The 2016 election of Donald Trump tore my hometown of Rockford IL apart, but we got back up on our feet. Here’s how we found unity.
Rockford, Illinois is blessed to have a large Muslim community. While we lived in Rockford, my husband was a part of that community, and after my conservative Christian group dumped me, I found new friends there (as well as in my new church home – shoutout to Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd).
Anyway, remember how, before the 2016 election, Candidate Trump was making noises about a Muslim Registry and a Muslim Ban?
Being married to a Muslim and having Muslim friends, I was personally offended by this. Jesus’ words, “love your neighbor as yourself” seemed to apply here.
So a few Christian friends and I started showing up at the mosque on Fridays, and we’d stand outside, holding solidarity signs.
When the congregation came out after the Friday prayer, they were glad to see us. It was a reminder that somebody had their back. Those were scary times for all minority groups.
We thought that once Trump lost the election, life would go back to normal. Boy, were we wrong! We don’t even know what the word “normal” means anymore.
When Trump was elected, my husband and I, along with our faith communities, got busy. I want you to consider keeping this idea (or one like it) in your back pocket, because in a few weeks, we might need it.
In fact, no matter who wins the election, we might need something like this to help us pick up the pieces.
We called our event a Unity Ring, and it was pretty cool – and simple. We sat down with the leadership of the mosque (MAGR – Muslim Association of Greater Rockford) just a day or two after the election and made a very simple plan.
We invited everyone in the city – especially, but not limited to, people of faith – to come to the mosque parking lot on Friday, November 18th (just 10 days after the election).
We asked everyone to wear something purple to show that this was apolitical, and bring a sign if they wanted to.
Almost the whole Muslim community stayed after their service to join the ring (that’s why we planned it for Friday afternoon).
We asked everyone – about 400 people – to spread out and form a circle in the parking lot. The Rockford mosque is next door to a Christian church, and the ring stretched all the way around their parking lot too.
It was a diverse, beautiful, smiling group, a moment of unity!
We asked a few clergy members of different faiths and denominations to speak for just a minute or two; we had purple helium balloons for the kids, which they all released at the end. A couple of local TV stations were there to film the Unity Ring event.
It was a chance for the people of Rockford to come together with people they wouldn’t normally hang out with, and to see the unity and diversity in their town. People who were feeling fearful because of the election could see that they weren’t alone. (My husband wrote an op-ed for the local newspaper, which may or may not be visible here.)
A few days later, I got a phone call from another Rockfordian who had seen the event on TV and wanted to talk. We ended up creating an organization called Unity in Diversity. It’s still very active today. (Check it out on Facebook!)
Rockford has its struggles, just like your town – but it is full of good people, just like your town. Whether Trump wins next month or Biden wins, all of our towns are going to have some tough times ahead.
I want to encourage you to start thinking now about what you can do to creatively build unity and love in your community, to draw together – especially with those who will feel marginalized.
Many of us didn’t expect the 2016 outcome, and it was a gut-punch. But we’re all older and wiser now. We know better than to assume things will be ok. We need to be ready this time.
Got an idea for a post-election unity event? Share it in the comments below! (Psssst! Subscribe to my newsletter!)