At Main Street Park on Friday, organizers are hoping to share words, prayers and calls to action to oppose the detention of migrant children and families at the border as a part of the international vigil Lights for Liberty.
“There doesn’t look like an end in sight,” Rutland resident and Castleton Indivisible co-founder Heather Stevenson said of the migrant detentions by the border. “We wanted to do something. ... We heard of some events being done locally, we wanted to bring attention to what’s happening to our community.”
Citizens from eight cities in Vermont are joining people around the world in opposition to the camps where immigrants on the southern border are being held, many separated from their families at very young ages, according to media reports.
And two weeks ago, Castleton Indivisible decided Rutland would host a candlelight vigil of its own.
“We need to be part of that national dialogue, and we need to show that Rutland County cares,” Stevenson said. “For our brothers and sisters.”
Members say they’re also celebrating diversity and what it brings to a community, including economic enrichment, positive connection and general world outlook. Friday’s event starts at 7 p.m.
“It’s really important to what’s happening globally and the type of damage we’re causing right now,” said Tabitha Pohl-Moore, Vermont director of the NAACP. “We really are a part of the problem.
“Vermonters need to be just as aware, just as involved and just as active in seeking justice for migrants in particular.”
Stevenson said connections to Migrant Justice and RAICES (The Refugee and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Services), a 501c3 nonprofit with 130 attorneys, legal assistants and support staff dedicated to providing legal assistance and representation to migrant communities both in Texas and after they leave the state, will be provided so attendees can leave with direct instructions as to how they can help.
Fifty-one thousand cases were closed in 2017 with no cost to their clients, according to the RAICES website.
Many times, false information regarding refugees leads to false assumptions, accusations and stigmas, event organizers say.
“They’re not eligible for benefits,” Stevenson said of the myths surrounding undocumented immigrants seeking asylum. “They play a crucial role in our agriculture ... We will be handing out fact sheets with that information, tips on how to talk to friends and family about this.”
Castleton Indivisible was started in 2017. Co-founders Mary Droege and Stevenson have hosted a series of socio-political events previously in Rutland, including a “Families Belong Together” march last year when family separations became a subject of nationwide controversy, and a vigil in 2017 to honor the victims of the Charlottesville riots, Droege said.
“It’s important in Vermont because we’re 98% white, and a lot of the immigrants are people of color,” Stevenson said of the vigil. “It’s important for white Vermonters to know that we were originally immigrants and we need to recognize their humanity. We have a history of dehumanizing them and thinking of them as ‘other’ ... (when) Vermont’s economy and well being depends on bringing in more people.”
“I think its abhorrent what’s happening down at the border, with children being held in such despicable conditions,” Droege said. “I’m surprised that anyone considers that okay.”
Spiritual leaders from around the county have been invited, and the event is open and free to anyone hoping to join in a peaceful, flashlight-lit evening ceremony, Droege said.
The “Lights for Liberty” vigil is hosted by a multitude of international rights organizations, including the New Sanctuary Coalition, the Border Network for Human Rights, the Hope Border Institute, WeCount and Witness Homestead.
Sponsors of the event number over 130, including the Washington Ethical Society, United Church of Christ, Border Angels and the Dolores Huerta Foundation, according to the event website.
“It’s something our government is doing that we disagree with,” Droege said. “I would hope not holding children in those conditions would speak across political lines. It’s fundamental to morality.”
Pohl-Moore said Vermonters remain largely insulated from the issues of race and prejudice more common in other, more urban communities, and have a responsibility to educate themselves as to what other human beings remained capable of.
“It’s directly linked to society’s inability to see the humanity, to see the injustice, and to see the pain is connected to racism and their insensitivity to the pain of people who do not look like them,” Pohl-Moore said. “We don’t get to celebrate the Fourth of July and freedom when we’re putting people in cages. Nobody should be in a cage.”