Peaceful Protest at Houdini Plaza

Last Thursday, Feb. 2, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., many students, faculty and staff members of the Lawrence community joined forces with many other Appleton community members to protest President Donald Trump’s recent travel ban on people from seven Middle Eastern Muslim countries, including refugees fleeing extraordinary circumstances and fatally dangerous conflict zones. Called “Peaceful Protest for a United America,” the protest saw the larger Appleton community coming together to promote love and acceptance, and to demonstrate support for marginalized groups, especially refugees and immigrants.

Standing for four hours in the bitter cold on the sidewalks of Houdini Plaza, many protesters tirelessly chanted uplifting messages of resistance. The palpable enthusiasm was very empowering to all protesters and witnesses.

“I estimated around 150 [students],” said junior Oswaldo Gomez, one of the organizers of the protest. “It was really positive. I think it was one of the largest student manifestations in Appleton since I’ve been here.”

The protest, started by an Appleton community member, quickly gained support at Lawrence as Gomez and junior Kanzuda Islam helped spread the word on campus. Students rallied quickly around the cause, which to many of them was extremely personal.

“I am here to also support my friends,” said sophomore Daniel Vaca, as he got ready to head to Houdini Plaza with the Lawrence students group. “This is to let them know that we are with them, we support them.”

To Gomez, it was also to connect with and support marginalized groups in the bigger Appleton community, and extending his reach beyond Lawrence.

“As a marginalized minority student, I think it is important for the Lawrence community to [be] engaged with the community in Appleton,” Gomez commented. “It was a chance for me to tell other people that are feeling disenfranchised that they mattered; that we are all here together and standing in solidarity with one another.”

While protest is a powerful tool to connect people and spread the messages, it was clear that there is still much left to be done. An Appleton native seasoned social activist Nettie McGee made her rounds through the crowds to remind students to engage with local politics. She encouraged students to walk to Congressman Mike Gallagher’s office, now the representative of the eighth district, at the Radisson Paper Valley Hotel the next day to tell his office of their cause, or to simply call in.

“Protests are important because they bring information to the people,” commented McGee. “A lot of people do not know what’s going on because our media is unfortunately not so good. So this is a way to bring attention to the issue, and then we need to break up into groups and work on issues together. You need to join groups, like Citizen Action, or the Democratic Party, or National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), here.”

“You need to get involved; democracy takes work,” McGee emphasized.

The protest is not the first time this year that Lawrence and the Appleton community rallied together. On Sunday, Jan. 29, an impromptu candlelight vigil organized by Lawrence professors was quickly put together to support refugees and immigrants in light of Trump’s executive order. It was spontaneous but garnered massive support, with the main message that everyone needed to educate themselves, participate and engage more with local politics to get things done.

Concrete actions that many mentioned at the protest as well as the candlelight vigil included donating to organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) or the International Rescue Committee (IRC), volunteering, voting in the upcoming state superintendent election and reaching out to local organizations.

“For students, reaching out to community members and local groups that share our ideals will be the most efficient next step,” stated Gomez. “It is time for Lawrentians to pop the bubble and look outside to see how the issues they care about are affecting people in the Fox Cities.”