The stretch between Holly Street and the Bellingham farmers market became a massive stage for a political statement on Saturday, Nov. 21, as a group of nearly 70 people chanted their message for all to hear:
“Refugees welcome home.”
The refugees are fleeing a country locked in a civil war which has killed 240,000 people, according to World Vision. Twelve million Syrians have fled their homes, 700,000 of which are now refugees.
The U.S. plans to take in 100,000 refugees per year by 2017, according to the Washington Post.
The march comes amid increasing debate that the U.S. should look to taking care of its own people before looking abroad. Over 578,000 people in the U.S. were experiencing homelessness on any single night, according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Nearly 50,000 of those people are veterans.
Thirty-one states have shut its doors to these refugees. These states include Idaho, Arizona and Texas.
Michelle Magee organized Saturday’s march, after witnessing the pushback she had been seeing online.
“I have four daughters. I understand fear quite readily,” Magee said. “But I feel like we’re talking about basic human and American values at stake here when we turn away victims from an atrocity like we’re considering doing.”
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced that he won’t turn away refugees. In an op-ed article for the New York Times, Inslee compared the fear of refugees to the fear that was felt during World War II and resulted with the Japanese Internment Camps.
Heidi Alford, a march participant, expressed pride at Jay Inslee’s support.
“This is not ‘Oh I think I’ll just move to the United States.’ This is a huge decision,” Alford said. “They need our worldwide support for getting them [refugees] to a place that’s safe.”
Anti-refugee rhetoric has been ramped up in the past two weeks. A series of attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people last week, has created security concerns regarding refugees.. Adding to the conflict, according to the Washington Post, is the fact that a passport found on the body of one of the attackers was Syrian.
It is widely believed that the passport was fake. Currently all identified attackers were from the European Union nationals.
In the wake of the attacks, France has committed to taking in more refugees. America needs to keep that in mind, Magee said.
Joining the march was Councilmember Michael Lilliquist, who described the fear and hatred toward refugees as un-American.
“We have more strength in embracing and loving and helping people,” Lilliquist said. “True strength extends a helping hand.”
Not everyone felt that the message was appropriate, however.
As the march wound down, Cyrus Macdougall, who was attending the farmers market at the time, approached the group. He expressed concerns regarding letting refugees in, as the American government should not put the needs of foreigners before its own people, he said.
Brooke Love, a Western environmental sciences assistant professor, attended the march with her child. One of their signs portrayed a heart and a peace sign, while the other displayed the words: “Refugees welcome.” Love said the anti-refugee sentiment is contrary to what the U.S. should be about.
“It’s not what this country stands for,” Love said. “It’s not the message I think we should be sending to the rest of the world. It’s not who we are.”
Alford wants people around Bellingham to become aware of the opportunities they have to help.
“We want people in Bellingham to be aware of what’s going on around the world, what’s going on locally, and to look for what actions they can take,” she said.