More than 100 people stood together in Civic Space Park Wednesday night, holding candles, holding hands and offering a space of emotionally raw camaraderie after a historically divisive election season.
The crowd stood together in the park for We Stand United PHX, sharing stories and opinions in front of the crowd, giving out hugs and support, and collectively singing “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers with professional cellist Ruth Wenger on cello and singer and songwriter AJ Odneal on ukulele and vocals.
Anna Darian, program officer at Local Initiatives Support Corporation said she created a free hugs event over coffee this morning and shared it out.
Stacey Champion, community activist and owner of Champion PR and Consulting, reached out to her to collaborate. Champion said she felt like she needed to organize “a love-in tonight,” after reading a call to action from MoveOn.org, and the response was immediate.
Wenger decided to bring her cello, and contacted Odneal, who she had played next to only once before. Wenger announced they would be playing “Lean on Me,” for everyone to sing along to. She and Odneal had a brief exchange (“it’s in C,”), played together for a few seconds, then turned to the crowd to perform.
“That’s the thing, that’s why I say that music can be the most unifying thing,” Wenger said. “Once you learn the musical language, you just come together and speak it.”
Many of the attendees expressed fear at the results of Donald Trump’s election, and Odneal said those around her in minority groups are afraid.
“The people that have so vocally and violently expressed sexism and racism…don’t feel bad anymore…because it’s now been literally accepted into the White House,” Odneal said. “People say ‘well, he’s just a man. He’s just a man’…but more than anything, I, and from my understanding they, are afraid of the actions of his followers.”
One attendee, Iris Rivera held a sign that read “Until it Rains Glass,” which she said referenced the glass ceiling Hillary Clinton has said women live under. “We will continue fighting until women can break that ceiling,” Rivera said, “and all around us, it will rain glass.”
Next to Rivera stood Melissa Abreu, quietly at first. She said that she was still processing a lot of emotion. “I don’t want to call it fear, because that’s what they want,” Abreu paused. “It’s the feeling of being defeated, the feeling of losing hope.”
Abreu said her family didn’t understand how the election results affected her.
“But it effects me in the way of feeling that I am being picked on in a way. I’m gay, a female, and I’ve had to overcome so many different steps,” Abreu said, breaking down in tears.
Despite the fear expressed by some attendees, the event did seem to provide support and comfort to many people. After the singing of “Lean on Me,” the mood started to shift. The group was standing close together. Rivera wove through them, giving hugs to almost everyone she passed.
“I feel better,” said Champion, as multiple attendees hugged her and thanked her for organizing the event as they filtered out almost an hour past the event’s scheduled end.
“Don’t just use your feet, use your voice too,” Abreu said. “Talk to your legislation, send them emails, get small groups to come talk to you, because masses to the legislation is what’s going to cause change.”
Correction: November 10, 2016
Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story misidentified Cellist Ruth Wenger as Ruth Wagner. The story has been updated and corrected.
Contact the reporter at Nicole.Neri@asu.edu.