A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a protest in downtown Peoria. I was sitting at a stoplight on my way to 3030 Coffee downtown, and I heard a murmur of chanting down the street that made my heart leap. I made out the words, “no hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here.” I was shocked! As a volunteer and activist for Syrian refugees, I thought to myself, is a protest for refugees really happening in Peoria? I was about to ordered my coffee from 3030, but found a friend who happened to have his camera on him. The two of us ended up walking over to the event to participate and document the protest.
It was only about a year ago that I got back from spending a month volunteering with an organization called Euro Relief in Lesvos, Greece. The majority of my time was spent working in a clothing tent at a camp called Moria. We would have refugees come in with only the clothes on the backs and soaking wet. It was there in the camps, I was able to document the stories and photographs of the families as they passed through in hopes of making their way to Athens. The poverty caused by the war had made access to cameras nearly impossible, since they where only able to bring their most valuable possessions with them. It was so special to see their faces light up when they would see a family portrait for the first time!
When I came back to Peoria, I all the sudden felt removed from the refugee crisis and lost about how to bring about change. But that Saturday morning at the corner of Main and Perry, I saw hope for the future of Peoria and also hope for the Syrian refugees. After recognizing the energy from Peoria residents willing to spend their day in the cold protesting to bring about change, I was inspired to become more proactive about the refugee crisis with Peoria as my center for activism.
I wanted to know more about the No Ban, No Wall, Protest and how it came together, so I asked Peoria resident, Trey Mowder, a manager at 3030, how he first heard about the event. He told me the event was shared on Facebook, and also by word of mouth. Trey commented, “It was reassuring that people are supporting the same cause. I wanted to feel like I was doing something, being proactive.” He was also happy to see Peoria’s residents come together with such energy and care for the refugees. “If a town this small can do these things, imagine what Chicago or a bigger town could do.”
Like Trey, I was surprised and heartened by the gathering of Peoria residents bringing awareness for the refugee crisis. With thoughtful conversations and proactive gatherings like this protest, Peoria can truly make a difference for Syrian refugees.