July 5, 2018, Adrian, Michigan – Adrian Dominican Sisters added their voices to thousands of others on June 30 as they participated in Families Belong Together marches throughout the United States. Demonstrations throughout the nation protested the U.S. immigration policy that has separated children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border as the families attempted to enter the United States without formal documents.
Sister Corinne Florek was one of about 2,000 people to attend a rally at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California. “It was inspiring because most of the speakers were young children,” she recalled. “They reminded us of the children’s march during the fight for civil rights. One girl spoke of her father being taken by ICE and how that affected her.”
Sisters Mary Trzasko, OP, and Beverly Stark, OP, were present at the rally in Charleston, South Carolina. Sister Beverly made the connection between the current immigration issue and the history of slavery in the U.S. South. “We gathered on and all around the steps of the Court House in Charleston, South Carolina, which is only a few blocks away from where slaves were bought and sold and families separated,” she said. “It was wrong and cruel then and it’s wrong and cruel today.”
About 20 Adrian Dominican Sisters were present for the rally in Adrian. Sister Kathleen Nolan, OP, Director of the Congregation’s Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, noted that the people of Adrian have been consistently attending rallies calling for social justice – from the Poor People’s Campaign and March for our Lives to the June 30 Families Belong Together March. “There was a lot of enthusiasm,” she said. “It was very encouraging.” The rally began at 11:00 a.m., and by noon, the crowd had grown to 150.
“The rally was very well attended in spite of the heat,” said Sister Annette Sinagra, OP, who also attended the march in Adrian. “It was a great support for the children and families that have suffered so very much under the cruel policies of [President] Trump.”
Sister Esther Kennedy, OP, also joined the Adrian march. “I was grateful for everyone who came. I also appreciated the cars that went by and honked…in support of immigration reform.”
Sister Esther spoke of her own motive for attending the rally. “We can feel overwhelmed in these kinds of situations, like there’s nothing we can do,” she said. “I do not want to be silent. I must put my body, my heart, my spirit, to join with others, and it’s not just in protest, but in remembering the core values this democracy was founded on. There have been times in our American history when we have not protested enough. I don’t want this to be one of those times.”
Sister Kathleen believes the message of the rally in Adrian goes beyond the call for an end to cruel separation of families at the border. The underlying message of the June 30 rally and the other recent rallies is the same. “There’s a consistent message that voting in November is going to be very, very important,” she said. “We need to get out the vote in November because that’s the only way we’re going to make any changes.”
Sister Cheryl Liske, OP, a community organizer, attended the Families Belong Together Rally on July 2 in Saginaw, Michigan. She accompanied members of the Ezekiel Project of Saginaw, one of four organizations that were called upon to speak during the rally. About half of the people who attended the rally then went to the office of Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Mich.) to present a cage full of toys for the children at the border. The action was in reference to reports that children at the border had been put into cages.
Sister Virginia “Ginny” King, OP, attended two rallies in the Detroit area, the first in front of the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building in Detroit. From there, she attended a related rally at the Hart Plaza in Detroit, traveling with “a small but diverse group,” she recalled.
Feature photo (top): Participating in the rally in Adrian are, from left, Sisters Joella Miller, OP; Maurine Barzantni, OP; Corinne Sanders, OP; Carmen Álvarez, OP; and Sara Fairbanks, OP.
Rally participants gather at the Court House in Charleston, South Carolina
November 21, 2017, Adrian, Michigan – Iyad Burnat, a nonviolent peace activist from Palestine, brought his message of the nonviolent resistance to Israel’s settlements and the longing of the Palestinian people for justice and peace to the Weber Center Auditorium on November 13. In his heart-felt, sometimes difficult, presentation, he spoke of the injustices inflicted on the people of Palestine and their longing to live in justice and peace in their homeland with the Israelis.
Mr. Burnat spoke before an auditorium filled with Siena Heights University students, Adrian Dominican Sisters and Associates, and members of the greater Adrian community. The event was sponsored by Siena Heights University and the Adrian Dominican Sisters’ Office of Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation.
Before addressing the desires of many people in Palestine for a life of shared justice and peace, Mr. Burnat set the context for the situation in Palestine and laid out the injustices faced by his people. In 1948, he said, 7 million Palestinians became refugees with the arrival of people who wanted to establish Israel on their former land. In spite of the efforts of the United Nations to create a two-state situation, in which the people of Palestine and the people of Israel would share the land, Israelites built – and continue to build – settlements within the Palestinian borders.
Mr. Burnat said Israeli settlements had been built on his small village of Bil’in and other villages around the West Bank. Through the years, he said, more and more land set aside for the Palestinians was confiscated and used to create settlements for the people of Israel. He recounted much of the injustice that the Palestinians continue to face: water diverted to Israeli settlements from Palestinian people; checkpoints established between different parts of Palestinian land, making it difficult for the people to go from one area of their land to another; and violence against those who protested the occupation. These injustices made life difficult for Palestinians, Mr. Burnat explained.
In 2004, Mr. Burnat and others in Bil’in decided to hold nonviolent demonstrations against the occupation every Friday. “People from all over the world join us,” he said. “We use nonviolence in our strategies. We fight with our bodies” rather than with weapons. For example, he said, they have stood in front of bulldozers that were going to destroy part of their land to create the settlements. Sometimes, as many as 3,000 to 4,000 people participate in the demonstrations, he said.
“In spite of the nonviolence of our struggle, we have faced much violence from the Israeli Army from the beginning,” Mr. Burnat said. The army has used teargas and rubber bullets against the demonstrators, among other weapons. He recalled that 2,000 Palestinians – of which 800 were children – had been killed in 2014.
At a more personal level, Mr. Burnat spoke of the different times in which three of his sons had been shot. One of his sons lost his foot because he was not permitted to go to the hospital to have needed surgery. During his own most recent arrest two years ago, Mr. Burnat was attacked by six soldiers and endured two broken ribs, teargas sprayed into his eyes, and 10 hours of pain before he was let go to call an ambulance.
Mr. Burnat continues to focus his efforts on nonviolent demonstrations and on getting the word out about the situation to the rest of the world. “We invite everybody to come and visit us and see the life of the Palestinians, because we believe the internationals have become our messengers,” he said. People from other countries usually attend the weekly demonstrations.
He said that, because of the media, many people in the United States don’t understand the situation fully. “The media want to show the Palestinians as violent,” he said. “Go to the ground. Visit Palestinians. Meet Palestinian people. Taste our food.” He added that people in the United States need to understand that many of the weapons used by the Israeli Army against Palestinians comes from the United States and that – in spite of what the media might say – Palestinians do not want to eradicate the Jewish people.
Asked if the United Nations’ proposal for two states in Palestine was the solution to the violence and injustice, Mr. Burnat said no. “We believe and are working to have one state for everyone to live together in peace, justice, equality, and freedom,” he said. “This is the way we would like it to be. We are not against the Jews or the Christians.”