Central Ohio may be more than 1,000 miles from the Mexican border, but a group of Westerville residents gathered last week to try to send a message about the events happening on the border.
On June 27, a group called Indivisible Westerville and the Otterbein University Office of Social Justice and Activism organized a candlelight vigil, "Light for Los Ninos," meant to send a message of support for "compassionate treatment of immigrant families."
Indivisible Westerville is a local organization that was formed after the 2016 election. Member Brenda Clark described the group as "worried about what was going to happen legislatively."
"Some people would probably call us hair-on-fire, liberal, 'the sky is falling' people," she said with a laugh.
Clark, who helped organize the gathering for Indivisible Westerville, said the event was largely the outcome of group members' frustration at reports of children being separated from their families after crossing the Mexican border.
On June 20, President Donald Trump signed an executive order meant to end the policy of family separation, but according to a joint fact sheet released June 23 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S.Department of Homeland Security, more than 2,000 children had remained separated from their parents, who had been prosecuted for crossing the border illegally.
"We got together because we were very concerned about what we were seeing," she said. "We said, 'We have to do something. What can we possibly do?' "
By mid-June, the group decided a calm vigil setting would best get its message across. Members decided to ask for the support of faith-based organizations in the area but wanted to emphasize that the event itself would be non-denominational.
"We wanted to try to reach across all the boundaries that are there, trying to draw in faith-based organizations as well," she said. "Putting aside religion, putting aside politics, can we bring the community together?"
The group handed out flyers at Westerville's 4th Friday event June 22 and spread the word through the organizations involved.
But Clark said members realized the short notice likely would mean a small turnout.
When about 120 people attended the event in front of the Westerville Municipal Building, she said, the group viewed it as a solid turnout.
"We had no idea (what to expect)," she said. "We were hoping we would get more, but we realized probably 50-100 would be the best we could hope for. ... So we were happy with that."
Drawing people to the vigil wasn't all the group had hoped to accomplish, she said.
Clark said members had hoped to help educate those in attendance on what was happening at the border, how to contact their representatives and ways they can get involved without protesting.
"Some people just don't want to do the protest thing," she said.
The vigil featured multiple speakers, including a school psychologist who discussed the effects of children being separated from their parents. Clark said that was a particularly useful conversation.
"I think people came away with more knowledge about the impact on children," she said.
Clark said the group has worked hard to send the message that the meaning of the event was less political than emotional and less religious than spiritual.
Ultimately, she said, the only message the group wanted to convey was their concern for the children.
"It's about something we can all agree on, which is the love of our children," she said. "It's all of the children, not just our American children. This is just a human, instinctual quality we have."