By Martin Kidston
As the bells tolled the noon hour at the University of Montana, a group gathered behind Main Hall in a graupel downpour to stand against intolerance, and to counter the rhetoric used over the past 15 months by the nation’s newly elected president.
Calling for proactive measures, the rally-goers also urged the Montana University System to declare UM a “sanctuary campus,” and to support undocumented students and so-called “dreamers” from the deportation efforts proposed by president-elect Donald Trump.
“We want the University of Montana, as well as the statewide Board of Regents, to update their nondiscrimination policies to include immigration status,” said Eamon Ormseth, one of the rally’s organizers. “There’s definitely more action around this since the election.”
The action on campus, which took place Wednesday, acknowledged the wave of angst that has risen in the aftermath of Trump’s election victory. While protests have swept across other college campuses and U.S. cities – some turning violent – those in Missoula have remained peaceful.
Last weekend, nearly 100 people marched through downtown Missoula urging peace and tolerance. The makings of a local grassroots movement is also gaining momentum in an effort to get the City Council to declare Missoula a “sanctuary city.”
The campus rally sent a similar message and sought a similar outcome, placing emphasis on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Otherwise known as DACA, the measure protects undocumented youth from deportation.
“Imagine if you were brought here at 3 years old and you’ve been here for the last 10, 15 or 20 years,” said Ormseth. “Your whole life is here. Your family is here and your job is here, and suddenly you’re going to be deported back to your country, which isn’t really yours. These people – the dreamers – they identify as Americans.”
During the lengthy campaign season, Trump pledged to build a “beautiful wall” along the nation’s border with Mexico. He vowed to deport millions of undocumented immigrants from the country and to halt the immigration of all Muslims.
Trump also has appointed to his cabinet Steven Bannon, the controversial leader of an alt-right website that has published anti-Semitic content. On Wednesday, another top member of Trump’s transition team – Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach – was reportedly drafting plans for a “Muslim registry.”
That has Jameel Chaudhry concerned and wondering if the Japanese internment camps from World War II will be reopened to hold Muslims.
“While were quite willing to give the president-elect the benefit of the doubt as he sets up his cabinet, gets sworn in and goes about his business governing this country, his track record and statements during the campaign speak for themselves,” Chaudhry said. “I for one would rather be proactive rather than react after he’s passed laws, by which time it’s too late.”
Originally from Kenya and now a U.S. citizen, Chaudhry’s concerns are for those who aren’t yet citizens, and for minorities threatened by Trump’s early message. He also worries that Trump’s rhetoric has given voice to the radical right, including the Ku Klux Klan, white nationalists and neo-Nazis, further dividing the nation.
“We have a president-elect who is on record saying a lot of things about immigrants, illegal immigrants, Muslims, woman, gays, Jews, LGBT folks, and that’s got the minorities highly concerned and extremely worried,” Chaudhry said. “I feel like 40 to 50 years of civil rights and minority rights should not be swept away in one election.”
For some at the rally, Trump’s deportation threats and views on immigrants hits close to home.
Bliss Collins, the son of African immigrants who fled the Liberian civil war before making a life in Montana, felt he had a civic duty to speak out. He fears the things he takes for granted – his privileges in America, the food on his table and the roof over his head – could be taken away under the new administration.
“Too often, we let society dictate how we feel about other people,” said Collins. “In order for us to love others, we need to start loving ourselves. Insecurity grows the roots of hatred and fear. When we’re insecure, we point out other people’s flaws or weaknesses – their differences – and we can’t afford that in today’s day and age.”
Collins stepped upon a grassy knoll and turned his back to the storm to address the rally. Before him stood roughly 75 people, most wrapped in winter coats and holding signs that read “No one is free when others are oppressed,” and “Be the change.”
While the crowd was united in its message and goals, Collins said those present weren’t the ones they needed to reach.
“There are people out there who have different views, who are fearful, who are not educated on the issues, who have questions,” Collins said. “You guys are responsible for spreading the message that love should always trump hate, that education should be a factor rather than a fear. Hatred, bigotry, racism and sexism have no place on this campus, and no place in this community. I will always be an advocate for that.”
Sarah Smith agreed.
“I think it’s really important that we step up and say you’re valuable, that we care about you, and I’ll defend you against hate, xenophobia, misogyny, racism and whatever,” she said. “It’s not necessarily about the candidates. It’s more about the message we sent by endorsing those candidates.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org