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Among Fears, Calls for Action at Vigil

By Martin B. Cassidy for the Connecticut Post

STAMFORD — With expressions of optimism and resolve, and admissions of fear over the ascent of President Donald Trump, clergy members and others urged listeners Sunday to remain united and work to protect the rights of all citizens, especially the most powerless.

A number of clergy members and members of groups representing African-Americans, Muslims, Latinos and gay and lesbian residents in Stamford spoke to roughly 100 people at a vigil at the Unitarian Universalist Church Sunday afternoon.

The vigil was organized by the Interfaith Council of Southwestern Connecticut, a group of clergy and community leaders who foster understanding between different faith traditions.

“Words matter and we’ve ended up with a leader who doesn’t think words matter to the body politic,” said the Rev. Michael Hyman, director of the Chester Addison Center.

One after the other, speakers denounced Trump and his campaign’s often divisive rhetoric regarding, among others, Mexicans and Muslims.

“The great teacher Jesus Christ said you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” said the Rev. Todd Yonkman, pastor of the First Congregational Church of Stamford. “As seekers of truth and pursuers of freedom, we will not be bamboozled by alternative facts or other euphemisms for the truth that is among us. That truth is kindness, compassion and unity.”

Yonkman was, presumably, making reference to an interview that aired Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” in which Kellyanne Conway, counselor to Trump, said the president’s press secretary gave “alternative facts” when he referred to the crowd at Friday’s inauguration at the “largest ever.”

Others who spoke included Anthony Crisci, executive director of the Triangle Community Center in Norwalk, a gathering spot for LGBT residents in Fairfield County. Crisci talked about the struggle for same-sex marriage, and how LGBT people and their supporters have battled intolerance for years.

“This (Trump) administration isn’t the biggest threat to our rights we’ve ever faced or the biggest challenge we will overcome,” Crisci said. “It is just another chapter in the battle of good versus evil, light versus darkness. ... We’ve been in this fight before.”

Invoking the Biblical figure of Moses, Stamford Mayor David Martin said he has worried whether the opposition to Trump will have the mettle to resist losing ground on rights. But Martin said he was heartened by the sight on Saturday of thousands of women and other outraged constituencies protesting in Mill River Park, along with hundreds of thousands more nationwide in an effort to safeguard rights.

“I’m not sure there was a single Moses. I think it was a number of people over a period of time that led Israel out of slavery,” Martin said. “I think many of our Moseses were out there and they are the audience today.”

Earlier, Martin told the congregants has been dispirited by the tendency of Trump and others to insult critics and others, instead of arguing rationally.

“These aren’t just insults toward politicians, but toward women, African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims and people with disabilities and I admit I am ashamed,” Martin said. “I wonder where the Moses is who will lead us to the promised Land and it scares me.”

After more than an hour and a half of speeches and music, the congregants were asked to reflect and write down what they would commit to do to produce a more unified society.

Daniel Beltran, 60, of Stamford, who attended the vigil with his husband, Armando Calderon, said he pledged to never give up and to also support the diverse rights of other groups when they are threatened.

“I am not only a Cuban-American, but also a gay man, married to my husband, so there is more than one right that I could lose,” said Beltran. “But I realize that this is about more than me. It is about protecting the rights of all Americans.”

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