A candlelight vigil will be held Friday on the steps of the Old Courthouse in Carlisle to protest conditions faced by migrants coming to the United States.
Lights for Liberty: A Vigil to End Human Concentration Camps is planned from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Friday, one of hundreds of vigils planned across the country that day. Another vigil is planned Friday for 7 p.m. on the Harrisburg State Capitol Steps.
Organizer Emily Pawley, an associate professor of history at Dickinson College, said the vigil is part of a national effort to hold candlelight vigils against the camps simultaneously.
Pawley and co-organizer Duffy Batzer discovered Lights for Liberty when they were looking for larger events drawing attention to the camps that they could attend instead of holding their own event.
According to the website for the event, Lights for Liberty is “a coalition of people, many of whom are mothers, dedicated to human rights, and the fundamental principle behind democracy that all human beings have a right to life, liberty and dignity.”
Key events will be held Friday at locations closely associated with the crisis including El Paso, Texas; Homestead, Florida; San Diego; New York City and Washington, D.C., where participants will demand action from Congress “to end the concentration camps and impeach the president,” according to the website.
Organizers plan to keep the Carlisle event informal with a few readings and possibly an open mic time. The candles are expected to be lit at 9 p.m.
Organizers say the rally will bring attention to the national policy of “putting people in these inhumane conditions and holding them there,” Pawley said.
Though there was initial outrage when families were being separated at the border, Pawley said the scope of the problem has been growing and the number of people involved rising while there are fewer events drawing attention to the issue.
“One of the things that I’ve found really worrying is how normalized it’s becoming that we get all these stories about truly terrible things happening in these detention camps,” Pawley said.
Batzer understands that people may think those who use language invoking concentration camps are “inflammatory” or “extremist.”
“But history has shown that, if you downplay it, that’s where you end up,” she said.
Pawley, an historian, said that “concentration camp” is a technical term for a place holding large groups of people that has become culturally associated with the Nazi death camps, though the two are technically different.
In regards to the use of the term “concentration camps” in relation to the detention centers at the border, Pawley said, “It’s actually a pretty accurate description.”
Pawley also looks to those who have been the most vocal about the Holocaust — descendants of victims and historians — for guidance. Those two groups “are pretty clear that what we’re seeing is serious and worth comparing to … Nazi Germany,” Pawley said.
“Experts are telling us to pay attention to these things. Descendants are telling us to pay attention to these things. The people who are telling us that this is an inappropriate comparison are all people who are trying to minimize the violence that we are seeing,” she said.
For Batzer, part of the inspiration for the vigil comes from a place a little closer to home.
“I’m just two generations away from my grandfather who came to this country. I see my family there,” Batzer said.
Batzer would like to see the causes of the border crisis to be addressed, including the role of United States policy and laws in creating the circumstances that she said cause people to flee.
“Nobody is really acknowledging the causes,” she said.
Organizers want to make sure the rally isn’t a one-and-done deal for participants, but that they will continue to work on the issue in some way. To that end, they plan to include an interactive time during the rally to allow people to discuss not only what brought them to the rally but also what they can do next for the cause, which is likely to be around for awhile.
“It’s not going to go away this weekend,” Pawley said.