A “Lights for Liberty” vigil in Chestertown’s Memorial Park Friday, July 12, drew some 125 residents to protest the incarceration of immigrant children in what are being called concentration camps located both near the US border with Mexico and in other states. The vigil featured speakers, music, and prayers for the children in the camps, which have drawn widespread criticism for crowding and inhumane conditions.
Soul Force Politics, a political action group created by former Maryland Delegate and gubernatorial candidate Heather Mizeur, organized the event. Mizeur opened the proceedings, noting that the candlelight vigil on Friday was one of hundreds being held around the nation and internationally, with some sources estimating over 1,000 such events world-wide. She said the purpose of the vigils was to call attention to the presence of the camps and the conditions of the children “in a nice way.” She then called out, “(Rep.) Andy Harris, are you here? We’re trying to send you a message.” As the Stam Hall clock tolled 9 p.m., she said the attendees were there “to toll the bell for a different way” of treating the refugees in the camps. “This isn’t going to stand any longer,” she said. It was important, she stressed, that we bring both intention and attention to the situation.
Fredy Granillo then took the microphone for a song in Spanish, which he dedicated to all Latino people. He asked the crowd to make an effort to see that Latino people they meet in the community are comfortable and feel welcomed. As he sang, the crowd joined in on the chorus, “Sobreviviendo” (“surviving”).
The next speaker was Alana Watson, of the Students Talking About Racism (STAR) group at the Kent County public schools. She said it was shameful that children are being imprisoned, and noted the words of the Pledge of Allegiance, “liberty and justice for all.” She said that while the damage of the camps is not being done “in our backyard,” it’s necessary to shine a light on it to make everyone aware. She characterized the children in the camps as “people without someone to bring them justice… We need to be those people.” She ended by recalling the July 4th celebrations in Rock Hall, with the song “Proud to Be an American” playing, while the children in the camps were cold and alone. “I hope they know that we care,” she said.
Bob and Pam Ortiz and Ford Schumann then joined Granillo for more music. Bob Ortiz said that his own family was part of the first wave of Latino immigrants to the U.S. that arrived between the end of the Spanish American War in 1898 and World War II. Granillo joined in on the song, “Vaya con Norte,” (“Go North”) with the audience singing along with the chorus. Ortiz said he had only recently learned that Puerto Ricans are only “provisional” citizens.
Mizeur invited several members of the clergy who were in attendance to say a joint prayer. She expressed hope that the incarcerated children and their parents know that people are “standing with them,” and that Americans understand that they are here because of the threat of violence in their home countries. With the threat of raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) police beginning Sunday, “it’s up to us to provide a safe harbor,” and directed attendees to the Soul Force Politics website for resources to help refugees. Mizeur also suggested that attendees support Latino-owned businesses such as the Mexican grocery store near Chestertown. She concluded by saying that Chestertown was “the most beautiful I have ever seen you” that night at the vigil, and told the attendees, “Your heart, your soul, your dedication matter.”
Caitlan Gartland, the associate pastor of the Presbyterian Church of Chestertown, said that the vigil showed that “the spirit is moving upon the people,” and expressed hope that the protests would help turn around the administration’s immigration policies.
Rev. Tom Sinnott, who serves the Spanish-speaking congregation at Shrewsbury Church, said he had picked up a candle at the local convenience store and saw that it was labeled “born to shine.” He said that was equally true of people of faith, and that he was here to make sure they said, “No more” to those maintaining the camps.
Granillo and the Ortizes then came together for a final song, “Dale,” from Granillo’s native El Salvador. Granillo said that the song has a happy rhythm, but the words are “in the opposite direction” from the rhythm. He dedicated the song to all Latin American people.
Mizeur closed the evening by asking each audience member to hug five people before they left. “Love each other real good,” she said. “It’s love that’s going to bring about change.”
Photos by Peter Heck and Jane Jewell
Photo by Jane Jewell