WASHINGTON — About 100 small groups of Syrian refugee activists held vigils Thursday evening to send a message to President Donald Trump that accepting refuges from Syria is at least as important as taking military action against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Women’s March co-founder Bob Bland said the group designated Thursday as a “Women For Syria” day of action and encouraged people across the country to hold vigils, read about the Syrian conflict, and donate to charities serving Syrians trapped in conflict as well as those resettled in the United States.
“I think the best outcome [of this event] would be that we can continue mainstreaming this conversation around how all of us have a responsibility to refugees,” Bland said. “As Americans, we have an incredible country, we have incredible resources, and we need to extend those to our refugee communities.”
In Washington, advocates gathered at The Outrage, a clothing shop in the northwest part of the city that donates a portion of its profits to organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood.
The store’s creative director, Amanda Maldonado, said she felt hopeless after reading about last week’s chemical attack in northern Syria that killed at least 86 people, including many children. When she saw the Women’s March’s announcement about the day for Syria, she decided to organize a vigil at the shop.
“The message here is about unity, and also that we need to take care of each other,” said Maldonado, 27. “We want people to feel that there is a vehicle to use to create some sort of change.”
The Women’s March group is calling on Trump to resettle 75,000 Syrians this year, Bland said. Since Trump took office, just under 1,500 Syrian refugees have been brought to America, according to data on the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program’s website.
Attendees were invited to decorate posters and to write postcards to their congressional representatives. About 45 minutes into the gathering, organizers dimmed the lights and lit candles.
“We’re here to mourn with the Syrian people,” Maldonado said.
Quoting Warsan Shire’s poem “Home,” Maldonado read,“You have to understand, no one puts their children in a boat, unless the water is safer than the land.”
After a moment of silence, Maldonado invited participants to share their thoughts on the Syrian crisis.
Video by Karys Belger, Medill News Service
“If Trump had spent more money supporting refugees than bombing the airbase, it would have been better,” Jill Murray, 68, said, referring to the Trump administration’s launch of 59 tomahawk missiles at the Syrian airbase as a response to the Assad regime’s chemical attack.
In an interview, Murray said she was outraged that some Americans don’t want to accept Syrian refugees.
Her husband, Bill, said there are nonmilitary aspects to the Syrian conflict the administration should focus on.
“I think we could be much more aggressive supporting the refugees, not just bringing them here, but also supporting the efforts to set up safe zones, to stop the people using these unsafe boats to leave Syria,” he said.