Candlelight vigil against Trump's travel ban held at Chattanooga's Coolidge Park
Last week, Chattanooga citizens and Bridge Refugee Services of Knoxville held a "We All Belong" vigil in downtown Chattanooga's Coolidge Park to speak out against Trump's proposed—and currently halted— travel ban against those from select Muslim-majority countries.
It was only one of several vigils held across the country as part of a national day of action in protest against the ban.
A crowd of nearly 100 people gathered as speakers of various backgrounds— like Muslim leader Mansour Ansar— shared their stories of discrimination from living in the Trump era. Many attendees also shared their own testimonies, bringing to attention the dangers this ban could incite.
Marina Peshterianu, the director of Bridge Refugee Services, said she’d like to see more students getting involved in the discussion and start taking action.
“Young people can be politically active, trying to give a voice to those who need assistance, they can get involved with the agencies that provide support to refugees and immigrants and give their time to address their needs,” Peshterianu said.
Peshterianu said that some ways students can help is by holding fundraisers on behalf of the agencies who work directly with this population (like Bridge), as these agencies constantly look for additional funding to support a variety of much needed projects for refugees.
“The main three words are: educate, advocate, donate,” Peshterianu said.
Khadija Aslam, a Muslim student at Chattanooga's Girls Preparatory School, told Lee Clarion how difficult it is to see many of her people not invited into this country—the way her family was.
“I am Muslim, my parents are Muslim. So when I look at the refugees, I see myself,” Aslam said. “This refugee issue really hits close to home, especially because my parents were also immigrants from Pakistan, a Muslim country.”
Nikki Goldbach, another student at GPS, said she couldn't understand those who profess concern for a potential downfall in the American economy if we allow in large numbers of Muslim refugees.
“There’s a need for our country to welcome anyone who seeks the United States as a refuge,” Goldbach said. “It’s not a question of holding up the American economy because the economy can only grow stronger with more people in the workforce.”
Riley Grace Poe, a freshman at Lee who attended the vigil, spoke on her perception of what she saw—much of which she agreed with, though she found the presentation itself to be lacking.
"I feel like division can seem like an unavoidable thing. People go to these types of events for multiple issues: pro-life marches to refugee vigils,” Poe said. “They go because they already feel strongly and are reaffirming their beliefs with a group that feels similarly.”
Poe thinks the church ultimately isn’t affirming of events such as the vigil, though she argued it ought to be in order to become more in tune with the thought process of those outside the church circle.
“There is a sort of taboo these days against marches and vigils in the Christian community, against any organized profession of beliefs,” Poe said. “I think that ‘cross-pollination’ with vigils like this would be great.”
She said there is a way to be more open minded towards these beliefs.
“I think we have to be willing to take the first step in not being married to our own beliefs, being willing to interact with people of other faiths and listen to them,” Poe said. “I think valuable interaction comes when we are uncomfortable and willing to sacrifice our own pride to listen and to grow.”
Peshterianu said that her organization is focused on helping refugees regain the independence they've lost in their critical transitions.
“Our mission is to provide opportunities for refugees to rebuild their lives after suffering persecution so that they become productive and contributing members of the community,” Peshterianu said.
Peshterianu said that she hoped that the people who attended will become advocates in their own right.
“They can contact their senators and representatives and become advocates for refugees and immigrants,” Peshterianu said. “They can start conversations about inclusiveness, compassion and mutual respect to the ‘proverbial others.’”