Students passing through the Diag yesterday could listen to speakers reel off statistics about immigration or Iraq, buy yellow “Michigan Immigrant” T-shirts, take a pledge to “actively respect all persons,” debate religion with a radical anti-gay preacher, meet a Green Party candidate for University regent or register to vote.
Many left the Diag looking a bit more confused than when they entered.
As if in anticipation of the approaching winter that will soon drive them all inside, a wide range of activists crowded the plaza in front of the Hatcher Graduate Library hoping to have their voices heard.
A coalition of Middle Eastern student groups had originally scheduled a rally on the steps of the Grad to draw attention to the suffering of Palestinian and Lebanese people.
But when the University’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom announced plans – since-postponed – to play “Catch an Illegal Immigrant,” other groups, like La Voz Latina, decided to protest. They ended up sharing the stage with the Middle Eastern groups.
YAF had originally scheduled their event, in which participants would try to catch a volunteer posing as an illegal immigrant, for yesterday afternoon.
Rally organizers tried hard to connect the range of issues they were presenting.
“What they want to get across is something similar to what we want to get across,” said Fadi Dawood, chair of the Chaldean American Student Association. “I think that working together with other organizations like we did today just sheds light on how great this country is.”
Others some rejected this connection.
“Israel has a phenomenal record in terms of immigration,” said Joshua Berman, chair of the American Movement for Israel. “To link the two is completely inaccurate.”
Meanwhile, on the north side of the Diag, preacher Michael Venyah stood trying to spread his provocative, fire-and-brimstone version of Christianity. Venyah has spent the last three days on the Diag voicing his anti-gay agenda.
He pointed and yelled at one speaker for using profanity.
“That man right there was cursing earlier,” Venyah said. “He doesn’t deserve to speak.”
To try and tone down the debate, LSA junior Jim Schreiber, a member of the Student Steering Committee for the University’s Expect Respect campaign, handed out buttons and written pledges to “actively respect all persons.”
La Voz Latina co-chair Xavier Segura said he saw how so many viewpoints might cause confusion, but his group had no choice but to rally alongside the Middle Eastern groups.
“We had to play with the cards we were dealt,” he said. “It’s a difficult decision when you try to speak for too many opinions.”
Still, many rally attendees had plenty of opinions to share about YAF’s planned event.
“It’s beyond offensive,” said Ana O’Hara, a legal immigrant from Peru who will start at the School of Information in the winter semester. “I can’t quite label it.”
Meanwhile, as a reporter from Spanish television channel Univision dodged Palestinian flags, organizer Rama Salhi, who is a member of several of the groups at the protest, said she was satisfied with the event.
“I’m very happy with the way it turned out,” she said. “It showed the interconnectedness of all issues, of all injustices.”