Three Culler Middle School teachers stood on the Nebraska Capitol’s north steps Saturday holding signs. One was in Spanish, and a second sign adjacent to it translated: “The wall that separates us only exists in the minds of the ignorant.”
The signs referred to President-elect Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall on the border between the United States and Mexico.
“The wall has been talked about as a literal thing, but it’s also figurative,” said teacher Jessica Nickum as she held the sign in Spanish. “My idea of the wall is that it only exists for people who live their lives in fear and are scared about the things they don’t understand.”
People driving by laid on their horns as they passed, some waved. One man in a truck rolled his window down to yell “Get a job hippies! Go Donald Trump!” at the peaceful crowd of about 100 people.
“He can have his feelings and thoughts, but this whole election has divided our country,” teacher Sherri Robinson said about the heckler. “We have to be about positive change.”
The event, called "We Stand United" on Facebook, was just that: a space for people upset about the surprising outcome of the presidential election to gather, grieve and meditate on positive, peaceful change.
The speakers disagreed with Donald Trump's past statements about women, immigrants, refugees, LGBTQ community, Muslims and other minorities as reason to mourn the news of his election. The gathering was planned through a Facebook event page, which was shared with around 2,600 people.
“I wanted to facilitate a space for like-minded people to come together and connect with each other in a positive way to facilitate conversation and meet each other and sit in peace,” said event organizer Kjerstin Egger.
After Egger and other speakers discussed the need to “reject bigotry, xenophobia, Islamaphobia, homophobia, racism and misogyny," the group sat together for a guided meditation and sound healing by VJ Herbert, a sound vibration practitioner at Empowered Healing LLC. Herbert used gongs, crystal sing bowls and chimes, along with his voice to relax and soothe the audience.
Andira Losh walked around the capitol steps handing out safety pins and Kleenex for people who were either sniffling from the brisk November weather or crying.
The safety pins she handed out were a nod to the national movement to show solidarity. The idea was created in the wake of racist actions occurring in the U.K. after the country voted to leave the European Union. The pin signifies an ally and a safe space for people who are scared of being targeted based off of their race, religion, sex or gender.
Losh says the election has been difficult because “Donald Trump ran a campaign essentially making us unsafe.” She says her community is going through a process of collective mourning. She is a transgender woman married to a woman and says she takes Trump’s past statements about the LGBTQ community personally.
“It’s disheartening to feel a sense of progress only to have a backlash and feel so many people standing up and feeling comfortable in their hate in this country,” she said.
But while some people were closing their eyes for the meditations, others were feeling frustrated that there wasn’t more of a call to action at the event.
“I think the luxury of coming together to grieve is an expression of privilege,” said attendee Andrew Swenson, who noted that the gathering was largely white, despite the vocal support for minorities. “What I’m afraid of, as white people, we grieve and then we feel better about ourselves. If we have the opportunity to talk to a bunch of people at events (like these) let’s not waste it by not talking about steps for action.”
But others feel like the grieving process and self-care is a necessary step is important for people to get to the stage where they can be actors in movements for change.
“I think after we grieve and take this space we need to organize and be an ally and advocate for people who feel in danger,” said Kelly Seacrest while holding a sign that said “All are welcome.” “When you come from a place of privilege, you have a duty and responsibility to fight for those who are being actively oppressed.”
“I feel like it’s very important to start out from a place of love and compassion — action is very important — but first we need to realize that people are grieving and hurt and we need to come together,” said Losh.
The three Culler teachers holding signs didn’t engage in the meditation aspect of the event. Instead, they faced the street, waving their signs quietly.
Seacrest, one of the teachers, says she and her husband were scared when they learned that Donald Trump is the new president-elect and even had fleeting thoughts about moving to Canada.
“But then I went into my classroom and thought, I can’t leave them behind because there are so many people who can’t (leave),” Seacrest said.
When the meditation and sound healing ended, Egger closed the gathering with a heartfelt message of unity.
The crowd huddled together and joined hands.
Together they repeated after Egger.
They echoed, “I stand by you, I stand for you, I stand with you, we stand united."
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On Twitter @IngridHolmquist.