BY MADELINE SKRAK '18
Feb. 17 marked the nationwide protest dubbed A Day Without Immigrants designed to demonstrate the crucial role immigrants play in everyday American life. Students at several colleges also marked the day by holding their own Immigration Days of Action. At Mount Holyoke, this day of action consisted of a letter-writing campaign, through which approximately 75 Mount Holyoke students came together to write 100 letters and postcards, which were sent to their representatives and senators later that afternoon.
Students went to Hooker Auditorium from 12:45-4:00 pm last Friday to participate in the Mount Holyoke Immigration Day of Action, hosted by the Mount Holyoke Muslim Student Association and Amnesty International. Participating schools used the hashtags #NoBanNoWall, #DayofAction, #OurTomorrow and #MuslimBan. to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order that banned travelers and immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries and halted the admission of refugees. Mount Holyoke’s MSA was encouraged to host the Day of Action by Princeton University’s MSA.
Shahd Al-Jawhari ’17, the co-chair of MSA, and Abbey Clark-Moschella ’17, the co-chair of Mount Holyoke’s Amnesty International chapter, hosted the event and created its Facebook page, through which they invited over 900 people to join. Whether students were familiar with contacting their representatives or not, the aim of the event, as stated on the event page, was to elicit campus action to “urge our senators to support a bill that nullifies the executive order and to stand up for the rights of immigrants and refugees in the future.”
Other organizations and individuals on campus lent their support by providing student volunteers, donated stamps and envelopes from students, chargers provided by LITS, special postcards donated by Archives and Special Collections and a makeshift mailbox from previous Amnesty International letter-writing campaigns on campus. Clark-Moschella said that the McCulloch Center and a few professors even offered to buy more stamps and envelopes if supplies ran short.
Students stood in line to gather supplies, then spread out in auditorium seats. They then used the provided sample letters to help construct notes to thank or challenge their state senators and representatives regarding the immigration ban. There were also phone scripts available to call congressional offices.
“Does everyone have a pen?” asked Clark-Moschella, who is no stranger to letter-writing campaigns and assisted MSA with the event.
In addition to co-chairing the event, Clark-Moschella participated by writing her own letter to senators in her home state, Connecticut, who already oppose the ban. Her letter thanks her senators and says that she agrees with their position, while encouraging them to continue the fight for the rights of refugees and immigrants. Clark-Moschella, a senior who has been a part of Amnesty International since her first year at Mount Holyoke, explains that letter-writing is a crucial tool for student activists.
“It really does work to put on public pressure. I see how important it is that we use our voice as students and citizens to contact our representatives. It’s the least we can do at this point,” Clark-Moschella said.
Clark-Moschella’s goal for the event was to write as many letters as possible. To her, the most effective writing strategy was to sound passionate, have something specific to respond to, know the number of the bill, appeal to the con- gressman’s conscience and explain how the bill is significant to human rights. “We have voted for these representatives, therefore they have a responsi- bility to listen to their constituents and [they] also want to be re-elected,” said Clark-Moschella.
Clark-Moschella, overall, thought that the event was a success, but knows there is a long road ahead. “It’s one thing to write a letter, but it’s even more important to [keep] paying attention to everything that’s going to happen,” she said. “Stay aware of not just the headlines and your Facebook, but pay attention to what your representatives are doing, because their actions have very real effects.”
Whether in support of their senators’ and representatives’ decisions or not, important letters were sent to Congress last Friday.
Nabeeha Noor ’20 wrote to New York, Sasha Braverman ’18 wrote to Florida, Ella Ruffin ’17 wrote to Pennsylvania, Gabrielle Cappelletti ’20 wrote to North Carolina and Maya Sterett ’20 wrote to Virginia.
Noor, a member of MSA, supports Bill 274, which would completely nullify the effects of the executive order. Noor spoke of the campus support and the increasing participation of both Muslim and non-Muslim students at MSA events.
“It’s beautiful, really,” said Noor.
Braverman, who volunteered at the event, was pleased to see the campus showing interest getting involved. “Calling your representatives, no matter how much you disagree with what they’re doing or if you don’t like them, is important. You must express your opinions and do what is right to defend the people that are suffering from this,” Braverman said.
Feb. 17 was Braverman’s birthday, but she said she “couldn’t imagine” spending it any other way. She wrote a letter to her representative, Senator Marco Rubio. Although Rubio is Republican, he is also the son of Cuban immigrants and “uneasy” about the Ban and the Visa Waiver Program, according to the Miami New Times.
Ruffin wrote to their representative from Pennsylvania. “I’m here in solidarity with my undocumented and fellow people of color who are being attacked, as a black individual and an activist with Black Lives Matter,” said Ruffin. Although Ruffin doesn’t particularly enjoy writing to their Pennsylvania congressman, they do it anyway, because “it’s one thing I can do. It’s my duty to come out and help support my siblings in this.”
Ruffin also participates in online activism and helps share links and resources needed for people who want to fight against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“It’s time to attack the policy and hope for the best,” they said.
Cappelletti wrote letters to each of her two Republican senators and posted them with Wonder Woman stamps. Cappelletti believes firmly that consistency and messages sent out en masse are “the only way we’re gonna be heard.”
“Yeah, it’s 5 minutes out of your day, but it should really be 5 minutes every day until it makes a difference,” Cappelletti said.
While writing to her Democratic congressman in Virginia, Sterett recognized that even if the representatives don’t read the letters, they’ll tally the opinions of their constituents.
“It’s a numbers game,” Sterett said.
As of Saturday, John Kelly, the United States secretary of Homeland Security, stated that Trump’s new executive order will probably be completed by Feb. 21. The letters from Mount Holyoke and other colleges’ letter-writing campaigns will be likely entering Congressional offices at the right time to respond to the new order.
With regards to future letter-writing events, Clark-Moschella said, “We are paying attention for the administration’s next move and if we feel that another event is necessary, we [MSA and Amnesty International] will pull something together again."