This past Monday, November 21, students at Rhodes College organized a candlelight vigil to show their solidarity with the student protesters at UC-Davis who were assaulted by police while nonviolently protesting on November 18. Rhodes' event was an answer to the call sent out by Occupy Colleges, the student wing of the Occupy Movement, asking campuses across the country to hold candlelight vigils to show solidarity with "all injured students who were protesting tuition hikes and economic injustice." Our students had a lot working against them in this effort-- the weather in Memphis was rainy and windy that day, they had less than 24 hours to organize and publicize the event, and Rhodes isn't a campus where collective political statements of any sort are the norm-- but they managed to pull it off beautifully. I'd estimate about 100 students, faculty and staff attended, with the overwhelming majority of the attendees being students.
I've never been to a candlelight vigil before. To be honest, in the past, I've often considered those kinds of vigils to be merely symbolic and I didn't really appreciate them as effective political statements. But I can honestly admit that Rhodes Solidarity Vigil changed my mind. There is something about a large group of people standing in solidarity, observing a moment of silence, and shining a light in the darkness that serves as a very, very powerful statement. After the minute of silence, students opened the "floor" to anyone who wanted to remark upon the events at UC-Davis (or the larger Occupy Movement). The discussion that ensued was sober, reflective, intelligent, egalitarian and, at times, quite moving. Here are some images from the vigil:
(Apologies for the blurriness of some of these images, but it was rainy that night.)
As impressive (and unprecedented) as this event was, I can't help but also note my disappointment that it wasn't better attended. I heard through the grapevine that day that many in the Rhodes community expressed their reservations about attending because they were concerned that showing solidarity with the students at UC-Davis would be interpreted as solidarity with the larger Occupy Movement. I find that argument both weak and disturbing. If one cannot stand in solidarity against the use of police violence against nonviolent protesters, whatever the merits or demerits of their protest, then one needs to recalibrate one's moral compass.