BUCKHANNON — Clutching flickering candles and brightly colored signs that called for peace, love and inclusion, nine women stood steadfastly in front of the Upshur County Courthouse Thursday night.
They were standing in solidarity with the people of Syria, whose country is being ravaged by a gruesome, deadly civil war that has killed approximately 400,000 Syrians since the conflict began in 2011, according to a CNN report.
The women who came out for the evening vigil did so because of a call by the national Women’s March movement to show support for the Syrian people, who have suffered so much — including a recent alleged nerve gas attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in the rebel-held province of Idlib on April 4. Then, after condemning the actions of president Bashar al-Assad’s government, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a military strike on a Syrian government airbase in response to the chemical weapon attack, which killed more than 80 people, according to multiple national news media outlets.
In response to both of these events, the Women’s March — www.womensmarch.com — called for women across the country to hold a #WomenForSyria day of action on April 13. Those who wanted to participate were urged to attend a vigil, educate themselves about the Syrian conflict or donate to an organization the provides aid to Syrian refugees.
Vigil participant Lisa DiDonato said the event wasn’t intended to be a march — just a vigil staged by the Upshur County chapter of the W.Va. Women’s March to show support for the people of Syria.
“We’re just going to be gathering and showing our support for the next hour,” DiDonato said as the vigil got underway at 7:30 p.m. “I just really feel for the situation that they’re in. Since I’m a mother, seeing pictures of the children who were killed and harmed is really difficult for me.”
Heather Schneider, owner of the local coffee shop Dough Re Mi, said that although she doesn’t belong to one particular political party, she staunchly opposes war.
“As a pacifist, I think our leadership in general has a tendency to go to large displays of aggression that literally kill people,” Schneider said. “The challenge is how to remain a world power in a more gentle manner. It’s not just about Syria for me, it’s about the way that all countries engage in the world.”
Political engagement is crucial to inspiring any real world change, Schneider added.
“I try to be as politically engaged as possible because they (the government) do control so much in our lives,” she said.
Other participants expressed outrage at the fact that the U.S. has taken military action in response to the chemical weapons attack, yet Trump has still maintained his calls to limit or ban the number of Syrian refugees allowed in the U.S.
Lisa Hollen said, “My feeling is that if we are going to be taken by the fact that the (Syrian) leadership gassed those people, we are just as complicit. To be appalled by the acts of the regime but not provide a safe harbor is hypocritical at best. I’m here, too, because I wanted to support my sisters.”
Edwina Howard-Jack is the founder of a group in the county called Upshur Indivisible.
“We oppose any agenda of corruption, racism and authoritarianism and we embrace fairness and inclusion, so I’m here to represent that group,” Howard-Jack said. “We feel that the attack on Syria while not allowing the refugees into the United States is unconscionable. I’m here for humanitarianism and to support peace.”
While several passersby applauded or congratulated the demonstrators, they also encountered a few individuals who yelled, “Go Trump!” from their vehicle windows while driving by.
To learn more about the Women’s March agenda, visit www.womensmarch.com.