Report by Paula Antolini, July 14, 2019, 3:44PM EDT
Approximately 200 “Lights for Liberty” supporters traveled from towns in Connecticut, as well as towns in other states, to attend the “Lights for Liberty” protest and vigil held on the CJH Municipal Center lawn on July 12, 2019, which began at approximately 7:30 p.m.. Besides Bethel residents, there were attendees from Redding, Danbury, Wilton, Southbury, New Milford and Washington, CT, and also from Delaware, to name a few. The sounds of lively conversations and a drum circle filled the air before the speeches began and there were numerous protest signs.
“Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps, brought thousands of people to locations worldwide as well as to concentration camps across the country, into the streets and into their own front yards, to protest the inhumane conditions faced by migrants.” reads the Light for Liberty website. “Now is the time for every person to stand up and say, ‘We will not accept this!’ No more hesitating. No more denial. No more fear. We need to be bold, and loud, and unrelenting. That’s the only way we can stop this,” said Kristin Mink, activist and organizer.
This was a national event was taking place at various times of the day and evening on July 12th. Speakers locally at the Lights for Liberty event were Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker, James Naddeo, Robert Stowell and Rep. Raghib Allie-Brennan.
Another organization and individual that gave a speech at the Lights for Liberty event was Sandy Hook resident **Alex Villamil, Human Rights Chair from Action Together Connecticut, who said he was also representing Newtown Forward.
“Action Together Connecticut is a coalition of autonomous but allied chapters across the state of Connecticut standing indivisible in upholding progressive American values and resisting harmful and intolerant policies,” reads their website. “Our mission is to mobilize, amplify and educate Connecticut residents to support causes aligned with American ideals of equity, opportunity and justice for all.”
Villamil gave a long and emotional speech, having a hard time holding back his tears at some points. He said in part, “We find ourselves in a time when immigrants are being scapegoated and blamed for everything evil that occurs in this country. They’re no longer considered a necessary ingredient to our melting pot. All have been categorized by the current administration as rapists, killers, gang members, drug traffickers, thieves and vagabonds. A careful and well-thought-out process of dehumanization orchestrated by the Trump administration is evident. The message being that immigrants are here to do us harm by taking jobs away or by gaming he system or somehow apparently doing both.”
Villamil continued, “A little over a month ago I got the shock of a lifetime. I read this post that talked about incarcerated immigrants that are being kept outside in cages with no shelter from the elements in 100 degrees, in what one journalist aptly termed ‘dog pens.’ It seemed so outlandish that I immediately considered it to be fake news and questioned the sources and motives. Within a few days it was clear the source was legitimate and the motive was to sound the alarm.”
“Under current conditions results of the present administration’s policies and the actions of the agents we have seen reports of atrocities occurring at the border,” Villamil said. “Atrocities that no American, regardless of ethnicity, race, political affiliation or stance on immigration, would find tolerable. This is a human issue that transcends any of these things. In ‘the land of the free and home of the brave’ do not trample on the rights of those in need of shelter. Yet somehow, some way, we find ourselves dong just that. And this has got to stop.“
“We have heard or read about horrors such as a tiny premature baby and its 17-year-old mother doubled over in pain,” Villamil said. At this point Villamil’s voice wavered with emotion and after a momentary pause he said, “Doubled over in pain from a recent emergency C-section that were ignored at the temporary migrant shelters for 7 days when it should have been at a medical facility. A flu outbreak in May lead to the death of one minor and closed a processing facility for days, a measles outbreak where over 50 refugees had been quarantined.”
After another emotional pause, Villamil said, “In early June three immigrants in ICE CBP custody died in three days [“Immigration and Customs Enforcement” and “Customs and Border Protection“]. Six children have died since late last September, being detained by the border patrol, including three in the last month.”
Villamil said an inspector General’s report last month referred to centers as, “Overcrowding, had no possible processing center, with seventy-six immigrants packed into a tiny cell designed for a maximum of twelve people. Investigators saw immigrants standing on top of toilets to make room and find a space to breathe because the cell was so cramped.” Villamil going off his planned speech, he said, on the verge of tears once more, “The inhumanity is just overwhelming. I feel it not only as an immigrant but as a human being. From one human being to another.”
Villamil spoke about the recent drowning of the father and daughter who tried to make it to America. “The young parents tried to cross the river out of sheer desperation and paid a high price,” Villamil said.
