A cloudy Saturday afternoon in January 2017 at the University of Virginia. A friend and I show up at a hastily organized march in response to Trump’s latest executive order, a cruel, poorly conceived attempt to ban Muslim immigrants from entering–or re-entering–the U.S.

After listening to rousing speeches by several young women and men, we make our way from the Rotunda down the Lawn. Students yell, “Show me what democracy looks like!” Crowd of 600 or so responds, “This is what democracy looks like!” I notice all the bright signs and the rushed, charming ones scrawled on brown cardboard.



We continue toward Old Cabell Hall. Baby in stroller gets an early taste of peaceful assembly.

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The crowd rounds the corner and heads toward the walkway in front of Bryan Hall. “No hate, no fear!” A few tears sliding down my face, I feel moved by the occasion but also, truth be told, a little nervous. This is the closest I’ve ever come to being part of a mob. Pressed together, yelling, hearts pumping–what are we capable of?

And what about those young white men with their arms crossed, standing on the steps of Old Cabell and smirking at us? What are they thinking? What are they capable of? If one of them yelled a slur at this group, would I stay silent? Would I join in a loud chant of rebuke? But they don’t yell; they just stand on the steps and watch us go by.

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In front of Small Library, home of several extremely rare copies of the Declaration of Independence, a student stops and asks me, “Is this an anti-Trump rally?” “No,” I say, “it’s more of a pro-immigrant rally.” “Great!” she says and goes on her way.

It occurs to me yet again that some UVa students have no idea what’s going on at their own school. There was a time when they all would have known this march was happening because they would’ve read an announcement about it in the Cavalier Daily. But the CD is no longer a daily, and I rarely see students reading it. It is available on the web, of course, but who has time for that when you have Facebook and Twitter to wade through? This is a problem at lots of universities, not just UVa. The absence of objective print journalism by and for college students is an example of what democracy doesn’t look like.

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As I look out at the people milling around as the march winds down, I think about Thomas Jefferson. A genius, a complicated man not without flaws. Today, though, I think particularly about his “Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom.” It is relevant to our current president’s not-so-veiled attempt to keep out immigrants who practice the Muslim faith.

“Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” speaks across generations in Jefferson’s characteristic language of cool, eloquent reason. This is what democracy is:

… Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. –excerpted from “Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” by Thomas Jefferson