Around 75 people gathered peacefully Wednesday evening in Macomb's Chandler Park to share their worries and concerns following Donald Trump's victory in the presidential election.
The crowd gathered in front of the park’s gazebo where a microphone and speaker were set up. One by one, attendees took to the makeshift stage to share their concerns about a Trump presidency.
Some wondered aloud whether their same-sex marriage will remain valid or if they’ll still be able to afford health insurance without the Affordable Care Act or if their family will be safe.
During his campaign, Trump promised to step up scrutiny of immigrants, especially Muslims who might come to the U.S. to commit terrorist acts.
Shazia Rahman, a Muslim from Pakistan, has lived in Macomb for 14 years and teaches English at Western Illinois University. She told the crowd she’s concerned about her safety and the safety of her teenage son, who is an American citizen.
“It wasn’t that easy to send him off to school on Wednesday morning [the day after the election]. It wasn’t that easy to not offer give him a ride and it’s only a mile away and he doesn’t really need a ride and he goes to school on his bike every day. It wasn’t that easy, but I did it. I sent him to school,” Rahman said.
In just the week since the election, there have been several reports of racially and religiously charged incidents across the country. That comes as the F.B.I. released a report Monday showing attacks against American Muslims rose in 2015 and hate crimes were up by 6% over the previous year.
At times during the rally, the crowd chanted, “Not my president,” and “We will not be silenced,” and Heather McMeekan led a drum circle. McMeekan, who works as a Webmaster in the IT Department at Western, encouraged members of the crowd to speak up and freely share their feelings.
“It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to be frightened. It’s okay to be distraught that so many of our friends and family have decided that yes, Trump is a bigot, he is a sexist and he is hurtful; but that’s not a deal breaker. It’s appalling to discover that so many people really are okay with that,” McMeekan said.
McMeekan said President-Elect Trump has encouraged hateful speech online. She told the crowd to stand up to bullying they encounter on social media. McMeeken compared social media sites to a virtual playground where teachers are nowhere to be found and bullies make the rules.
“Call out bullies and say, ‘Really that was very unkind, that was very harsh.’ Don’t worry about the feelings of bullies. They may not like to feel called out and that’s not our problem,” McMeekan said. “We are not trying to change bullies, because we can’t. It’s too late. We are trying to educate and empower bystanders into knowing they are not alone and encouraging them to speak up as well.”
She said she’ll see bullies creating multiple fake accounts to re-share and re-tweet their message. She challenged the crowd to not believe everything they read is the majority opinion, and to stand together against hate speech and harassment.
Kathryn Nettleton, a student at Western Illinois University, helped organize the event, which was promoted on Facebook as a Social Justice Solidarity gathering. Nettleton is set to graduate from in the Spring with a degree in Women’s Studies, a major that Western is eliminating from its course catalog.
Nettleton said she hopes to become a victim advocate and said President-Elect Trump stands for everything she’s against.
“We want to stand up against the sexism, the homophobia, the racism and anti-religious type sentiment, anything like that. We are not going to accept the rhetoric that our president-elect has decided to spout,” Nettleton said.
Nettleton said she’s coming to terms with the election and is trying to not be negative about the future president. But she said it’s important people keep fighting for what’s right.