Tempers flared Monday night when more than 200 people gathered at the Boston Common at a candlelight vigil against an attack on Syria.
MoveOn.org Civic Action organized the protest in various cities across the U.S., including Boston, but several Syrian immigrants and smaller advocacy groups also showed up and loudly confronted the larger assembly.
“He [Bashar al-Assad] is bombing our children, our families,” said Abdul Ali, 28, a Boston resident who said he emigrated from Syria. “I want Obama to take Assad down so we can live in peace … [Syrian opposition] have no guns, no weapons, but Assad guns them down anyway. Obama has to take him down. It’s the only way.”
U.S. officials claim Assad’s forces in Syria fired chemical weapon on rebel-held areas in Damascus on Aug. 21, killing more than 1,400 people. U.S. President Barack Obama talked to several media outlets on Monday to build support in Congress and the American public for a congressional action against Syria.
Ali shouted at the crowd for several minutes before the 7 p.m. vigil was scheduled to start, but eventually left after several members of the vigil asked him to leave.
“I totally understand where he was coming from,” said Bil Lewis, 61, a Cambridge resident and member of the anti-war protest. “Thousands of Syrians have lost everything. If it was me, and my family was lost, I would reach out for all the resources I can get. At the same time though, dropping bombs and starting another war is just not the answer.”
The vigil formally began after Ali left and the crowd began to quiet. Paul Shannon, 61, a Somerville resident who works at American Friends Service Community, was the first speaker.
“This is about saying no to war,” he said. “Sometimes we think bombing and killing are the answer. By now, we have learned it is not …We like to think there’s a magic bullet here, but these situations have to be worked out internally. We have to let the Syrians know that we’re not saying, ‘We want nothing to do with you.’ We’re saying, ‘We don’t want to bomb you.’”
Planned speakers told their stories to the people surrounding them. Several others held candles and listened, but they did not remain silent. People started chanting “no more war” several times during the vigil.
The goal of the vigil was to alert politicians to the will of the people, members of MoveOn.org said. Liz King, one of the organizers of the vigil, said she hoped representatives in Congress would listen to the “overwhelming” voice against the war.
“This is the wrong path for America to be going down,” said Carl Sciortino, a Democrat running for Ed Markey’s vacant seat in the House of Representatives. “I feel I have to block this from going forward by raising my voice.”
About 30 minutes after speeches began, two groups in favor of an attack arrived and staged their own protests. Nadia Alawa, the founder of NuDay Syria, said an attack on Syria was a humanitarian responsibility for the U.S.
“The people inside Syria are tired,” she said. “They’re really, really tired. We feel like we have to be the spokespeople for them. They’re still real people with real plans to start over, but they have nothing. Something has to be done.”
Lewis said the vigil was a success, but not a surprise that people would gather to express their opinions.
“This is exactly what I expected,” he said. “People want their voices heard. They don’t want to kill anyone. They don’t want to drop bombs.”