Substantial crowd for State House protest

Geraldine Vittini, Journal Contributor

Hundreds of protesters banded together in front of the looming State House on Friday to decry Gov. Charlie Baker’s recent comments against the Syrian refugee program.

Their chants and handmade signs signaled a deep dissatisfaction with the governor’s statements, which he made a few days after the Paris attacks.

“I’m not interested in accepting refugees from Syria. I would need to know a lot more than I know now before I would agree to anything,” Baker said, as reported from MyFox Boston.

“Don’t give in to racist fear! Refugees are welcome here!” quickly became the slogan of the congregation.

Bostonians poured out in solidarity to stand by the 8 million refugees that are seeking to escape war in their home country. The protest was organized by the International Socialist Organization, a political organization with branches across the nation dedicated to fighting social injustice.

Along with the ISO, several other social justice and refugee organizations spoke at the protest.

Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization, said, “I see the conscience of Boston gathered here tonight. The State House is closed, and yet here you are, on a Friday night, saying ‘shame on you.’”

Suffolk University’s own Students for Justice in Palestine came in support of Syrian resettlement in the United States.

“As a Suffolk student, you can support the Syrian refugees by putting up your homes to accept and welcome Syrian refugees into them,” said Sarra Siraj-Nasser, Suffolk junior and member of SJP. “You can support the Syrian refugees by attending the protests, rallies, and campaigns that are happening across Boston to support them.”

The student organization also said that it was important to write to local politicians that oppose Syrian resettlement.

“Likewise, [you can] write to Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker, showing that you support and welcome refugees in Massachusetts,” said Siraj-Nasser.

Baker was the latest in a string of politicians who expressed a desire to halt or revise the U.S. program for Syrian resettlement as anti-refugee sentiments grow ever stronger.

In an article by The Guardian analyzing the recent eruption of rhetoric against Syria, it was reported that leading Republican presidential candidates have called for everything from tracking all Muslims in the country in a database to religious tests for refugees entering the country.

The historical precedents of American xenophobia have not been lost on the protesters: multiple speakers touched on the similarities between the current climate towards Syrian refugees and the treatment of Jewish emigrants in the ‘30s and Japanese-Americans in the ‘50s.

“I’m Jewish,” said Gerson. “When I was growing up, my parents taught me two lessons: never again, and never participate in the crime of silence.”

What does all this mean for students closer to home?

“Students should care if the United States closes their borders, because it shows that the democracy is not accepting and understanding of people who are fleeing from persecution and war in their own countries,” said Siraj-Nasser.

“People should care because they are your brothers, they are your sisters,” said Fatma Hussein, 19, a Northeastern University student. “White supremacy is telling our Syrian brothers that we don’t care about you, and we shouldn’t. If we’re preaching equality, then give people a chance at that equality.”

Though the daily realities of student life are distant from the hardships that Syrian refugees face as victims of war, the rally proved the importance of taking note of political rhetoric at home that may bar refugees from seeking a better-quality life.

“It’s easy to let the kind of fear that groups like ISIS exude get to us,” said Sofia Arias of the ISO. “But we are here because we are all refugees, we are all immigrants, we are all human.”