It was a simple but powerful gesture that was a fitting way to close a 24-hour vigil held at De Montfort University Leicester (DMU).
At midday, seven DMU students, from the seven countries banned from entering the United States by President Donald Trump, held up their nation’s flags and spoke out against prejudice with messages of peace and reconciliation.
In the previous 24 hours the #LoveInternational Vigil, in Hawthorn Square, had seen hundreds of students and staff recite poetry, hold debates, perform music, learn African dance routines, take part in dawn Tai Chi sessions, and stand in solidarity with refugees and victims of intolerance while making it clear they rejected intolerance, divisiveness, walls and bans.
YOU CAN READ THE LIVE BLOG AND VIEW PICTURES FROM THE VIGIL HERE
Professor Dominic Shellard, Vice-Chancellor of DMU, who had spent much of the previous day and night taking part in the events, described the event as “extraordinary”.
The genesis of the vigil occurred two weeks ago when it became apparent to Professor Shellard that there was a great deal of anxiety on campus which had been provoked by Donald Trump’s infamous executive orders.
Addressing the audience at the end of the vigil, he said: “I am a great believer that if you are worried, try and act.
“I am a devotee of Mahatma Gandhi and, as I said in my talk about him at about 2am today, the point that he decided to dedicate his life to non-violent civil disobedience was when he was thrown off a train in South Africa because a white man objected to his presence in his carriage.
“He felt brutalised and dehumanised and angry and furious but he felt those types of emotions were what he was expected to respond with. If he subverted that expectation, however, and responded in a non-violent way… that would be the most powerful thing that he could do.
“He went on to lead a campaign that resulted in the independence of India from British Rule in 1947 and prompted his world famous statement “First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win”.
“It seems to me that in the last 24 hours we have been a living demonstration of that. We do not need to give into despair and must not give in to pessimism. We just need to look around at everyone who is here now - the people who were here at 3am and the incredible speeches from David Monteith, The Dean of the Cathedral, the numerous refugees who spoke out and the Iraqi asylum seeker who walked through this campus in the middle of the night and said “I would like to say something”, the inspirational talks from our chaplain Hilary Surridge and the moments of humour that were as important as the moments of anger and frustration and indignation.
“Let’s call out injustice. Let’s not fight and be aggressive but instead find ways to end irreconcilable differences.
“Nelson Mandela, in his address to the UN in 1994, said “If you want to make peace with your enemy you have to work with your enemy, then he becomes your partner”.
“Mandela was humiliated, reviled, imprisoned and brutalised and yet he epitomised the very best elements of humanity, because he forgave. He refused to allow the corrosiveness of anger and fury to eat away at him for the rest of his life and look what he achieved.
“We can go away and reflect on that…and take inspiration from it.”
Posted on Friday 10th February 2017