I looked up at the courthouse dome with the blindfolded lady of justice bravely on top and let the speaker’s words drown out.
The temperature was in the 50s. Can you believe it – northern Indiana in December. You might expect rain. Not a drop. Fifty or so people attended to the speakers, a rabbi, a Christian minister, an imam and a couple of others.
Many faiths, one people. At least that was the theme for this gathering on the courthouse green, one voice this balmy Friday to welcome new immigrants.
More than that. Our presence spoke in rebuke to state and national leaders who want to deny access to our communities. Recent killings in California stirred fears of Muslims even here in the Midwest.
Never mind that people who claim to be Christian arm themselves and hold up liquor stores and kill the shopkeeper.
My wife Toni and I joined the modest, peaceful crowd of demonstrators. We were greeted by many friends. We thought we counted more of our fellow Unitarians than the smattering of folk from other churches.
Speeches were mostly brief and to the point. It stuck me as odd that here we are, hundreds of years of the country’s founding by immigrants and hearing people call for signs and fences advising foreigners that they’re not welcome here.
Not welcome? Immigrants from all over the world built this country with their own sweat and tears and brains. I find it heartbreaking that so many people want to pull up the welcome mat.
Yes, it was good that folk representing a number of faiths took the time to show up and voice their support for immigrants. But lots of other people didn’t appear.
After the speeches, I shook hands and greeted one city councilman, a longtime friend. But Fort Wayne has nine members of the council. Where were the other eight?
I shook hands with one black minister, another old friend. Where were the other black ministers? I spoke briefly to one Catholic priest. But we have more than a dozen priests in our city. Absent. I can assure you if the late Father Tom O’Connor had been around, he would have on hand to offer a blessing.
Reporters showed up to cover the event. I’m sure the morning paper will carry a nice news account and maybe a photograph. I think I spotted a photographer from one of the papers.
Compared to other demonstrations over the years in downtown Fort Wayne, Friday’s event won’t make the books on local history. But you never know what kind of impact a small, committed group can have. At least as Christmas draws closer, people in our city will be reminded of the essential message of the birth of Jesus.
So on at the end of the work week, a group of ordinary citizens in a midsize city in the country’s heartland announced to the world that we don’t want to turn anybody away.
Yes, “Give me your tired…” said Emma Lazarus and much more so many years ago.
As I said, it was a nice day for a demonstration.