Alongside nearly 1,000 other students, I attended Sun., Jan. 29’s candlelight vigil. The vigil was held as a show of support for refugees and foreign-born people affected by Trump’s recent executive order. For almost an hour we held our candles in the chilly, blustery weather, listening to impassioned responses to Trump’s Muslim Ban—a shadowy concept he mentioned on the campaign trail, which was initially denounced by most politicians, including Mike Pence.
I supported the vigil’s politics, but was unsure of its polite tactics: how much progress can really be made by standing around with candles on Cross Campus? With this quandary in mind, I recharged my portable electric candle (a Christmas gift from Mom and Dad), and joined the throng. The crowd was dense, with protesters young and old tightly packed along the length of Cross Campus. Vigil organizers handed out electronic candles in case protesters didn’t bring their own. Not just Yale students showed up—local families were in attendance too, some even pushing baby strollers. The centerpiece of the scene was a single word—SOLIDARITY—boldly projected onto the front wall of Sterling Memorial Library. As a procession of speakers rallied the crowd, solidarity became the unifying theme of the event.
Solidarity proved a fitting word to frame Sunday night’s vigil, which fostered a budding support network of protesters and angry citizens. Trinh Truong, SY ’19, who spoke at the march as a political refugee from Vietnam, explained why “solidarity” is so fitting for the occasion: “To me, solidarity means uniting for the betterment of humanity. Solidarity transcends race, class, religion, gender, and any other dividing factor.… All of our struggles are connected. Solidarity is important because it’s the only way things change: humanity doesn’t comprise one individual.” Solidarity is a word that unifies the protester and the afflicted. That’s why, when we talk about solidarity, it is almost always followed by the word “fellow”—solidarity with our fellow students, with our fellow Americans, with our fellow humans. It’s a word that puts the burden on everyone.
The projection of the word “Solidarity” onto the front wall of Sterling was the idea of Dennis Wang, a first-year student at the School of Medicine, who was inspired by a similar image at the JFK protests last weekend. Outside the terminal, one “expression of defiance” stood out the most: the word “RESIST”, emblazoned across the wall of a parking garage. The source of the image was a “taller gentleman who was balancing a rather large projector on his head.” Wang suggested the organizers of Sunday’s vigil do something similar—but “RESIST” wasn’t suitable for our campus demonstration. Individuals directly affected by the executive order believed that “resisting was not… something that all non-citizens could safely do,” and so, “the team settled on ‘SOLIDARITY,’” a more inclusive call to action. According to Sara A. Lulo, Assistant Dean of the Law School, who proposed the word, “‘Solidarity’ was meant as a unifying message of strength and community. It was a direct message of support to those endangered and isolated as a result of the executive order. ‘Solidarity’ also serves as a reminder to all that we must each stand up for one another and for human dignity itself.”
Some protesters might have questioned the efficacy of holding a vigil, instead of a more typical protest against an executive order that sparked such widespread outrage. The word “vigil” is commonly associated with community response to tragedy. Truong remarks that, to her, a vigil is an appropriate response to the recent political developments: “After the executive orders were issued, I think the entire country needed to reflect and decide on what we wanted the word ‘American’ to mean…. This political moment is one of tragedy. It symbolizes a divergence from our commitments and the best of our values. Let’s hope––and also work––to make sure this divergence is temporary.”
At Sunday’s vigil, which heralded the beginning of an uncertain new era, we mourned the loss of compassion in our American policy towards refugees. But I was heartened by the spectacle of 1,000 fellow New Haveners ready to act up. This was an event that, as Wang said, was not about “grief, or powerlessness, but about the community coming together.” The vigil served as a powerful reminder that, despite the distress caused by the executive order, so many of us are willing to stand in solidarity with our fellow humans, especially the most vulnerable.