By Julie McCay Turner
Dean Groves opened Bedford’s Lights for Liberty vigil on July 12 with his adaptation of Tom Petty’s anthem, ‘We Won’t Back Down’
We’re gonna stand our ground
We won’t be pushed around
You can cheat, you can hack, you can try to turn us back
But we’ll stand our ground
And we won’t back down
Vigil organizer Maureen Richichi welcomed Bedford neighbors and visitors from nearby towns, urging participants to take heart that they are not alone in outrage and dissent and that together they can effect change. She added that later everyone would “light candles of hope and commitment, together in the darkness of this moment…in the darkness of these times.”
Guest of Honor Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan urged compassion for immigrants who make life or death decisions to come to America, and described her position in the courts as a guardian of public safety. She spoke of safety, individually in our homes and collectively in Massachusetts’s courthouses.
Editor’s Note: DA Ryan and Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins joined a federal lawsuit in April 2019, seeking to halt Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from making civil arrests in state courthouses. The suit followed indictments against a state court judge and court officer who allegedly helped an undocumented person evade ICE capture in Newton District Court in November 2018. A preliminary injunction on June 20 temporarily blocks immigration agents from making civil arrests at Massachusetts courthouses. As of July 12, the federal government has not appealed the decision.
“ICE officers lurking around courthouses make no one safer,” Ryan pointed out. Adding that the capture of an undocumented person in the midst of a trial would offer justice to no one. “The power of empathy, compassion, and sometimes prayer, is what America stands for.”
In a statement read by Rebecca Neale, State Representative Ken Gordon referenced Thomas Jefferson, framer of the US Constitution (‘All men are created equal’); folksinger Woody Guthrie (‘This land belongs to you and me’); and poet Emma Lazarus’s words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty (‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.’)
Gordon went on to urge a coalition between the vigil’s activists and those who have so far remained quiet. ” We will set the example that we are better than those who would terrorize, dehumanize and blame people who come to our doors seeking the type of hospitality that has defined our country for centuries. We will remind this group that almost all of us are children of immigrants, no different than those who seek refuge today. It is no matter that my great-grandparents or your grandparents or parents came to this country before immigration quotas were set.”
Raquel Bauman, a member of First Parish, described being present with detainees along the US southern border earlier this year. “We all want the same things,” she learned. “A home. A way to earn a living. Security. Access to education and healthcare. And the opportunity to survive, to thrive.”
Rev. Annie Gonzales Milliken, Parish Minister at First Parish, shared the values of BEYOND, the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network (www.beyondbondboston.org), an organization in which she is an active volunteer.
We honor people’s dignity and choices in a system that denies dignity and choice.
We expect messiness, confusion, and discomfort, and we also choose courage and trust.
We judge the system, not the people.
We fight for one another as family, because we are.
As candles were distributed, Groves sang Peter Yarrow’s Don’t Let the Lights Go Out.
Light one candle for the strength that we need
To never become our own foe
And light one candle for those who are suffering
Pain we learned so long ago
Light one candle for all we believe in
That anger not tear us apart
And light one candle to find us together
With peace as the song in our hearts
Nearly 200 candles twinkled on Bedford Common along with a few lightning bugs, signaling hope for a more compassionate tomorrow.
About Bedford’s Lights for Liberty Vigil
In late June Maureen Richichi, Marlene Myers, Rebecca Neale, and Rev. Annie Gonzales Milliken, each one affiliated with First Parish, the Unitarian Universalist congregation that meets in Bedford Common’s historic meeting house, learned about Lights for Liberty, a nationwide vigil that scheduled synchronous candle lightings for 9 pm on Friday, July 12.
An organization with a long history of engagement in social justice, First Parish in Bedford is a sanctuary congregation, hosting an undocumented guest who has lived in the church for more than a year with the support of hundreds of volunteers from 12 local and area congregations. Multiple members and clergy demonstrate at ICE headquarters in Burlington every month. A pair of church members traveled to visit detainment centers along the southern border earlier this year.
The vigil on Bedford Common was one of more than 750 Lights for Liberty events taking place in every state in the Union, including Alaska and Hawaii; with 50 vigils in 21 countries around the world; and virtual vigils for Peace Corps volunteers and so anyone in the world could participate. Visit the full list, with a live link to each vigil, at www.lightsforliberty.org/localevents
Faces in the Crowd – Images by Bob Bass, Jeff JHO Hoyland, and Julie McCay Turner