Video by Tom Compagnoni
For all the barnstorming speeches and stirring calls to action, the tears and the anger and the sadness, it was the quietest of things that gave the most gravity to the scene -- a framed photo of two beautiful smiling boys who nobody in the crowd had ever met, flanked by a sea of candles.
Candlelight rallies lit up every city around Australia on Monday, ordinary people called to “Light The Dark” in support of the unimaginable, heart-breaking scenes of refugees flooding Western Europe as they try to escape the worsening conflict in the Middle East.
A crowd of ten thousand, organisers say, crowded into Sydney’s Hyde Park. A sea of tiny pin prick lights dotted the darkening twilight, candles in paper cups held by an army of people who echoed a one-word message as one at one point in the night – “welcome,” the crowd called into the evening breeze, a stadium’s worth of supporters calling for the Australian government to do something, anything, to help.
“We cant hear the cry of others and just walk away. It’s not human and it’s not Australian,” said Joumana Harris, president of the United Muslim Women’s Association, from a tiny stage in the middle of the sea of thousands.
“We have choices to make. Our choices are between hope and fear, darkness and light.”
All speakers referenced Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy photographed washed up on a Turkish beach last week. The image shot around the world and gave some long-overdue attention to the deepening humanitarian crisis in the Middle East. The image kickstarted conversations and hastened political talks, spurred action and put politicians to task in solving the crisis.
“Aylan was on his way to life, and we lost him -- somewhere between turning back the boats and apathy, somewhere between ignorant racism and we have momentarily forgotten our humanity,” thundered Sara Saleh, human rights and refugee advocate.
“Enough skirting around this issue. Enough.”
Many fought back tears as Aylan’s name was mentioned. Parents embraced their children against the chilly evening breeze, no doubt clinging a little tighter to their progeny as their thoughts drifted to the tiny boy in his red shirt and blue shorts lying facedown and lifeless in the shallows of a far-off Turkish beach.
But it was not this image of Aylan which was the most lasting of the night. It was one of Aylan and his five-year-old brother, Galip, smiling and laughing as they held a teddy bear. It was the image released to media by the Kurdi family, the way they asked the world to remember their drowned boys -- not as dead bodies, but as people with hearts and love and families.
It was this image, in a small black frame, that was placed under a lamp post at the end of the rally by some unknown person. A candle or two was rested against the post. Like a public shrine to a fallen celebrity or public figure, the nondescript makeshift memorial grew and grew. More candles were placed around the photo frame. Some dropped their light, took a quiet moment and walked away. Some stayed for minutes, silently crying into tissues. A throng of people gathered around, five rows deep at one point, not one of them uttering a single word.
At that point, nothing more needed to be said.