Hundreds gathered last Friday at Albany’s West Capitol Park for a Lights for Liberty vigil – part of a mass mobilization in which tens of thousands of people, at 818 events on six continents, protested in front of detention camps, in the streets and even in their own front yards in opposition to the inhumane conditions faced by refugees.
Nearly 30 organizations and individuals brought their expertise and deep ties in their respective communities to the Lights for Liberty – Albany Alliance coalition. They helped raise awareness about the work being done by front-line advocates in the Capital Region who protect the lives, liberty and dignity of refugees seeking asylum in the United States.
As Peter Benenson, founder of Amnesty International said: “The candle burns not for us, but for all those whom we failed to rescue from prison, who were shot on the way to prison, who were tortured, who were kidnapped, who ‘disappeared.’ That’s what the candle is for.”
Around the country and around the world, Lights for Liberty was not an end, but a beginning.
If you want to get involved, contact one of the many organizations listed below and find out how you can help. They need volunteers, people fluent in languages other than English, drivers, lawyers, organizers and financial support.
Ayah Osman, an assistant “story coach” for Children at the Well, read her poem titled “We Waited in Line” at the event, and brought the house down.
Supporters of the Lights for Liberty vigil included:
– Albany Presbytery Immigration Network. Going back to at least 1984, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has expressed concern for the plight of immigrants in the U.S., advocated for compassionate care of immigrants and their families, and encouraged actions to change immigration policies.
– Assemblymember Pat Fahy, a first-generation American whose parents “came to this country for a better life,” believes that refugees help grow the upstate economy. She shared a letter she sent to the president – signed by 54 Assembly members – calling for an “immediate halt” to the “inhumane treatment of detained asylum seekers and separated families at the southern border.”
– Capital District Border Watch. Founded in February 2019, this group focuses on educational events, sending material aid, creating artistic responses, joining advocacy campaigns, and partnering with organizations that provide direct services to refugees and immigrants in the Capital Region.
– Democratic Socialists of America , Capital District Chapter. DSA has active branches in Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady, Saratoga, Warren and Washington counties, and believes that both the economy and society should be run democratically to meet human needs, not to make profits for a few.
– Capital District Coalition Against Islamophobia. Formed in November 2015 to counter anti-Muslim hate speech, violence and hostility by members of local groups that were already working to increase interfaith understanding.
– CapitalWomen. A grassroots organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and all other groups who have yet to achieve their full rights under the Constitution. They are committed to assuring equal opportunity to pursue education, employment and participation in our civil society and are resolute in promoting the health and safety of our communities.
– Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Albany. Catholic Charities’ Office of Immigration Services, staffed by an attorney and a Board of Immigration Appeal (BIA) representative, offers low-cost immigration legal services to refugees who have been settled in the diocese.
– Centro Civico, Inc. A Latino nonprofit in Montgomery County with the capacity to administer funds, deliver vital services, housing initiatives, and community economic development to the Latino Community.
– Citizen Action NY. A grassroots membership organization taking on big issues at the center of transforming society, including: quality education and after-school programs; guaranteed quality, affordable health care; public financing of elections; dismantling racism and promoting racial justice; and a more progressive tax system.
– The Columbia County Sanctuary Movement organizes with immigrants and allies to collectively support, empower and defend our communities. Contact them for legal support if you or your family have a traffic ticket, a court date, an immigration check-in, or need to assess your immigration status.
– John Dillon, a singer-songwriter, performer, music activist and former guitar maker, hosts a radio show called “Art of the Song” heard weekly on 100 public radio stations. He and his wife, Vivian Nesbitt, performed their new song, “Congress Do Your Job.”
– Jewish Voice for Peace – Albany opposes anti-Jewish, anti-Muslim, and anti-Arab bigotry and oppression.
– Musa Kanneh . According to a recent TU article, “When 10-year-old Musa Kanneh fled two civil wars in Africa with his family and was resettled as a refugee in Albany, he didn’t know how to read and write in his native language. Last week, the 24-year-old U.S. citizen took the morning off work to speak at his middle school alma mater’s graduation and encourage others like him.
– The League of Women Voters, Albany County provides voter information at the national, state and local level to empower voters. They host frequent public programs throughout the year, some League-coordinated – some in partnership with community-based alliances – and also defend democracy through support of expanded voter rights and support for voter reforms.
– Lift Every Voice: Mental Health Advocates of the Capital Region. This new group advocates for the humane treatment of immigrant children and families.
– New York State Council of Churches. A statewide organization through which Christians accomplish mission goals – social justice, institutional pastoral care, and ecumenical cooperation in education, worship and action – that can be achieved more effectively by working together.
– The Palestinian Rights Committee of Upper Hudson Peace Action supports “peace for Israel and Palestine.”
– Progressive Schenectady’s motto is “activism made easy.” The organization seeks to provide education, simple steps to action, and camaraderie in defense of democratic ideals.
– Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan . On April 24, 2017, Mayor Sheehan issued an executive order declaring Albany a sanctuary city. The executive order prohibits Albany police and city employees from asking any individual about their immigration status unless necessary to an investigation.
– RISSE – Refugee and Immigrant Support Services of Emmaus. Located in the Pine Hills neighborhood of Albany, RISSE is a family-based center that supports newcomers in building sustainable lives in the United States.
– Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom’s motto is “We Rise & Respond – shining light on love, not hate.” The group grows relationships between Muslim and Jewish women and teens to build bridges and fight hate, negative stereotyping, and prejudice. They are changing the world, one Muslim and one Jewish woman and teenage girl at a time!
– Social Responsibilities Council of First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany. For the second time in its history, Albany Unitarian Universalist has declared itself a Sanctuary congregation, repeating the action taken in 1984 in response to refugees fleeing violence in Central America.
– Assemblyman Phil Steck represents parts of Albany and Schenectady Counties and served in the Albany County Legislature before being elected to the Assembly in 2012. He shared the Lights for Liberty event on his Facebook page, saying: “Children in detention in inhumane conditions is not the America I believe in.” (Here are his full remarks).
– Rep. Paul Tonko planned to attend the vigil, but the House voting schedule required him to remain in Washington. Instead, he sent a letter, which an Albany staffer read to the group, saying he was “absolutely horrified by the reports of abuse, neglect and brutality coming out of detention camps where migrants are held.”
– Upper Hudson Peace Action is the largest membership peace group in the U.S., with 27 state affiliates and over 100 chapters nationwide. This chapter includes Albany, Schenectady, Troy, Saratoga and nearby communities.
– WithOurVoice, Inc., includes Children at the Well Youth Storytellers for Peace & Understanding and the Interfaith Story Circle. Through the art of storytelling, Children at the Well helps young people strengthen their empathy and find their voices so they can take their place as artistic, inclusive and effective leaders in this globally interdependent world.
– Women Against War brings together Capital District women to work for peace through speakers, demonstrations, and exhibits. One of the WAW project groups, Grannies for Peace, holds annual vigils or demonstrations on Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Veterans Day.
Lights for Liberty is a loose coalition of grassroots activists, with support from long-standing immigrants’ rights organizations and other organizers. Five main events were held on July 12th in El Paso, San Diego, New York City, Washington, D.C., and Homestead/Miami, FL with local events across the country and around the world. More information can be found at www.lightsforliberty.org.