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Monday, September 23, 2019
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MLK Week Final Event Highlights Rights, Organizing

Emerson College students learned about engaging in free speech, knowing their rights, and strategies and tactics to organize mass actions during the final event for MLK Week.

“Building a Movement,” was held Friday, January 27, in the Bordy Theater. This year’s MLK Week, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” sponsored by the Division of Diversity and Inclusion and Campus Life, focused on issues of immigration, freedom of speech, and activism, among others.

Friday’s event followed less than a week after Women’s Marches were held in several cities across the United States and the world, and came just hours or days before thousands gathered in airports and city centers to protest President Donald Trump’s executive order temporarily banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The first portion of the event focused on legal rights. Charu A. Verma, who is on the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts board of directors, briefed audience members on their rights in cases of police search, arrest, or detention.

Verma, also a public defender in Cambridge, told participants that they are not required to give any identifying information to police, either before or after arrest, and that those arrested have the right to an attorney.

“You have the right to remain silent; the First Amendment protects you,” Verma said, adding that it’s important to remain polite to officers.

An interactive workshop organized by the Student Immigrant Movement (SIM) focused on storytelling and leadership in the field of social justice, and provided participants with activities to help them understand the skills behind bringing people together for a cause and building public campaigns. 

“Leadership is not calling out, expelling, or removing people, but calling people in, educating them, and organizing them,” said Conrado Santos, SIM lead coordinator, adding that the primary purpose of organizing is to bring people together, more so than the change we want.

The event organizers said that with the current political situation and the uncertainty about rights of immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ people, and women, students should be aware of their rights, now more than ever.

“We like to pride ourselves that Emerson students are very politically active and aware; therefore, students should know what their rights are if they are going out to protest or are on the path to become activists or advocates,” said Robert Amelio, Emerson’s director of diversity and inclusive excellence.

Students in attendance said they felt that the event was empowering and equipped them with relevant information that will come handy if they are protesting in the future.

“When you attend a march or a protest, especially as a person of color, it is essential that you know your rights, because sometimes things can get violent. It gives you a comfort knowing these safety tips,” said Shaccera Jones ’17.