“We recognize, for instance, that companies are complicit in enabling migrant concentration camps,” Villamil said. “Like First Selectman Knickerbocker said, these people would be in jail for treating people like this,” Villamil said.
View entire Villamil speech here:
Also a speaker at the Lights for Liberty event was Barb Davis, president of the Danbury Area Refugee Assistance (DARA) which is “a nonprofit organization that resettles refugee families, providing advocacy and support as they work toward self-sufficiency to become productive members of our community. Working in the Greater Danbury, Connecticut, area with the help of Integrated Refugee & Immigrant Services (IRIS), we cosponsor refugee families and help acclimate and acculturate them to a new life and country.”
Davis said, “Bringing people together around a common cause or shared principle is a right held dear in our country. Thanks so much to all of your who have come to add your voice to what is happening to the people, the human beings, that are being detained on our southern border.” She spoke of how DARA was formed to help these people and gave a “nod” to James Naddeo for first bringing people together.
Davis compared the legal definition of a “refugee” to that of “asylum seekers.” While she said the legal definitions are different, she also pointed out the similarities. She said, “They also have fled their home country when they fear for their lives and the lives of their families but they can only apply for asylum after they have arrived in America or any other county that works with asylees. Even though the legal definitions for these populations are different and require different processes, there are a couple of very important similarities. The first and the most important is that they are all human beings in need of help. … The other similarity that seems to be lost in most of the current dialogue is that both of these processes are protected by international law … and condemns countries that fail to follow them.”
View entire Davis speech here:
CT State Rep. Raghib Allie-Brennan, District 2, said, “It’s a sad day in America. It’s a sad day in America when my 8-year-old niece asks me if she was born in America and if her sister was born in America because she’s afraid of being separated from her sister and her family. It’s a sad day when the politics of hate and fear reach the minds of our children. It’s a sad day when we lock immigrant children, men and women in cages. And as of today six children have died in detention facilities. What is going on at the border is a human rights catastrophe and we cannot be silent.”
Allie-Brennan talked about the legal process by which his parents came to this country and said it takes a long time to do. “For so many immigrants waiting is not an option,” Allie-Brennan said, “For so many immigrants waiting means death. Death from political violence, gang violence, domestic violence. Asylum is a human right.”
Allie-Brennan said, “I am proud to be here today with so many of you to show our immigrant communities here in Connecticut that we stand with them.”
He spoke about the General Assembly passing the Trust Act this year, which he voted for he said, and which “protects the due process rights of undocumented immigrants,” Allie-Brennan said, “I voted in favor of this bill because everyone in this country is entitled to due process of law.” And Governor Lamont signed this bill into law, Allie-Brennan stated. “Under this law state law enforcement agencies will only respond to ICE immigration detainers if accompanied by a judicial warrant. Without a judicial order, state law enforcement and court officials can only detain any undocumented immigrant who is on a Federal terrorist watch list or has been convicted of a major felony.”
Allie-Brennan said, “Policy makers should do everything in their power to ensure that immigration policies reflect our values.“
View entire Allie-Brennan speech here:
Bethel resident James Naddeo said, “You know, I know that this is something that a lot of us are probably outside of our comfort zone, to be here tonight. The one thing I want everybody to remember is that this is not the last step, sort of echoing what what Alex said, what Raghib said, what Barb said, this is the first step, so don’t let this stop right here. This is the first step on the road of action to do the things that need doing in order to protect people.:”
“One of the things from my perspective, I’ve said this before,” Naddeo stated, “I absolutely love my country. Being an American, I’m fortunate to have been born an American, I didn’t have any choice in the matter. Purely cosmic luck that I am who am and born where I was born. I could have just as easily been born in Honduras, or El Salvador, and had been trying to escape untold horrors hoping that someone would help me when I was at my most desperate. So to me, providing that help to immigrants, asylees, to refugees, that earns us the right to call ourselves Americans because there’s nothing more American than helping others in their times of need. So let this be the start of something that we continue with and make sure we end these camps.”
View entire Naddeo speech here:
First Selectman Matthew Knickerbocker‘s speech, in it’s entirety, is as follows:
“We are joining a statewide group, a national group, actually a global group. Gatherings like this one are occurring around the world, to protest what is happening in our nation. And I’m here personally, I think it’s important to note that I just became a grandfather for the third time and I have such deep feelings about my children and my grandchildren, like Rob said, I’m just sick to my stomach at the treatment that our nation is perpetrating on people on our behalf.”
