“Solidarity Rally” calls for MIT community to reaffirm values and support vulnerable populations

Students and faculty promote increased social awareness and political participation

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Anya Quenon
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Anya Quenon
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“Solidarity Rally” calls for MIT community to reaffirm values and support vulnerable populations.
Lenny Martinez–The Tech

Around 300 students gathered Nov. 21 on Killian Court for a rally to demonstrate solidarity with MIT’s values and with marginalized groups on campus.

Dubbed the MIT Solidarity and Values Rally, the event brought together undergraduates, graduates, faculty, and community members for the hour and a half-long event.

Daniel Chen ’17, a lead organizer of the rally, presented a diverse series of speakers, many of whom represented cultural, LGBTQ, and minority organizations. The rally was “not about differences, but about the simple truths that unite people,” Chen said in an interview with The Tech.

First to speak were members of the Black Students’ Union, who criticized MIT’s official emails regarding the election results for being “polite” and “nonpartisan” but not addressing the oppression and fear some students might be enduring.

Chen called on ralliers to consider focusing their career goals on issues like social justice and equality. Emily Thai ’17 expanded on these thoughts in her speech, calling anti-intellectualism “scary” and asserting that science work and social issues are not mutually exclusive.

In his speech, a member of the Student Activists Coalition criticized the Obama administration on issues of police brutality, war crimes, and immigration law. Love, he proclaimed, was not enough to stop injustices, further calling for “protracted organized struggle.”

Edmund Bertschinger, the MIT institute community and equity officer and a professor of physics, was the last to speak. While he was not involved in planning the rally, he was strongly supportive of it and had promoted the event to fellow faculty members in the preceding days.

He quoted President’s Reif post-election email to the community, urging the community to harness their collective capabilities to make “a better world.”

“Following students’ lead, let us find a way to listen to each other,” he urged, lauding students for setting “a great example of how to value difference and be respectful even across strongly divided beliefs.” To his fellow faculty members, he said: “I urge you, I implore you, to discuss in your departments the values that students have advanced in solidarity today.”

Sasha Costanza-Chock, an activist and associate professor of civic media at MIT, called for MIT to pledge not to hand over undocumented immigrant information to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, for the Institute to fully enact the recommendations the BSU made to the administration last year, and for faculty members to get more involved in social justice matters.

Costanza-Chock led the audience in a round of chants that protesters had used at a march in New York City to protest Trump’s presidency. While most chants were eagerly echoed, reactions to “No D-A-P-L! Donald Trump can go to hell!” were lukewarm.

Despite the length of the rally and the frigidity of the wintry air, speeches were punctuated from beginning to end by enthusiastic applause, cheers, and the clinking of a tambourine.

“The world looks to places like this to inform our opinions,” Sarah Schwettmann G, said in an interview with The Tech. She attended the rally with a painted sign portraying a fist whose fingers spelled “MIT.” Schwettmann criticized some elites for propagating a culture of anti-intellectualism, and said that MIT can help the portion of the population which is fearful of this culture by standing up for marginalized groups on a public stage.

Rosa Lafer-Sousa G noted that the science community often doesn’t take people who write for popular science seriously. She called on the Institute to reward the dissemination of science information to the public, in order to promote rational decision making.

Lafer-Sousa also encouraged students to make political action a habit, promoting apps like Countable which allow users to track and respond to proposed bills in Congress.

Adam Hasz G, co-president of MIT Democrats, led rally attendees in a call-and-response song with the refrain “You do not walk alone.” He told The Tech that this was the first time he had incorporated group singing in a rally event. He adapted the lyrics from a song used by activist group IfNotNow.

Senior members of the Division of Student Life were in attendance, including Suzy Nelson, the vice president of student life. Matthew Bauer, director of communications, said that they were all there to show their support for the students. MIT administration did not formally endorse and was not formally involved in the rally.

In an interview preceding the rally, Suma Anand ’17, an organizer and speaker at the event, called the rally an “inspiring grassroots movement” at a “galvanizing moment” in time.

The rally emerged from a planning meeting just last Friday that involved about 20 people from various student organizations, including LCC, BSU, MIT Democrats, and FFMIT. Despite having different goals, Anand said, the students agreed that the most important task was to make a stand for MIT’s values, “regardless of the administration, of the policies that were implemented.”

Looking to the future, Chen said that while the remainder of the semester may be a “real sensitive period” for students, he hopes the solidarity movement will catalyze support for local advocacy groups.

Chen told The Tech that though he recognized that people at rally would be on liberal side of spectrum, he didn’t want the rally to be anti-Trump. From the start, organizers promoted the rally as nonpartisan.

Anand said that while both the planning meeting and the rally were open to all members of the MIT community, MITGOP club members had not reached out to them. “They’re of course welcome to come and we definitely want to hear what they have to say,” she added. It is unknown if any campus conservatives attended the rally.

The rally, the first of its kind at MIT post-election, followed on the heels of a Harvard rally last Friday which protested the Trump administration’s pick of Myron Ebell as future head of the EPA.

Alison Takemura, the EECS Communication Lab director, participated in the Harvard rally. “MIT may not be known for its political activism now,” she wrote in an email to The Tech, “but almost half a century ago, students were occupying the student center and the president’s office. Already, members of the MIT community are organizing. The atmosphere is going to get more political as this next administration keeps its promises. And hundreds at MIT will be speaking out.”