity but not always for its solidarity. It was impossible not to be moved by the sight.

It was cold and even snowy at times last night, but we stood there with our array of signs, some funny, some poignant and some very personal; we were chanting, hugging and huddling against the cold. Nearly two hundred Holy Cross students, faculty, staff and administrators were present. I was so proud to be part of a community that was showing up for inclusion and justice. We shared a common purpose and two central questions in the College’s mission statement: What are our obligations to one another? What is our special responsibility to the world’s poor and powerless?

We had a part in the work of justice last night by being with and for others and standing for these basic commitments to the inherent dignity of all persons, to the right of all to participate in and contribute to the common good and to a special obligation or preferential option for the most vulnerable in our midst. And, by the way, the proposal that brought us together for protest was defeated 9-2!

Images by Andrea Peraza Calderon ’19

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