“So I’m here tonight to join you, to reaffirm this nation, hopefully to reaffirm this nation’s commitment that we are a nation of immigrants, we welcome people, that we live up to the inscription that sits at the Statue of Liberty, that we welcome the tired the poor because they made us stronger, they make our society better, and most of all because we need to keep the pressure up to close the camps.“
“I was thinking about this situation today and it occurred to me that the conditions that children are being forced to live in, these camps, such that they have insufficient food, that they have, that they are being locked up if they cry for their mothers, that they are being left without access to bathing materials, without soap, without toothpaste, without toothbrushes. They have no one to care for them, no adults to care for them in most cases. If anybody in this crowd did this in your home you probably would have been reported to DCF by now. And yet, this is what our nation’s government os doing and this is not fake news. This has been verified by Congressional inquiries, that these are truths, that these are happening.”
“So the one thing that I want to leave you with is keep the faith and keep up the pressure. I’m actually old enough that I can remember being a small boy and sitting at my parent’s kitchen table when they discussed how to support the civil rights marches that Martin Luther King [Jr.] was organizing in Washington DC. And that I remember with my parents the Vietnam protest, the Vietnam war protest, where a million people filled the mall of Washington DC. The pressure eventually brought that to an end.”
“My message to you tonight is don’t give up, because that’s what despots do. They just keep doing it day after day after day, wear the good people down, and they expect this to become normal. We’re not going to let this become normal. This is not going to define our nation or us as a people. So there’ll be more gatherings like this one. If there’s one in Washington DC I hope to be part of that. I hope to be part of a million person march, a two million person march. Let Congress know that this is not us.”
“I’m going to leave you with a quote. There’re so many, but this is one of my favorites, ‘If you can remain neutral in the face of injustice then you have chosen the side of the oppressor.’ It’s by Desmond Tutu.”
“So again, thank you so much for being here, thank you for your faith.”
View entire Knickerbocker speech here:
Robert Stowell was the emcee, who said, “When this whole thing started, and I started reading news reports of these camps that these children are being out into, it was just so revolting to me, really, it just affected me to my core. And right after that I was just surfing the net and saw this thing for the organized protest, Lights for Liberty. So I figured what the heck, let’s sign up. And I was thinking if I could get ten, twenty people to show up, that would be a win for me. And when I look and I see all of you out there it just makes my heart feel wonderful.” He said, “Let’s fight this as much as we can.”
Stowell said there would be speeches and a candle vigil and they would be ringing a “Peace Bell” that is “hidden at the end of School Street,” he said, and that was “given to the Town of Bethel, I’m not exactly sure, back in the 80’s, I believe.” Stowell said, “It was dedicated to *Libby Kellogg who was a very active environmentalist here in town. And so we’re going to be ringing that bell 34 times tonight during our vigil.”
The Peace Bell rang out and candles, or glow sticks, or phones were lit up and people stood in silence honoring the immigrants and their cause to help them.
View candle lighting here:
After the moment of silence was over, small groups of people started singing together, songs such as, “This Little Light of Mine, I’m Gonna Let It Shine,” and “We Shall Overcome,” to which some individuals added different words to a verse they sang later, singing, “We Shall Resistors Speak Someday.”
View groups singing here:
View Drum Circle here:
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More about people mentioned in article:
Located at the intersection of Main, Wooster and School Street.
“Libby Kellogg was the first established public green in Bethel. In the mid 1980’s Elizabeth ‘Libby’ Kellogg chair of the town’s conservation commission led the fight to save the hundred year old green. After her death in 1989, a granite memorial was placed on the site. A Japanese tree and marker were donated in memory of a young boy who lost his battle with leukemia. The peace bell, added in 1999, commemorates the Bethel Middle school student who won a state wide ‘Earth Day’ essay competition. In 2002 the Bethel Garden Club redesigned the garden to encompass all three markers and surrounding trees.”
“Sandy Hook resident Alex Villamil’s parents migrated to Connecticut from Colombia, just three months before he was born in Stamford; and while they were not undocumented, Mr Villamil grew up with undocumented people and knows a lot of people who are undocumented. The recent surge in serving deportation notices to people who are contributing to society has become a concern to the contractor, who is married and has four children.” according to the Newtown Bee.